CHURCHES THAT REMAIN

The Eastern Cape is not only home to numerous forts, battle sites, graves and monuments that attest to its turbulent past, but there are a number of churches dotted about the countryside – many no longer in use but which remain as a testament to spiritual succour as well as on occasion providing shelter in times of need.

One of the two focused on here is a stone church at Burns Hill, a site where, in 1846, the Xhosas attacked a British wagon train, capturing and destroying half of the 120 wagons and carrying off the wine and regimental plate of the Seventh Dragoon Guards. The whereabouts of the latter remain a mystery.

The corrugated iron roof is rusted, the windows are broken, sections of the guttering have disappeared and the down-pipes have fallen off. A tall tree shades one side, otherwise its surroundings are bare except for some cactus that has taken root in recent years.

Another church that probably dates from sometime after 1856 is St. Mungo Church, situated in the Beanfield Location outside Alice. The rear of the church provides evidence of the ravages of time: a hole in the wall, sun-baked bricks exposed where the plaster has fallen off, a large crack in the wall, and evidence of broken guttering.

These images reflect the state of this church building.

The pile of bricks in the corner suggest a desire to repair some of the damage to the church.

The dusty and torn Xhosa Bible and collection plate hints at a congregation still using this place of worship, if not regularly then at least now and then.

Outside the church is a simple monument erected by Toc H which reads IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO FELL IN THIS VALLEY ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1850. This being the Tyumie Valley, where the Gaikas under Chief Sandile attacked military settlers.

You can read a reference to this in http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/?inventory/U/collections&c=A182/R/6046

8 thoughts on “CHURCHES THAT REMAIN

  1. With the decline since the 60’s in numbers attending church, many churches here have been abandoned or sold off, as well. I know of a couple that became restaurants and others, homes. I’m surprised we don’t read more about the social impacts of this shift. Where do folks find their succor?

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    • This decline is happening here too. These particular churches are out in the open country and hark back to the early settlers in this country who built them with materials that were at hand. South Africa has a lot of old churches built much later from stone. Some churches here have also been turned into homes but the saddest sight for me was a lovely church building being used as a vehicle repair shop.

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  2. Really quite heart-wrenching stuff; to think of the lives lived in and around these churches in their heyday – christenings, weddings, funerals, communion – now probably as forgotten as the buildings themselves…

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    • It is. I feel the same about graves and cemeteries that are scattered around the countryside, many of them now overgrown or literally disappearing into the ground.

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  3. These are all quite striking images. The most hauntingly beautiful to me is the one of the church doors; the most telling is “the dusty and torn Xhosa Bible and collection plate.” I’m going to do more looking at all images. I expect I’ll do some “looking around” as well at the historical background for these churches and their worshippers.

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    • Churches were built wherever communities settled. Some very humble ones gave way to more permanent structures built of stone or bricks as those communities prospered. Ones such as the two above speak of very humble beginnings and are a testament to the importance of places of worship even when there is little else around one, where a community can gather for spiritual sustenance as well as the important social role churches must have played when communities were scattered on farms or on isolated villages.

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