The history of the Cathedral and that of the Diocese is intertwined. Rightly so, as the Cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of Pretoria.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE DIOCESE AND THE CATHEDRAL
The Pretoria Diocesan Centenary publication (1978), states that the story of the Anglican Church in Pretoria started in 1864 when Bishop Twells of Bloemfontein ventured across the Orange River and visited Potchefstroom, Rustenburg, and Pretoria. Bishop Twells arranged for a deacon (Revd Mr Joseph Wills) to be stationed in Pretoria. In 1873 the first Anglican Church in Pretoria was built opposite the Poynton’s Building in Church Street. The life of this church building and congregation, (the first St Alban’s) was short-lived, as the narrator in the Pretoria Diocesan Centenary observes: “By all accounts neither this building nor its congregation measured up to the very high standards” (p1).
The present site of St Albans Cathedral was acquired in 1879. This was to be the mother church of the newly established Diocese of Pretoria (established in 1878). Bishop Henry Bousfield served as its first bishop. This initial Diocese of Pretoria has since multiplied to establish the Dioceses of Johannesburg (1922), St Mark the Evangelist (1986), and Mpumalanga (2005). The Diocese of Johannesburg has multiplied to form Christ the King (1990), Matlosane (1990), and Highveld (1990). At present the western part of the Diocese is being prepared for the establishment of a new diocese for the Rustenburg area.
What is clear from the above is that the Cathedral church and the Diocese of Pretoria started from very humble beginnings in 1873, with one deacon and a building and congregation that did not quite meet the expected standard. We have come a long way, and should not fail to see the providence of God in the life of his Church.
We are privileged to be part of the present congregation that worships and serves God in this Cathedral. We join the angels and the saints, with all those who have gone before us in this place in praising God, and acclaiming him as Lord.
HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
The establishment of the Diocese of Pretoria and the Cathedral precinct in particular followed the end of the First Anglo Boer War (1880-1881). Charles H Norburn (1978) relates this insightful anecdote that reveals something of the dynamics of the time: “At the end of the first Anglo-Boer War on 2nd August 1881, when the Transvaal was handed back to the Boers, the British people buried the Union Jack in the Cathedral grounds, as a protest against this. I understood the flag was placed in a 12 foot long tin-lined box.”
The establishment of the Diocese of Pretoria and the development of the Cathedral was no doubt part of the expansion of British imperialism, as the chaplains and missionaries followed the British flag and regiments. The continued political instability (British versus the Republic of Transvaal), including a second Anglo Boer War delayed the building and completion of the Cathedral. The Cathedral chancel (designed by Herbert Baker) was only completed and consecrated by Archbishop Carter on Easter Monday in 1909. It would take almost fifty years before the Cathedral assumed its present shape.
After the completion of the chancel the Cathedral consisted of two ill matched sections. The nave consisted of a long low roofed structure. In 1955 Archbishop Clayton laid the foundation stone of the new western section of the Cathedral (the nave). The work was completed in 1957. It was during this time of building activity that a great fire destroyed irreplaceable items. The Pretoria News of 11 June 1956 carried this news article:
“On Sunday evening 10th June 1956, fire broke out in the old Parish Hall, completely gutting the wood and corrugated iron building and destroying most of its contents.
The alarm was given during Evensong shortly before seven o’clock, but by the time the fire brigade had been notified, the building was a blazing inferno. Flames leapt 20 feet above the roof of the building endangering the new £12 000 Parish Hall, only a few yards away. Some of the roof timbers of the new Hall were burning when three fire engines arrived at seven o’clock, but these were quickly checked.
The fire was brought under control by 7.17pm, but one engine remained for several hours to damp down the smouldering wreckage.
Nearly everything was destroyed in the fire. It was found that the irreplaceable oak pews, two pianos and the Cathedral organ were charred ruins. Six stained glass windows, including the 19th century “King David Window” and the “The Risen Christ Window” – a memorial to Bishop HB Bousfield and his wife – were also destroyed.
Both the Cathedral Bell and the Christening font were badly damaged. On the south side of the gutted hall, lying in a charred heap, were documents, cassocks and surplices, damaged beyond repair.
On top of the blackened wreckage were the twisted iron sheets of the roof. Here and there was an undamaged plaque – there were fifteen in the building. The plaque of General Tim Lukin, who commanded the South African Forces during World War 1, escaped serious damage.”
The Martyrs’ Chapel was added to the south-east corner of the sanctuary during the same year (1956). The Ladies’ Chapel in the north east corner was built with the chancel and completed in 1909.
PRESENT DAY CONTEXT
The Cathedral is located in the inner city of Pretoria. It finds itself next to the national headquarters of the Department of Labour. It also has as neighbour, across the road, the offices of the national Commissioner of the South African Police Service and her deputies. The South African Reserve Bank and the State Theatre is a stone throw away. The urban context indeed functions as a centre of economic and social organisation. It follows then that the land area (space) and the ratio of population (residential and work-force) to space is highly concentrated and dense. The sheer population size of the inner city is often overwhelming.
This urban landscape makes for a challenging context where high-ranking civil servants, business men and women, ordinary workers and flat dwellers share the same space with those who do not fit these categories but see the urban context as a place of opportunity. It is no surprise that our urban context is defined by its contrasts, by the opposites that live, work and play in the city. The employed and unemployed; the wealthy and the poor; the professional and the illiterate; those who live in opulence and the homeless; all juggle for space in the inner city.
Donal Dorr (1991), in ‘The Social Justice Agenda’, writes about fourteen major issues of social justice. Those that resonate most visibly with our local urban context are:
Oppression and Liberation – particularly of the cultural kind. While the inner city of Pretoria have been a bastion of Afrikanerdom during Apartheid, it has now become, after twenty years of institutional democracy, a kaleidoscope of cultures that emanate from all over the country and the African continent. The Cathedral church, which was built just after the first Anglo Boer War (1880-1881) to perpetuate the British imperialist ideal and to secure a foothold for English culture, has experienced the same demographic change.
Racism – while institutionalised racism has been eradicated, it remains a cause of concern that the local urban landscape is today a place that is avoided at all costs by white South Africans. The Cathedral church used to have a white English speaking congregation. Today the number of white members can be counted on one hand. The membership of the congregation is representative of the diversity of most languages in the country, with a sizeable number of members from the rest of the African continent.
Refugees – Large numbers of people on the continent have fled to South Africa from famine, war, persecution or insecurity. Often it appears as if they are not wanted in South Africa. The dignity and self-respect of refugees are hugely compromised, and while the inner city do not offer them much, they are present in large numbers. Our Social Development Committee provide relief in the form of soup kitchens that feeds the homeless and refugees three times a week.
Unemployment – The high rate of unemployment and the social ills that are closely associated with large-scale unemployment (homelessness, substance abuse, crime, etc.) in South Africa manifest itself visibly in the inner city. The Cathedral church, as herald of the Good News, has at present very little in response to needs that shout at its worshipping community.
Justice in the Church – flowing from the above observation about the response of the Cathedral church (and other worshipping communities in the inner city), we must acknowledge that there is a flagrant disparity between the official teaching of the Church and the way that we act, live, and organise ourselves. Instead, the little that we had to offer was hugely compromised in recent years with the destabilisation of the church’s mission as a result of conflict within the church community.
The list of issues above has been identified with the help of Donal Dorr. In addition, two more issues define our Local Urban Context and reveal the challenges for our missional priorities.
Firstly, the lack of ownership and a sense of belonging amongst those who frequent the city. This is the case for most people who fill the places of work, public spaces, shops, etc. of the city. Our worshipping community is no different. While we love the Cathedral as a place of worship, we have little or no attachment to the city.
Secondly, this absence of ownership and a sense of belonging is entrenched by a rootedness of the inhabitants of the city to their places of origin. It is not unusual to hear people who are raising their children in the city, and who have worked for most of their working lives in the city, to say: “I am going home” when they really mean to say that they are going to visit their relatives. Part of the reason for this is that the State draws civil servants from all over the country who take up residence in the city to work here, but find it difficult to embrace the city as their own. The result is a lack of participation in civil society, and an attitude that seek to take as much as possible from the city without the commitment to invest in the city.
While the above list of issues are not exhaustive, they serve as a catalyst to define the context within which we strive to be a community of faith that seeks to respond to the missional imperatives of the Gospel. These issues should inform the construction of our local urban theology, and the discernment of our missional priorities.
The Cathedral congregation is just emerging from a period of destabilisation. The last three years have seen it being involved in trying times that included the untimely death of a much loved dean, two cases of litigation that involved the Cathedral and the Diocesan leadership, a prolonged period without priestly or episcopal ministry, and the collapse of financial support. Many have left, and a sense of unease continues to characterise life at the Cathedral.
The unfortunate events of the last three years presents the Cathedral community with an opportunity to reposition itself in the city and in the life of the Diocese. The leadership is at present reflecting on the missional priorities that would position the Cathedral church as a monument for the rest of the Diocese that would uphold the traditions of the church; a model that would be a centre of excellence in worship and that would reflect image of the ministry in the Diocese; and a missional centre that would seek God’s purpose for the whole of the city.
The Story of St Alban
A man called Alban, believed to have been a Romano-British citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium around the end of the 3rd century, gave shelter to an itinerant Christian priest, later called Amphibalus.
Impressed by what he heard Alban was converted to Christianity by him.When a period of persecution, ordered by the Emperor, brought soldiers in search of the priest, Alban exchanged clothes with him
allowing him to escape and it was Alban who was arrested in his place.Standing trial and asked to prove his loyalty by making offerings to the Roman gods, Alban bravely declared his faith in "the true and
living God who created all things". This statement condemned Alban to death. He was led out of the city, across the river and up a hillside where he was beheaded.The story grewAs with all good stories the legend grew with time. Bede, writing in the 8th century elaborates the story, adding that the river miraculously divided to let him pass and a spring of water appeared to provide a drink for the saint. He also adds that the executioner's eyes dropped out as he beheaded the saint, a detail that has often been depicted with relish since. At the time of Bede there was a church and shrine near the spot, pilgrims travelled to visit, and it became an established place of healing. He describes the hill as "adorned with wild flowers of every kind" and as a spot "whose natural beauty had long fitted it as a place to be hallowed by the blood of a blessed martyr".
There is an even earlier record of St.Germanus visiting the shrine around 429.Alban was probably buried in the Roman cemetery to the south of the present Abbey Church in the town now named after him . Recent finds suggest an early basilica over the spot and later a Saxon Benedictine monastery was founded, probably by King Offa around 793. This was replaced in 1077 by the large Norman church and
monastery, the remains of which are still partly visible in the tower and central part of the present cathedral of St Alban’s. (sourced from www.stalbanscathedral.org)
HYMN FOR ST ALBAN
Laud the grace of God victorious
Sing triumphant o’er the foe,
Tell of him a martyr glorious
For the changeless truth laid low,
Faithful servant, valiant soldier,
Whom all lands and ages know.
Patient, humble, like his Master,
He resigned a Spirit calm;
Crowned with coronal unfading
Now he bears a martyr’s palm;
Sheathing sword no longer needed,
He took up the endless psalm.
Laud and honor to the Father,
Equal honor to the Son,
Adoration to the Spirit,
Ever three and ever one;
While unending ages run.