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Great churches and temples of Joburg Print E-mail
06 January 2007

St Mary's Cathedral, inner city, 1929
St Mary's is another Frank Fleming church, designed in a Romanesque-Italian style. Its interior (some four to five storeys high) is dominated by soaring white-plastered columns and arches, glossy parquet floors, beautiful stained glass windows and simple wooden benches. Generations of Anglican worshippers have come and gone, among them the late Helen Joseph; the late Beyers Naude served as a priest at the church. The story goes that security men wearing their safari suits tried to blend in with the congregation, while spying on Naude.

The church's windows sparkle with stained glass depictions, and it boasts Cecil Skotnes linoprints and Joe Kekana pulpit carvings. An adjoining chapel, designed by Herbert Baker, lists 8 000 names of those who died in World War 1, and the walls are covered with paintings and other religious artefacts, many of them gifts to the church.

The lofty interior of St Mary's Cathedral, finished with the many contrasts in textures

Consecrated on 27 September 1929, the church's exterior is finished in stone; although these days it dissolves into the surrounding buildings, when it was built it stood tall and splendid in Wanderers Street.

Alongside the restful, domed apse is a magnificent pipe organ, which is still played on Sundays, echoing its resonant melodies through the high spaces. The cathedral seats 2 000 but these days those benches are hardly filled, says Reverend Douglas Torr. The 9.30am service attracts around 500 congregants, drawn from the inner city, Soweto and the East Rand. Up to 25 percent of the congregants are immigrants from other parts of Africa.

The church is famous for its strong ties to the struggle against apartheid. In the 1950s, it was one of the few non-racial churches in downtown Johannesburg, according to Luli Callinicos in The World that Made Mandela. The closing of St Cyprian's a few kilometres away forced the black congregants from that church to join the services at St Mary's.

The adjoining Darragh House, which belonged to the church, was a venue for non-racial meetings and in the 1970s and '80s, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu was dean of the church, services in support of the struggle were held.

And in April 1993 the body of Oliver Tambo lay in state in the cathedral before he was buried in Benoni.



Swaminarayan Mandir, Lenasia, 2004
One of Joburg's newest places of worship, the Swaminarayan Mandir, or temple, opened in September 2004 in Lenasia, to much celebration.

There's a peacefulness in the temple interior – it's quiet, with a polished marble floor and wide prayer space facing the idols against a decorated raised platform.

Intricately sculpted pillars line the walls, and the interior of the dome is lined with the same intricate carvings. The exterior is impressive: a flat, rectangular building with a small, central dome, offset with pillars on the corners and at entrances down the sides. The pillars consist of intricate PVC carvings and shapes, adding interest to the building. Flags flutter from short flagpoles on the roof.

Sleek, marbled floor surrounded by intricate, moulded pillars and with PVC moulded latticework in the domem defines the interior of the Swaminarayan Mandir
Sleek, marbled floor surrounded by intricate, moulded pillars and with PVC moulded latticework in the domem defines the interior of the Swaminarayan Mandir

Mukesh Patel, the chairman of the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission of South Africa, says building the temple was very much a community effort: the R7-million needed was raised entirely by the Swaminarayan Hindu community in the city - some 400 people of a total 700 devotees nationwide.



Places of worship



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Last Updated on 10 January 2013