South African Sendinggestig - Missionary Society Museum
MUNNIK VISSER BLACK FISH and PARTNERS: Restoration Architect
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Also variously Zuid Afrikaansche Zendinggestig; South African Slave Church.
On the left is the South African Missionary Society Day School. (See photo)
In 1801, the Board of Directors of the South African Society for the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom acquired the property in Long Street, Cape Town, for 50,000 guilders. Between 1801 and 1804 slaves and free-blacks demolished the existing house on the property and cleared the site and the Sendinggestig was built. Its construction was closely linked to slaves. They built the walls with stones from the Vlaeberg quarry and bricks they made. Some assisted the carpenters working on the building while others painted its walls with lime wash made with slave-labour. The front steps and floor were made from Robben Island slate. The roof used to be water-proofed with whale oil. It was inaugurated on 15 March 1804. The museum building is architecturally unique as it was South Africa's first building in the form of a basilica with an apse. It has the only surviving example of a steeply pitched lime-concrete roof - a form of construction developed at the Cape specifically for flat roofs. Its façade features Corinthian pilasters carrying a moulded Cornice and a Gable with a circular ventilator and four Urns.
By the 1970s the building was in a dilapidated state and required major restoration work to both its exterior and interior. During the winter of 1977 storms caused more damage and part of its northern wall collapsed. Restoration work began in 1978. The restoration team was able to reproduce the building's 1830s Facade according to a contemporary print by Frederick Willem de Wet. The historical interior of the church was also faithfully reproduced, including replicas of the wall-paintings discovered during the restoration process.[Extracted from Wikipedia - see for more historical information.]
Information displayed on the wall in the entrance of the museum:
The Museum was established in 1979 to preserve the building in which it is situated, together with the legacy of Christian evangelisation amongst the slaves and the indigenous people of the Cape. The building was in use as a church until 1971 despite the fact that after 1950, when the Group Areas Act (Act 41 of 1950) was implemented, the Coloured population in the City declined rapidly as people were forcibly removed to the Cape Flats.
In the meantime the condition of the SA Gestig's church building in Long Street had deteriorated drastically. In 1971 the building was sold to the Metropole Hotel. A few years later, the building was bought for the purpose of establishing a museum, funded by the then Provincial Administration of the Cape of Good Hope and funds raised by the Simon van der Stel Foundation, a local heritage conservation body.
A special memorial service was held on 31 August 1975, during which the congregation bid farewell to the church building in Long Street. The new church in Belhar was inaugurated in 1978 and the South African Missionary Society was dissolved in 1983.
Porch and main entrance
The timber lobby comprises a framework of yellowwood, with panels and doors of yellowwood and American pine. The doors in three walls give access to the interior of the church. The porch was known as a "wind-lobby" because the doors would be opened or closed depending on the direction in which the wind was blowing, in order to prevent the wind rushing into the church, bringing clouds of dust and dishevelling those inside. The woodwork, now laid bare, was originally painted. In 1811 a lantern was made for the illumination of the stoep and lobby and placed above the front door. In July 1863 it was decided to "move it forward" in order to shed light across the whole stoep.
Two elegant teak columns with Ionic capitals, made from a single ship's mast, support the main gallery. Along the side walls are two narrow galleries. These were originally unsupported, but in 1824 three yellowwood columns with Ionic capitals were introduced under each gallery. All galleries are made of yellowwood and teak (some of the beams covered by planking). The columns were painted to produce a marbled effect.
The double front entrance door and the door originally situated at the side of the building were of Burmese teak. The doors of the porch or "wind-lobby" are mainly of yellowwood and American pine. Behind the pulpit is a painted door. This so-called "blind" door also represents the tromp l'oeil style.
The walls are approximately 750 mm thick and 10,4 m high. Up to windowsill level they are constructed of broken stone (Malmesbury shale from the quarry on the slope of Signal Hill) and mortar of lime cement. The lime was procured by firing seashells in special kilns. From the windowsills upwards the walls consist of fired bricks and mortar without buttresses. All surfaces inside and outside are covered with lime plaster.
Each window is a miniature reproduction of the ground plan of the church. Sashes and frames are mostly of Burmese teak. The original glass of the panes was also very light. A good number of the original panes have been conserved in the windows. Behind the pulpit is a painted window and on the northeastern wall there are four such windows. These so-called "blind" windows represent a very old art form called tromp l’oeil, already practised by the ancient Greeks. This art is defined as "an illusion convincing enough to deceive the eye of the beholder by making a flat surface appear three-dimensional when the painting is finished". The Gestig's paintings are part of the small number of examples of this art form in Cape Town.
The original floor was of stone, most probably slate from Robben Island, worked by hand. The stone threshold at the front door, which undoubtedly came from Robben Island, is the only remnant of the original floor. It has not yet been established when the slate floor was replaced by a wooden one (probably on account of the cold).
According to the minutes of meetings of the Society's Board of Directors, a wooden floor was laid in front of the pulpit in 1847. The wooden floor had one disadvantage: it sheltered many rats. In 1901 a rat which had died of bubonic plague was found in the church. The whole floor was ripped up and the debris underneath cleared out. A thick layer of concrete with a wooden floor on top was laid down. This floor provided good service up till 1978, when it was restored to its original state. This time, however, the Robben Island slate was not worked by hand but the tiles were cut and polished by machine. The floor slopes down evenly from the apse to the front door. It has a drop of approximately 30 cm, which is evidently not accidental.
See also the SAHRIS entry.
These notes were last edited on 2021 05 28
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