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Where to take your church for a mission tour in Cape Town

It’s a well-known fact that Cape Town is full of documented history, from Bartholomeu Dias’ adventurous rounding of the Cape, Jan Van Riebeeck’s construction of a halfway station, to the legendary Nelson Mandela’s democratic triumph, almost every corner of the city centre is a historical monument.

In my long career as a Tourist Guide and a Tour Operator I have come across clients asking whether we also organise tours for religious groups and if so where we take them. I soon realised that not many people know about the Christian side of our history in South Africa specifically Cape Town so I decided to write this article highlighting some of the places that you should and must go to for a mission tour with your church and learn about the roots of Christian history in Cape Town and South Africa. 

Genandendal

 In 1652 when Jan Van Riebeeck set foot in the South African soil he brought with him members of the Dutch Reformed Church who began to minister to the people because only they had exclusive rights to preach until the 1806.

However in the year 1737, a young man by the name George Schmidt arrived in South Africa from a Moravian church and founded the very first Protestant mission.

He started his work with the Khoi Khoi tribe, at the Zoetemelksvlei area before moving in the area that is now known as Genandendal which means valley of grace. In 1742 he baptised five Khoi-Khoi slaves, a move that costed him his entire ministry in the Cape because the Dutch Reformed Church then held the view that only free people could be baptised and not slaves. This issue caused so much controversy from the part of Dutch settlers that Schmidt was forced to leave South Africa after two years, leaving the country with no missionary activities for 50 years. 

Genandendal has the first mission station in South Africa, the first Herrnhuter hunting knives to be made in the country, the first Afrikaans novel was printed here, the first nursery school, the first teachers training centre and the first mission station to give its name to a presidential residence.

The Groote Kerk

The Dutch Reformed Church is the oldest church in Cape Town, South Africa. Adriaan van der Stel laid its first foundation stone in 1678 but it was rebuilt by Herman Schuette in 1841 by building a new church over the old one retaining much of the old church including the original steeples that was incorporated into the new building.

The site where the church stands was formerly a cemetery with many graves and crypts. Until 1836 the Church Council permitted burials in vaults under the floor of the church but this practice was afterwards discontinued.

The church has an impressive pulpit which was the work of Anton Anreith and Jacob Graaff the carpenter. The platform rests on the shoulders of two loins, one front paw of each holds a chaplet of leaves and the other rests on a parchment scroll. Quite frankly the whole church is an imposing structure with steeples, thatch, gables and a magnificent timber vaulted ceiling (the biggest unsupported domed ceiling in the southern hemisphere) and the country’s largest pipe organ with 5954 pipes installed in 1954. One of the unique features of the church is the fact that it has gravestones as paving slabs

Franchhoek Museum and Monument

About 40 years after the arrival of Maria de la Quellerie who was a French Huguenot and wife to Jan Van Riebeeck in the Cape, came a group of Huguenot who were fleeing from religious persecution in France. King Louis XIV of France also known as the Sun King decided to revoke the edit of Nantes that granted Christian Protestants (the Huguenots) the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. He ordered the destruction of Huguenot churches as well as the closing of protestant schools in order to intimidate the Huguenots into converting to Catholicism.

So the French got in South Africa and were welcomed by the Dutch settlers who made them integrate into the Afrikaaners farming communities then later came to own farms at the area called today Franchhoek or French corner.

Franchhoek Museum

The museum is full of artefacts and evidence left by the Huguenots of their involvement in shaping South Africa’s diverse history and on the opposite site is the Huguenot monument full of Christian symbolism built in 1945 by the Huguenots descendants in honour of their forefathers and the cultural influences they brought in South Africa.

The Mother church in Wellington

“The church building of the Wellington Dutch Reformed Church is a national monument and is known as one of the most beautiful churches in the Boland. A particularly rich historical tapestry has been woven around this building. In historical context, the growth of the congregation is closely bound to that great churchman, Dr Andrew Murray”.  

The church itself is a result of a series of constructions that happened through an extended period of time. After the Dutch Reformed Mother Church moved away from the Paarl congregation in 1838 construction started at Wellington with the plans drawn by a gentleman called A. Grove, but the church was only consecrated in 1840 due to the fact that some members of the Mother church did not approve to the new building plans.

 The church started out as just a nave then built to the large church we know today. In 1842 the vestry was added. Wings on the side (transepts) were built in 1861. Galleries for the side wings were built in 1874 and the tower was built in 1895. In 1928 the roof was lifted by approximately two metres.

Cape Town is rich in religious sites to visit for local and international tourists. All you have to do is give us a call or send us an email viemmatours@gmail.com or visit our website www.viemmatourscapetown.co.za or contact us on Whatsapp +27780648778 with all the details of your family/group and we will be more than delighted to show you around.

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