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Lutheran Church
Cape Town, Western Cape

Anton ANREITH: Architect 1791
PARKER and FORSYTH: Architect Alterations 1913-14

Date:1791 : 1913-14
Type:Lutheran Church
Street:Strand Street


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33°55'08.35" S 18°25'10.05" E

Proclaimed a National Monument in 1949, devolved to a Cape Provincial Heritage Resource in 1999.

This is one of a unique group of eighteenth century buildings, the others being Martin Melck House and Sexton's House which stand in Strand Street, higher up and across the street from Koopmans de Wet House. They owe their attraction to the fact that these buildings were designed as an architectural entity to meet the needs of the Lutheran Church. They are also of outstanding historical importance because they symbolise the long drawn-out struggle of the Lutherans for the right to practise their religion.

At first the Dutch East India Company [VOC] only allowed freedom of worship to members of the Reformed Church. The number of German, Danish and Scandinavian officials and free burghers who belonged to the Lutheran Church increased rapidly, with the result that from very early times they demanded the recognition of their beliefs and provision for their religious needs. Nevertheless all their petitions to the Lords Seventeen for permission to erect their own church and provide for the services of their own Minister were in vain. One of the bitterest opponents of the Lutheran Church during the middle years of the eighteenth century was Ryk Tulbagh who in other respects was one of the most popular of governors. Yet it was during his regime that Martin Melck, a member of the Lutheran Church and one of its strongest supporters, succeeded unobtrusively in starting to build the church.

Martin Melck came to the Cape in 1746 as a soldier in the Company's service. Four years later he became a free burgher and married Margaretha Hop. By this marriage he became the owner of the show farm Elsenburg and he soon became one of the richest and most influential wine- and stock-farmers in the colony. It was almost inevitable that he would acquire plots in the fashionable Sea Street (Strand Street). On 6th April, 1774 near the top of the street he started building what he described to the government as a warehouse. It measured 28,6 m long by 19,5 m wide, and was built like a church with a domed ceiling, rows of thick, rectangular columns and large "English" sash windows.

In 1776 the hall was transferred to the congregation by Martin Melck and used for holding services, and it already contained an organ, a communion chalice and a lectern in the form of a swan with outstretched wings – the symbol of Lutheranisrn. Another swan was proudly displayed above the entrance. Ryk Tulbagh was not unaware of these activities, but he is said to have told Melck that whenever he passed the place, he closed the eye nearest to it.

At last, in 1779, the Lords Seventeen decided to give the Lutherans their own church and in the following year Andreas Kolver of Rotterdam began his ministry at the Cape as the first Pastor. During the next four years considerable improvements were made to the hall, but it was mainly during the years 1787 to 1792 that the building which had been "knocked up in the taste of a warehouse" was transformed and beautified. This was done by the leading Cape sculptor of the time, Anton Anreith. He designed the front elevation, but his main contribution was the decoration of the interior by his excellent wood carvings. The most important of these works were the magnificent pulpit supported by two great male figures and the choir-stalls with a carving of King David in high relief. During these years too, the consistory was added.

In 1818 the church had to be rebuilt to a considerable extent because of the poor condition of the walls and the roof. At this time a spire was built, but unfortunately there were deviations from Anreith's design which robbed the facade and entrance of much of their former beauty.

The new building was inaugurated on 20th December, 1820. There have been few alterations to the church since that time. The spire with its belfry rises almost from street level, while the original old railings offer brave resistance to the encroachment of the city. The same slate path which so many churchgoers have used over the years still leads from the gate to the paved entrance porch. Inside, the sense of devotion is enhanced by Anreith's incomparable pulpit, the historic old pews, the lovely copper basins and font. Here the Church Archives and the valuable communion plate are also preserved.

[Extracted and edited from Oberholster 1972:28]


(NM 1949; PSB:241)

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Writings about this entry

Cohen, Ronald. 2015. Cape Town : a study in watercolours. Cape Town: Fernwood Press. pg [3]
De Bosdari, C. 1953. Cape Dutch Houses and Farms, their architecture and history. Cape Town / Amsterdam: AA Balkema. pg 51-52
Duncan, Paul & Proust, Alain. 2013. Hidden Cape Town. Cape Town: Random House Struik. pg 194-203
Fransen, Hans. 2004. The old buildings of the Cape. A survey of extant architecture from before c1910 in the area of Cape Town - Calvinia - Colesberg - Uitenhage. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. pg 33-34
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 89-90
Hartdegen, Paddy. 1988. Our building heritage : an illustrated history. South Africa: Ryll's Pub. Co. on behalf of the National Development Fund for the Building Industry. pg 38
Lewcock, Ronald. 1963. Early Nineteenth Century Architecture in South Africa : a study of the interaction of two cultures, 1795-1837. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pg 14, 76-7, 94, 105, 107-9, 292, 334, 389
Oberholster, JJ. 1972. The historical monuments of South Africa. Cape Town: Rembrandt Van Rijn Foundation for Culture at the request of the National Monuments Council. pg 28
Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pg 26
Rennie, John for CPIA. 1978. The Buildings of Central Cape Town 1978. Volume Two : Catalogue. Cape Town: Cape Provincial Institute of Architects. pg 12 item 35.5
Richardson, Deirdré. 2001. Historic Sites of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. pg 74
Trotter, Alys Fane. 1900. Old colonial houses of the Cape of Good Hope : illustrated and described. London: B. T. Batsford. pg 14, Plate XXIII