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Lutheran Mission Church
Bethanie, North West

John Frederick KROLL: Architect

Type:Lutheran Church


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25°33'34.98" S 27°36'33.51" E Alt: 1068m

Church at Bethanie, North West Province.
Bethanie Evangelical Lutheran Congregation.


During the mid-nineteenth century part of the Bakwena ba Mogopa had settled on the farm Losperfontein near Brits. In November 1864 the missionary Wilhelm Behrens sen. of the Hermannsburg Mission Society had come to the place to work amongst the people. The farm belonged to Tjaart Kruger, younger Brother of President Paul Kruger. Two years later the mission and the community had been able to purchase the farm. The mission station was given the name of Bethanie.

Soon after the missionary's arrival a wattle and daub structure had been erected to serve as a church. In 1867 the first brick-built church was constructed – a plain building 18m long by 7m wide. A free-standing bell tower was added about ten years later.

By 1890 the congregation's ever growing numbers made it imperative that the church building would have to be enlarged or a new church to be built.

After some deliberations it was decided to build a church in cruciform measuring 550 square metres in extent - well over four times the floor area of the old church.

Also, it had to be a 'beautiful' church. To this end they engaged the architect J.F. Kroll from Pretoria who would design the building and oversee its erection. The logistics for the actual building and contractual work, however were to be left to W. Behrens sen., his son Wilhelm Behrens jun. - also a missionary - and the very able chief of the local inhabitants, Jakobus More. Much of the work was to be carried out by the congregants themselves*).

On the 3rd of May 1891 the work on site began. Two German bricklayers had been taken on. Four days later, on the 7th of May, the corner stone was laid**).

The whole work progressed well so that a year later, on May the 18th 1892, the church was consecrated.

The design of the church shows all the signs of the electicism prevalent at that time, when elements of neo-classical styles were combined in order to create something special. In addition Kroll added some individualistic ideas of his own which partly detract from the functionality and appearance of the building.

He gave unusual import to the transcept. At the Eastern end of it he placed the tower which results in the loss of quite a number of seats; a serious fault if one considers the quest for space. The Western end presents rather an uninteresting, blank looking towering wall. Odd-looking from the outside are the lean-to shaped additions on both sides of the nave which house the aisles.

*) This communal contribution to the building of the church deserves to be noted.
The people were duty bound to work at the behest of the chief or Kgosi for the common good. Thus the two bricklayers mentioned were assisted by eight unpaid local artisans. However, only four of them were on the job at any given time. This they did in rotation with the other four enabling them to tend to their own affairs - such as looking after their livestock. The same applied to the hod-men and labourers. All the bricks were formed and baked on site by the populace. All the earthen fill to the foundations – an estimated 350 to 400 cubic metres - was carried in by the womenfolk.

**) The original cornerstone is no longer in existence. Since it was a sandstone it probably became disfigured or disintegrated over the years. In replacement of it a plaque of polished black granite was affixed to the wall at the main entrance. Apart from the differing material and looks the plaque cannot be called a replica of the original stone since the wording on it has been changed/adjusted somewhat.

Source material: various issues of the mission society's journal 'Hermannsburger Missionsblatt' encompassing the period from 1875 to 1895.

(Konrad Voges, September 2015)

Writings about this entry

Menache, Philippe & David, Darryl Earl. 2015. Church tourism in South Africa : a travel odyssey. South Africa: Self-published by Philippe Menache and Darryl Earl David. pg 38-39