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St Patrick's Church
Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape


Street:Hill Street


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33°18'40.86" S 26°31'37.51" E

The church was erected with the labour of the 27th Regiment of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers quartered near Grahamstown, to whom Father Thomas Murphy was Catholic Military Chaplain.

The cornerstone was laid on 30 July 1839 and the building completed by June 1844.

The Frontier Times, one of Grahamstown's news sheets a century ago, gave the following technical description of St. Patrick's from within:

"The interior dimensions are 70 feet long (21.34m), 36 feet wide (10.97m), and 27 feet high (8.23m). The architecture is neo-Gothic or Ecclesiastical; the style which prevails in the arches is that termed 'The Tudor', and that in the tracery and interior ornaments is termed ‘Decorated English.' The church consists of one large nave without aisles, but the absence of a carved ribbed roof is compensated by an elaborately enriched ceiling with traceried mouldings, cornice and centre-piece. The drawings for the building were made by Mr. TEELING, clerk in the Royal Engineer Department; the designs for the enrichment's and the details for carrying out the different parts were furnished by Mr. O'NEILL, the clerk of works of the same department; and the toilsome duty of superintending devolved on the pastor, the Rev. Mr. Murphy …. The foliage from which the castings were made were carved by Mr. Hart; the plastering stucco, and castings, executed by Mr. Hockey; and the neo-Gothic joinery and model panelling for the centre and cornice, were the work of Mr. GRIFFIN."

Mother Gertrude-Notré Meré described the actions taken by the Bishop to fortify the church in 1851:

"A semi-circular wall with loopholes was built round the entrance door, for there was no porch at that time. The vestry and kitchen windows were bricked up and loopholed. Inside the church itself scaffolding was erected, reaching up to the windows, and our mattresses lay piled up in the sanctuary, ready to be placed in the windows in the event of the church being besieged by the rebels. It was the rendezvous appointed by the authorities. Water, meal, ammunition and arms were in readiness. Every night the nuns carrying their orphan pupils, took refuge in the sanctuary, while the people filled the body of the church."

In the course of time, additions were made to the original building. The porch, the bell-tower and the schoolroom adjoining the church were erected by the second Vicar Apostolic, the Rt. Rev. Patrick Moran, who chronicles each of these extensions as follows:

  • November 1857: The new wing at St. Patrick's, Grahamstown, extended for a school was finished at the end of this year.
  • May 1863: In this year the schoolroom at St. Patrick's was enlarged to afford more accommodation to the members of the Catholic Young Men's Society.
  • February 14th, 1857: "Porch at St Patrick's finished this month."

With respect to the Church Bell there are two entries in His Lordship's diary:

  • "1858, Christmas day. The Bell at St. Patrick's, Grahamstown, which arrived only a fortnight previously, was rung for the first time at 4 o'clock a.m. to-day. The Bishop announced on the previous Sunday that this Bell would be rung three times every day for the future to summon the Faithful to say the ‘Angelus'."
  • "December 23rd, 1869. The new Bell in St. Patrick's was put in the Tower which had just been completed for its reception. It supplies the place of a Bell similar to it every way, size, tone, etc., which had unfortunately been cracked six month previously. This latter Bell had not been hung in a Tower, but quite low down: and to this some attributed the accident. For this reason, as soon as we sent the order to John Murphy, 15 Thomas Street, Dublin, for a new one, we set about erecting a Bell Tower to St Patrick's."

Of additions to the interior of the church, we learn from The Eastern Star of June 23rd, 1871, that a substantial organ and choir gallery had been erected over the entrance door, and the use of handsome lamps and chandeliers introduced. The present altar, which had been selected by Bishop Ricards on his visit to Paris in 1886, was the gift of Mr. James Harvey of Grahamstown."

(Ref: The story of St. Patrick's Church Grahamstown 1844 - 1944, Grahamstown, 1944.)

[Submitted by William MARTINSON, from information supplied by Liz de Wet, Cory Library, Rhodes University, Grahamstown. December, 2010]

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

Gledhill, Eilly, Kearney, Brian & Peters, Walter. 1975. Grahamstown : a pilot study in conservation. Durban: University of Natal. pg 53
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 122-123