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Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin
Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape

Sydney STENT: Architect
JONES and McWILLIAMS: Architect

Date:1825 : 1895 : 1932
Type:Anglican Church


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33° 57' 42.33" S 25° 37' 20.72" E Alt: 20m

Originally the St Mary's Collegiate Church now the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin.

A late Victorian church which replaced an earlier church begun in 1825, and which became the only Collegiate church in South Africa. It was destroyed by fire in 1895, leaving only the walls standing but, in the same year, the foundation stone of a third church was laid and it was built to the design of Sidney Stent. The old walls of the nave were retained and strengthened but the choir was entirely rebuilt and enlarged in a local stone with a steeply-pitched arched-braced roof covered with slate. In addition new cloisters, an organ chamber, a chapter room, choir vestries and a sacristy were built.

The choir is the finest part of the church: it contains the Bishop's throne, twenty-two clergy stalls in addition to choir stalls, and honorary stalls for the dioceses of the Province, with the coat of arms of each See on the walls behind each stall, emblazoned in colours. It has a light iron chancel screen and a reredos of Caen stone carved by local craftsmen. In 1925-8 the nave was extended by Jones and McWilliams. (Greig 1971:185-6)


Cumming-George 1933

THIS work consists principally of building a new nave to extend the church out to the frontage of Main Street, increasing the seating accommodation, and providing a much-needed access for the congregation from Main Street, and building in addition a new library for the church records. Owing to the site being on the side of the hill, and the church floor being some 15 ft. (4.57 m) above Main Street pavement, the space below the new nave has been utilised for letting purposes as a shop or offices with a large basement below, the revenue from which will considerably assist in paying for the additions.

The total length of the church as completed, 160 ft. (48.8 m), makes it one of the largest Anglican parish churches in the Union. A novel feature is the raking floor in new nave to improve the line of sight to choir and altar.

A wide flight of easy steps leads up from the new gateway in Main Street to a porch, from which opens a lofty vaulted inner vestibule at the east corner of the north transept, giving access to the old transept and new nave.

The interior of the new nave has been made to conform in a general way in the matter of height, roof treatment, floor tiling, colouring, etc., with the existing church, but with cast stone tracery and artificial stone dressings to the piers and windows, and " broomed " plastering to upper walls.

Owing to the fact that a new nine-storey building is now being erected on the adjoining corner site within about 4 ft. (1.2 m) of the new nave, it has been found necessary to enlarge the old windows in south transept and form a new wheel window in the north transept to improve the lighting of the crossing.

Externally the new additions are carried out to harmonise with the period and materials of the Gothic work of the old church, except that the east elevation to Main Street has a little more elaboration in the Continental Gothic feeling. A reinforced concrete fleche covered with boarding and copper forms the finish of the main gable, the gunmetal cross at the apex being 108 feet (33 m) above the Main Street pavement.

The tracery and dressings are in cast stone and artificial stone and the main wall surfaces rough cast to match existing work. All the new roofing is of copper laid with gauntleted rolls.

The front to the shop or offices on Main Street has been deeply recessed behind a large arch, and has been designed to harmonise with the Gothic type of the church.


(SAB Mar 1932:39 tend)

See also:
The Anglican Diocese of Port Elizabeth
Nelson Mandela Bay

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

Cumming-George, L. 1933. Architecture in South Africa - Volume One. Cape Town: The Speciality Press of S.A. Ltd.. pg 141-142
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 185-186