Millions of tourists are drawn to places like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
South Africa, with her multiplicity of creeds and myriad places of worship, has many fine examples of sacred buildings.
Here are 20 of the most historical, unusual, or architecturally memorable, sacred buildings in South Africa …
Photo: St George’s Cathedral also known as “The Peoples Cathedral” for its involvement in the anti-apartheid movement.
THE CATHEDRAL OF ST GEORGE THE MARTYR, CAPE TOWN
More commonly known as St George’s Cathedral, this Anglican cathedral (1901), designed by Herbert Baker, stands at the entrance to the Company’s Gardens.
Visit for: its splendid interior and fine examples of stained-glass windows
THE GARDENS SYNAGOGUE, CAPE TOWN
Gardens Synagogue (1904) stands with its twin towers against the backdrop of Table Mountain. Next door is South Africa’s first Shul (1863), now the site of the Old Jewish Museum.
Visit for: the neo-Egyptian old Shul, and the impressive proportions of the Synagogue
NEDERDUITSE GEREFORMEERDE KERK, GRAAFF-REINET
Now over a hundred years old, this is one of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture in the country.
Visit for: the spacious interior, and its tall white, stately steeple
THE METHODIST COMMEMORATION CHURCH, GRAHAMSTOWN
This red sandstone, Gothic style church (1845) stands in the middle of Grahamstown, overshadowed by the Anglican Cathedral.
Visit for: the ‘Settlers’ Window’ and stepped buttresses of the façade
Photo: Church in Grahamstown.
THE HOLY TRINITY CHURCH, BELVIDERE
Standing amidst a series of old oaks on the south-western edge of Knysna’s lagoon, this beautifully proportioned Anglican Church is one of the country’s most interesting ecclesiastical buildings.
Visit for: the rose window high in the west wall
THE SHEIKH YUSUF KRAMAT, FAURE
Set in the hills near Stellenbosch, Moslems at the Cape erected this green-domed mosque as a shrine to Sheik Yusuf, sent to the Cape by the Dutch after he was forced to surrender in Java.
Visit for: magnificent views of the mountains
THE MORAVIAN MISSION, MAMRE
The thatch roofed Mission Church (1818) is the fifth oldest surviving place of worship in the country.
Visit for: the mission village with its white-washed cottages and pretty gardens
MISSION CHURCH OF THE HOLY CROSS, MACKAY’S NEK
This unusual Catholic country church has a distinctive African flavour.
Visit for: the incredible, large mosaic of the Crucifixion in the sanctuary (largest rondavel) and the belfry – three bells, painted silver
ST PATRICK ON THE HILL, HOGSBACK
This tiny chapel lies in the heart of the Amatola Mountains, a single rondavel made of local stone, with a simple thatched roof.
Visit for: its simplicity, and the sundial in the paved forecourt
Photo: Thatched roof church in Mamre.
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSION, MARIANNHILL
Still a hugely influential institution, Mariannhill has a beautiful church, built by the monks. The mission includes a convent and no fewer than 12 chapels.
Visit for: the magnificent wooden carving of Mary and Jesus above the altar in the chapel
ALL SAINTS CHURCH, LADYSMITH
This stone Anglican Church on the main street is said to finely reflect the history of its environment – the porch still has the remains of a shell, shot during the famous Siege, grouted into the wall.
Visit for: the magnificent stained-glass windows and the war memorials
BUDDHIST RETREAT CENTRE, IXOPO
Set in the hills of Ixopo this retreat represents the Buddhist way of life, the tranquillity of the hills and the peace of its philosophy.
Visit for: the classic Buddha statue sculpted by the retreat’s founder, Louis van Loon
THE YELLOWWOOD CHAPEL OF THE HOLY TRINITY, BULWER
Claiming to be the last of its vintage in regular use, the chapel is completely hand-sawn and handmade.
Visit for: its straighforward simplicity, aesthetic appeal, and the recognisable skill with which it was built
THE SOOFI MOSQUE, LADYSMITH
One of the most interesting and beautiful Moslem houses of prayer lies on the banks of the Klip River.
Visit for: the spacious interior, the grounds, and the frieze of circular plaques with Koranic inscriptions
THE SHREE POONGAVANA AMMAN TEMPLE, DURBAN
The first communal Hindu temple built in KwaZulu-Natal is rich with oriental art, the wealth of colour of its statues vibrant against the white temple.
Visit for: the unusual barrel-vaulted roof and domes, and the profusion of figures of gods, birds and animals
THE SRI-SRI RADHA-RADHANATH TEMPLE OF UNDERSTANDING, DURBAN
This large and unusual building combines architectural features from the orient and the west with a magnificent octagonal hall.
Visit for: the panelled ceiling, evidence of geometric patterns used to signify human qualities and weaknesses
NIZAMIYE COMPLEX, PRETORIA
Modelled on the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey, this Ottoman style mosque lies on 10 hectares of land and includes a high school, a clinic and community hall, bazaar and Turkish restaurant.
Visit for: the 21 domes and 4 half domes, authentic Turkish ceramics, and custom-made carpet
Photo: View from the Company’s Garden in Cape Town of Table Mountain and the great synagogue in Cape Town.
MARIAMAN TEMPLE, PRETORIA
Mariaman has one of the most unusual and impressive gateways of Hindu buildings in South Africa, the size and proportions of which follow strict traditional rules of building from 500 AD.
THE LUTHERAN MISSION, BOTSHABELO
Just outside Middelburg is the old Berlin mission station, established in 1865. No longer an active mission station, there are two churches of historical value.
Visit for: the ‘modified Gothic’ red-brick, thatched church
THE TWEETORINGKERK, BLOEMFONTEIN
Not the only two-towered church in the country, yet this gracious church did not have the towers to start with.
Visit for: the simple and beautiful interior, almost austere it is so plain
ST AUGUSTINE MISSION, MODDERPOORT
This unusual church is set within a cave. Still used as a chapel, its dimly lit and rough interior is a monument to the early St Augustine brotherhood. To the north is a larger, stone church.
Visit for: the tranquility of the place
Research: Places of Worship in South Africa – John Oxley