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The name may not ring a bell but it’s very likely that South Africa’s first black Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, does. And, as it’s fondly nicknamed his Cathedral, it’s likely that we will have sparked your interest.
Originally opened in 1834, but completely re-built into the gothic design that can be seen today in 1978, St George’s is the oldest Cathedral in the whole of South Africa. So, for those of you looking to immerse yourself into the country’s history, this is a great place to start – for a whole host of reasons.
Compared to grand designs of Cathedrals that can be found across Europe, St George’s may seem fairly modest, but it is hugely symbolic of the country’s turbulent past. Initially designed with London’s classical Church of St. Pancras in mind, the British influence on South Africa during the 19th century is immediately apparent in the architecture of the building. This is a country shaped by its colonisation after all.
But it’s St George’s more recent history that has led it to be commonly known as the “People’s Cathedral”. Under the guidance of the great philanthropist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it was one of the only places of worship that held its doors open to all races, without discrimination, during the apartheid era.
This is an ethos that has continued today, having more recently welcomed the country’s first openly gay priest – characterising a space of both sanctuary and protest, this Cathedral most definitely makes for an interesting sightseeing stop.
Like any good crypt, St George’s underground vault is where it’s all happening. After taking in the stunning stained-glass windows and towering sandstone walls of the Cathedral’s interior – built from Table Mountain itself, what a claim to fame – make your way downstairs to discover St George’s hidden treasures.
This space has been transformed to accommodate the peace effort at work in St George’s Memory and Witness Centre. The main feature of the centre is an exhibition commemorating the Cape Town Peace March of 1989 – an event in which a near 30,000 people gathered outside the Cathedral steps and marched in protest of apartheid atrocities. Led by Desmond Tutu, this marked the first time in years that the people were allowed to protest the Afrikaner regime without violent retaliation and in turn, inspired many other marches across the country. With the country’s history in mind, the Memory and Witness Centre now looks to tackle injustices of the present, providing a beacon of hope for the likes of Cape Town’s LGBT community.
The celebration of the country’s “rainbow people” doesn’t stop there. With jazz music considered something of a universal language in South Africa, the crypt’s jazz restaurant – that opened its doors in 2013 – looks to promote the ethos of the Cathedral in a bit of a different way. Open Tuesdays through to Saturdays, an evening here is quite magical, and not just for die-hard jazz fans.
St George’s sits on Wale Street in central Cape Town, just a few minutes walk from a handful of other famous sites including District Six Museum.
All day, everyday. If you’re partial to a mass, they are held daily here – or make it for the main event held every Sunday at 9.30am.
It wouldn’t really sit right with the Cathedral’s principals if they charged an entrance fee, so you can wander this historical landmark with money spare to splurge on a big lunch once you’re done.
There is no dress code here and the Cathedral’s whole ethos is based on welcoming all, but it is important to remember that this is primarily a place of worship so it is best to dress respectfully.
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