Hidden jewel to put history on display

WHAT is arguably one of Nelson Mandela Bay’s most interesting historical buildings will be back in the spotlight next month when it opens its doors to the public for a tour.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin, affectionately known as St Mary’s Cathedral, has been around since the early 1800s and is not quite ready to give up its little corner in Central.

The tour, led by renowned historian Margaret Harradine, will highlight some of the church’s considerable history and promises to really pique the audience’s interest.

It’s difficult to decide just how old St Mary’s actually is. The foundation stone of the original building was laid in October 1825. The building was completed in 1834 and altered over the course of more than 60 years before a devastating fire in March 1895 left only the walls standing. The new church was then opened in September the following year.

Patty Bosman, the organiser of the event, and Harradine, both found it fascinating that one of the few items that survived the fire is a wooden cross that can still be found at St Mary’s today.

They both also agreed that their favourite part of the church is the lectern which is shaped like an eagle.

“It also survived the fire in 1895. It’s made of cast iron. It was sent back to England and the new brass base was made,” Harradine said.

“I’m fairly fond of the eagle. It’s a common symbol for a lectern if you visit cathedrals and so forth overseas. It symbolises the strength of the eagle to fly, to go everywhere, but it’s also the symbol of St John.”

Other features in the church that could form part of the tour are the font, which is also quite old, the dog’s tombstone in the garden and the windows in the nave.

“One of the windows in the church has a fascinating history. It started off as part of a huge window in a church in Highgate, London,” Harradine explained.

She said the church in London was quite small and when they wanted to add on to it, they took out the big window and had it broken up into several smaller ones.

“One of them was the window in St Mary’s. They put that window in the side of the Highgate church somewhere and it stayed there for quite a long time. In the early 1900s they wanted to make alterations again and someone had offered them a window they preferred to the one in St Mary’s.

“It turned out the person who was by then a priest here (St Mary’s) was the great-nephew of the person who had originally given the great big window. So, the window came out here.”

This is just one of many interesting stories that form part of St Mary’s rich history and Bosman and Harradine are quite excited to share the rest with Bay residents.

The tour will form part of the St Mary’s Cathedral Patronal Festival Celebration on September 8.

“I base the tour very much on the reaction of the people, particularly with children. Sometimes there’s a line of interest they have and I then follow that,” Harradine said.

It will take place at 10:30 and again at 12:30.

There will be a flower show from 09:00 to 15:00 that everyone is welcome to contribute to. Participants are welcome to bring an arrangement that will be displayed in the church.

Reverend Pakama will also present a liturgical talk at 11:30 to explain the significance of the seasons and colours of the Anglican church year.

Participants will be entertained by a gathering of former choir boys, who will put St Mary’s acoustics to good use.

Entry to the event is R20 per person. Refreshments will be sold.