St Alban’s Cathedral

Kaitlyn, Kathryn and I headed to Pretoria this morning to check out St Alban’s Cathedral. Click to enlarge.

This morning Liezl and a few woman met at our house for their bimonthly Ruby Club. mmm, Ruby Club… it almost sounds like a prosperity Gospel thing but it’s not. It’s based on Proverbs 31:10: “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.” Anyway, my jewel needed space which meant I needed to take care of the kids. Saturday morning, 4 hours to kill, what to do, what to do? Why not go church spotting (yes, I know, my inner geek is not a recluse)?

I decided to head through to Pretoria, about a 30 minute drive. There’s two churches in the Central Business District I’m keen to photograph, St Alban’s Cathedral (Anglican) and a Presbyterian church a few hundred meters on.

Um, before I go on I probably need to say that if I was a good church spotter I’d know the basics. Like make sure that your wife’s camera has charged batteries in it. I ran out of flash after about 10 shots and the camera completely melted down after 20. I wasn’t able to document everything I wanted to but this will give you a taste.

Left: I really love the earthy brown of the stone in and around Pretoria. I’m fairly sure that this church was built in two parts. There’s a stone walled section that is now used as a sanctuary with two adjoined chapels and a brick built area which used as a congregational space. That said it might be by design. Right: This section of the church is part of what I presume is the extension. If the original sanctuary is “old school” kinda high church. The extensions feel more art deco, I’m guess ±1940 or so. Even as I’m writing this I’ve realized I know the previous Dean. I must ask him for more info. Click either photo to enlarge.

For me the greatest feature was the small old North and East facing stained glass around the sanctuary but unfortunately I didn’t have enough juice to get those. The North facing large stained glass was quite beautiful though. It reminded me of the mod look in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town.

Far-Left: I’m assuming this is John the Baptist. I’m thinking that he’s dressed in camel’s hair (Matthew 3:4), with streams of water gushing out of a baptismal font (Matthew 3:11). This might be taking it too far but I think he’s standing in a road (Matthew 3:3) . Certainly the lamb with the cross represents Christ (John 1:29). It then stands to reason why the baptismal font has the Greek letters Α and Ω (Revelations 1:8). Notice the dove out of heaven (Matthew 3:16). Center-Left: Here we have Mary with the Christ. I couldn’t figure the sun, moon crescent and 12 stars above her. Below you’ve got a single angel, presumed to be Gabriel (Luke 1:26) rather than the host (Luke 2:13). The symbol to the right of the angel is the Chi Rho (a christogram formed by superimposing the first two letters in the Greek spelling of the word Christ). I wonder if there was any intent behind the sun beams bursting out from behind Mary rather than the Christ? Maybe a Anglo-Catholic (see the Bible discussion). Center-Right: Jesus Christ before crucifixion because His hands are visible but show no scars (John 20:27), and also before the second coming because of His brilliant white outer garment (Revelation 19:13). Above there is a gold crown and sceptre. An interesting three pronged design I assume symbolises the Trinity (although there seem to be two additional symmetrical upwards lines). The purple around Christ would normally be taken to symbolise kingship. On the left is a spear (John 19:34), a whip (Isaiah 53:5). In the centre is a crown of thorns (John 19:5). On the right is a cross (1 Corinthians 1:23), nails and a hammer (John 20:25). What is Jesus standing on? Mmm, just wondering. Far-Right: Joseph stands as an old man (spot his grey, I’m thinking this is an accident). Bethlehem (Luke 2:4) with star (Matthew 2:2) hangs above him. Again we have an angel underneath (Matthew 2:13) and he is leading Mary and Christ down to Egypt. As I read through all the imagery above I’m struck by how frequently there is reference to Matthew’s Gospel. I’m wondering if that was a theme. Make sure you click a photo to enlarge (I wish I had more bandwidth to put the original high definition shots up).

There was lot’s of interesting stuff in and around the sanctuary however the three photo’s below was all I could take. I found it interesting that the “pew Bible” was NRSV with apocryphal and duetocanonical books. I guess this informations intersects my mind while I’m thinking about the fundamentals of the faith. Ha, I must be the most high church low church person I’ve ever met ;).

Left: The Bishops throne. mmm. Top-Right: The inscription is from Ely Cathedral. I’m following that one up. Bottom-Right: CPSA’s favorite son (and mine in many ways). Click any photo to enlarge.

St Alban’s Cathedral is a very beautiful city center church. Wanna find it:

Any other gotta see churches in the Gauteng area? You got a favorite church? Maybe you can’t stand churches? All types to make the world go round :).


4 thoughts on “St Alban’s Cathedral

  1. Thank you for this Mark. You know far more about the widows than I ever did ! And yes, the famous Herbert Baker who designed a number of churches, including another in Pretoria (Christ Church Arcadia I think) and wrote a few good hymns too, did in fact design the apse of the cathedral and choir. However, like another of my good friends, I was horrified by the introduction of the Tutu bust, a sad piece of idolatry.

    It took a number of experts to sort out the appalling acoustics of the building, and in my time, choir, instrument group, grand piano and organ were all located at the back. The Dean who completed the second half of the building, ending as Bishop of Bloemfontein and I cannot recall his name – only that in my time, there was one elderly lady who refused to sit anywhere except where she could see Herbert Baker’s bit and avoid what the called the ghastly extension ! Takes all sorts.

  2. Pingback: A bit of Ely Cathedral that Emigrated « Bishop’s Blog

  3. I came across your article whist looking up St Alban’s Cathedral, Pretoria – for nostalgic reasons.

    I was a boy chorister there in the early ’70s (Deans Patrick Hogg & then Derek Damant, Sub Dean/Precentor John Ruston) & Confirmed there by Bishop Edward Knapp Fisher about 1973 or ’74.

    I have saved your photographs of the north-isle windows – which were are as I remembered them.

    Do they still have boy choristers?

  4. Hi Hector,

    “Do they still have boy choristers?”

    I don’t know to be honest. I kinda collect churches, photograph them and investigate some of the more interesting symbolism I happen across.

    I do have a bit of a connection to St Alban’s in that I knew the former Dean, Father David MacGregor, as a child. I also attended his daughter’s wedding at the Cathedral when I was about six and acted as a boat boy. It was all bells and smells :).

    I think you’ve given me something to write about tonight. Thanks.


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