Did you know?
The original St George’s Church followed the Gothic style of St Pancras Church in London.
The oldest Anglican cathedral in southern Africa is the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr in Wale Street, central Cape Town.
You might pop in of a Sunday night and hear the excellent St George’s Choir in full throat at Evensong, a tradition of music service that has been going here since 1857.
You could also hear the ‘greats’ being performed: Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Stravinsky. By now, it is as if the stone walls of this beloved ‘people’s cathedral’ have been infused with voice and fine music.
Why ‘people’s cathedral’? That’s mainly because of what happened on 13 September 1989, more than four years before the democratic South African elections of 27 April 1994.
More than 30 000 people drawn from all the race and culture groups of Cape Town were led in a mass protest march from St George’s Cathedral by, among others, the legendary Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
It was as if South Africa had ‘had enough’ of apartheid, and would no longer tolerate the current State of Emergency, enforced racial segregation and the long years of political violence.
The march went off peacefully and the authorities remained at bay. There was no confrontation, because even the powers of the day could see the writing on the wall. Change was coming to South Africa.
It is also believed that Tutu coined an important phrase connected to that event: ‘And so we came to the cathedral to pray, Muslim, Jew, Christian, black, white – our rainbow nation – and as we walked out into the streets of Cape Town it was exhilarating to be joined by thousands, swept along in the realisation of the dream that freedom is possible,’ he said afterwards.
St George’s Cathedral had by then become a refuge for the downtrodden and politically oppressed. And even though they’ve been trying to complete final construction of the cathedral since 1847, its spiritual significance to the people of Cape Town – and South Africa at large – is strong.
Its glorious stained glass windows include a white Christ and a black Christ.
Before 1834, when St George’s Church was opened, Capetonian Anglicans worshipped at the Castle and at the giant Groote Kerk at the top of Adderley Street. The church officially became a cathedral on 25 June 1847, and when Bishop George Gray arrived to take up his post the next year, he was unimpressed with the building. He wanted a grander one.
The foundation stone of the new cathedral was only laid on 22 August, 1901 – and the building was designed by the famous Sir Herbert Baker. Although as a visitor you might not notice it, the cathedral is still a work in progress.
Another great feature of St George’s Cathedral is the set of 10 ringing bells. The faithful band of cathedral ringers are on duty every Sunday and they regularly host ringing groups from around the world, and invite them to chime in at both weekend services.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
St George’s Cathedral Offices
Tel: +27 (0)21 424 7360
How to get here
St George’s Cathedral sits on the corner of Adderley, Government Avenue and Wale streets in central Cape Town.
Best time to visit
Pop in at the cathedral on a quiet week day or attend Evensong on Sundays – see the listed website for times and event dates.
Around the area
Visit all the Iziko Museum buildings including the Slave Lodge and the National Gallery, as well as the lush Company’s Garden, Houses of Parliament and the buzzy Long Street, all within a few minutes' walk of the cathedral.
Tours to do
There are many walking tours of Cape Town available – see the listed Cape Town Tourism website for choices.
A tour of central Cape Town – including a visit to St George’s Cathedral – is best done on foot. The distances between historical sites here are short.
What will it cost
A visit to the cathedral – and the exhibition at the crypt - is free. Contact one of the cathedral staff if you wish to make a donation.
Length of stay
The cathedral and crypt are worth a 60-minute visit.
Where to stay
Cape Town is brimming with great accommodation options. See the listed Cape Town Tourism website for details.
What to eat
Order up a hearty breakfast or lunch at the Café St George’s underneath the cathedral before embarking on your tour of the exhibition at the crypt and the cathedral interior.
The crypt of St George’s Cathedral has been re-dedicated as the 'Memory and Witness Centre'. It features a large and well-illustrated exhibition that tells the story of the Cape Town Peace March of 1989. The centre aims to be, in the words of the cathedral staff, ‘a sacred space of dialogue, hope and healing’.