On Tuesday I posted a picture of St Mary’s Cathedral
in the Port Elizabeth city centre. I realised that although people may know what the cathedral looks like from the outside, that not many may have been inside the cathedral yet. So today I’m posting two pictures taken inside the building, one looking to the front…
… and one looking back at the pews.
Before the arrival of the British Settlers in 1820 the needs of the British garrison in Algoa Bay were served by chaplains in passing ships. By 1825 the town of Port Elizabeth had grown to about 500 people and Revd Francis McClelland was appointed Colonial Chaplain. The foundation stone for the Collegiate Church of St Mary the Virgin was also laid that year. The church was finally opened for worship in 1832.
Anybody who knows Port Elizabeth and has been down to Govan Mbeki Road (Main Street) in the city centre, would know St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral near the Public Library. But not just know it. Also be aware of the old United Building Society building that stands on the corner in front of it blocking a proper view of the whole church and causing the front of the church to look like it’s standing on its own between the high rise buildings away from the rest of the cathedral behind.
In 1843 St Mary’s Church had to sell off pieces of its land to fund a building project and by doing so lost possession of some extremely valuable frontage to Main Street. At that stage there was a servitude upon the property which prevented the stores built upon it from being raised high enough to block out St. Mary’s Church from the Main Street, but this eventually changed in later years which led to the situation we have today.
On a walk along Route 67 the other day I popped into St Mary’s Cathedral and was reminded that the original gravestone of Captain Francis Evatt was located in the entrance area of the church. Something a lot of people probably didn’t know.
Captain Evatt was commander of Fort Frederick from 1817 until his death in 1850 and is often called the Father of Port Elizabeth because of the role he played in the early years of the town’s development. Among the things he did was to oversee the landing of the British Settlers in 1820 and he laid the foundation stone of St Mary’s Church in 1825. After his death on 21 March 1850 he was given a military funeral in the Congregational Cemetery in Russell Road.
Evatt’s remains were moved to a spot outside the Fort in 1956 and a replica gravestone was erected, with the original being placed in St Mary’s Cathedral.
St Augustine’s Cathedral has some stunning and striking stained glass windows. Dating back to September 1875, the windows are part of the original design and are from F. Barnett of Leith.
When the first Catholic priest, Father George Corcoran, set foot in Port Elizabeth in 1840 it wasn’t just a case of getting off the boat and taking up his position. No, he was shipwrecked in Cape St Francis and had to travel the last 100km to town on horseback. Once he arrived here he found that there were only 42 Catholics in the town. But the show had to go on and in the ensuing years the Catholic community in Port Elizabeth started to flourish. It meant that the congregation needed a church and Father Corcoran obtained a plot for a church on Prospect Hill / Castle Hill in 1844. By 1847 a new two-storey building was erected on the site on which the MacSherry hall stands today.
In 1847 Dr Devereux who was based in Cape Town at the time was appointed as the First Bishop of the newly formed Vicariate of the Eastern Cape. Father Corcoran died of yellow fever in South America in 1852 and Dr Devereux transferred Father Thomas Murphy from Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth. Father Murphy was responsible for the building of the church as it is today although he first extended the then existing building which became known as St. Augustine’s Hall. This served as school, church and hall.
The design of the church was apparently based upon the style of a church in Selbridge near Dublin, Ireland with the plans being formulated by a Mr McCarthy but executed by the local architect and first Town Engineer of Port Elizabeth, Robert Archibald. The Foundation Stone was laid in December 1861 and construction took place under the watchful eye of Father Murphy. Five years later on the 25th April 1866, with the steeple almost completed, St.Augustine’s was opened and solemnly consecrated by Bishop Patrick Moran. It’s very interesting to mention that this magnificent building was built as a parish church, not a cathedral. Apon his death Father Murphy was buried beneath the high altar in the cathedral.
The bronze statue of Christ the King which can be seen above the door was donated by the Frost family in 1931.
The parish church of St Augustine’s became the bishop’s church and cathedral some 54 years later but was only formally declared and consecrated as a cathedral in 1939.
Port Elizabeth has two cathedrals, both located in the city centre. St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, where the foundation stone was laid in 1825, and St. Augustine’s Catholic Cathedral where the first stone was laid in 1861. Standing in front of St Mary’s and looking up at the tower, I was wondering if it is referred to as a church tower or a cathedral tower.