St Mary’s Cathedral

Landmarks / Religious in or near Cape Town Central, City Bowl in Cape Town, South Africa.

Western Cape Tourist AttractionsSt Mary’s Cathedral

Where? Roeland Street, Cape Town Central, City Bowl, Cape Town

Overnight? Stay in Cape Town Central, in Western Cape

The Cathedral of St Mary of the Flight into Egypt, known simply as St Mary’s Cathedral, is a beautifully imposing building on Roeland Street within walking distance of The Company’s Garden and a couple of blocks away from the independent bookstore, The Book Lounge.

The Roman Catholic Church is of pointed Gothic style with its characteristic arches and ribbed vaulting. Like other churches of this style the mud-packed walls are adorned with large expanses of glass, clustered columns, sharply pointed spires and pointed arches.

The building of St Mary’s began in August 1840, although no formal record of the foundation stone laying ceremony, nor any trace of the actual stone, are to be had. Historians think it may lie below ground on the Hope Street side of the building.

To raise money to build the church (the builder was James Begley, a member of the congregation), the church sold the ground on which its Harrington Street chapel stood. The congregation was encouraged to generously contribute, and there were donations from other Catholic congregations.

St Mary’s was finally completed and dedicated in early 1851. It was considered the first tabernacle worthy of Christ in South Africa. The sanctuary was completed in 1865 and an altar from Siena was erected in memory of the bishop involved in the building of the church, who had in the interim, died.

It was said of his successor, Bishop Grimley, that his zeal for the church was such that Napoleon presented a large oil painting of the crucifixion, a copy of the original by Van Dyk (which one finds in the Louvre today), when the bishop visited Paris on his way to the Vatican Council. This painting hung above the altar until 1949, when it was moved to beneath the choir gallery.

The same bishop’s enthusiasm resulted in a huge bell resounding over the roofs of Cape Town, donated by the Marquis of Bute. In 1926 an extensive restoration and renovation of the church meant that the bell was finally hung in a single tower over the main door, having hung on a tripod behind the Cathedral for years.

Noteworthy are: the stained glass windows, particularly the one above the organ, and the oak pulpit.

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