Every small town has a certain ambiance when you visit it.    Some of them immediately speak to me and others, well they do not actually speak to me … and I just observe and pass by.

However, there are small towns with tons of history dating back hundreds of years.  And then there are churches with unique architecture and some interesting history on the why, what and how it came about. 

With its rich history and influences from the Dutch, French and English, who all reigned South Africa at some period in the early years, you can just imagine the different church styles that came about.   Each church structure tells a story.  One can feast on some fascinating stories that at times can be humorous or a bit shocking, this includes that has been set alight by deranged persons and destroyed by fire, and steeples collapsing. 

Looking up the history of all the churches and paying a visit to it is a travel destination in itself.    

DR Colesberg (NC) – 1863

Colesberg is one of those towns that you normally zip by and just stop at one of the many filings station next to the N2 to buy something cold for the road, use the bathroom and fill up with fuel.  Next time take ten minutes and  drive through the town.    You will notice that many of the town’s buildings are preserved very well.  One example is the DR Church which dates back to 1863.

Like many other church building the competition to design the church was won by George William Smith but it was not built to his design.

When you look up you will also notice that there is a red rooster on the roof of the church indicating the wind directions. 

30°43’23.04″ S 25°05’43.88″ E Alt: 1383m

DR Church Uniondale (WC) – 1866

You will notice that the tower has the inscription “herbouw in 1908”. This is because the original sandstone tower was unable to withstand the strain of the swinging action of the heavy church bells when they were rung.  These huge bells are now mounted on a wooden beam and the time every half hour.

During the 1974/1975 the weights keeping the heavy bells in place in place, came loose and fell right through the wooden floor at the bottom.  After this mishap measures were taken to protect the floor from another mishap and metal plates were installed below the bells on top of the wooden floor. 

If you look closely you will notice the there is only three clock faces.  But why?  Well, the one side faces the mountains and who on earth needs to the know the time when they are up there? 

Then there is also a rumour that the clock goes faster during the cold winter months and tends to be a bit sluggish during the hot summer months.  Please share your comment if this rumour is not a rumour, but a fact! 

DR Church Winburg (FS)


Next time when you are travelling on the N2 take the turn-off to Winburg.  It is not much of a town, but it has a beautiful sandstone church in the centre of town and is quiet easy to find.  Just follow the spire – there is no high rise buildings in Winburg …..

“The European community of Winburg is famous for the differences in political heritage. The town was divided into two camps, due to their support to either the South African Party of General Jan Smuts, or the National Party of Dr Daniel François Malan. This led to the division of the Dutch Reformed Church into two separate congregations, Klip Kerk (Stone Church, because it was built from sandstone) and which was the original church for the Dutch Reformed Church and Rietfontein Kerk. Bitter feuds were fought between supporters of the two parties.” (Extract from Wikipedia)

34°01’03.63″ S 20°26’47.52″ E  

DR McGregor (WC)  – 1904

This is another beautiful  Hesse design tucked away in the Breede River region dating back to 1904.

33°56’56.82″ S 19°49’38.99″ E

DR Church Swellendam (WC) – 1910

Cape Dutch gables, Gothic windows, Renaissance entrances, and a Baroque spire combined into one building.  Also the work of Folkert Wilko Hesse and his son Francois.     This church’s spire was once removed with a helicopter to do some repair work on it!  Must have been great a commotion when this happened in the town of Swellendam. 

Mary Myrtle Church in Bonnievale (WC) – 1921

The only church in the world believed to be built on the request of a child! This was a special request to her father before her death.

The floor is made of marble from Italy the stained glass windows comes from England, the main door from Zanzibar (made originally for a jail and over 300 years old), the side doors out of wood from Knysna.

DR “Moedergemeente”, George (WC) – 1842

There is also a story concerning my home town’s church.

Due to lack of funds it took more than 12 years to construct the church building at a cost of between R24 000.  On Wednesday, 13 September 1905, at five o’clock in the morning disaster struck. 

‘n Geweldige ramp die gemeente getref toe die kerktoring op Woensdag 13 September 1905, om vyfuur die oggend ineengestort het. Reën wat in die loop van jare by die oopstaande vensters van die toring ingedryf is, het die houtwerk ongemerk laat verrot en die mure sodanig verswak dat dit nie bestand was teen die swaar neerslag wat op 11 September begin en op 13 September reeds sowat 10 duim gemeet het nie. 

The tower was reconstructed under the supervision of architect Hesse who was by now a well-known figure in the church building arena.

33°57’22.25″ S 22°27’47.33″ E

And I am off to find some more interesting churches with interesting stories. You are welcome to let us know in the comments sections when you spot a church with an interesting story.

You can find some more interesting stories under the post about a Sophy Gray church in the blog post called St George, Church, Knysna

— We will never change the world by going to church – We will only change the world by being the church —

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