If you love architecture and interesting stories, follow the footstep of Sophie Gray around the Southern Cape. This is an easy day trip with enough time to have something to snack at some of the amazing farm stalls in the Garden Route.
You can start the trip at any point and travel in any direction. It all depends on how you feel and where you are staying.
Our starting point will be in George at the St Marks Cathedral at the top end of York Street. Travelling towards the mountain you will find this little Anglican church on your right-hand side. Some of the interesting facts is that the stained-glass windows came all the way from Germany. It was recovered from a church in Germany during the French Revolution, brought to England and then found its way to South Africa. The church dates back to the period of 1850 and is the oldest of the three churches that you will visit today.
In 1948 Queen Elizabeth also paid a visit to the cathedral on her Royal visit to the Union of South Africa.
Heading east towards Knysna you will make a stop in the charming village of Belvidere to visit the Holy Trinity church which originates from 1855.
In early 1848, soon after Bishop Gray arrived in Cape Town, two affluent English-speaking Settlers from Knysna – Thomas Duthie and William Newdigate – road to Cape Town to impress on the Bishop the need of a clergyman in the region. The Bishop’s stone masons (Alexander Bern, Alexander Lawrence and his brother James) set out on 27 May 1851 and for the next six months stone was blasted from a nearby quarry and brought to the site. By the middle of 1852 all the stonework was completed and they could begin with the roof, In 1853 the church opened for its first service. The consecration however had to be delayed until 1855 when Bishop Gray visited Knysna again.
After this turn right onto the N2 and head into Knynsa. Here you will visit the St George’s Church in the main road.
John Rex laid the foundation stone of this church in 1849 built on land donated by his father, George Rex, the founder of Knysna. Construction of the church commenced in 1850 based on a plan adapted by Sophy Gray. Two Scottish stonemasons, Lawrence and Bern, were commissioned to build the church.
The church is open for private prayer on weekdays 08:00 – 15:00.
GPS coordinates: S 34° 02.090 E 023° 03.021
Carry on with the N2 towards Plettenberg Bay. The Sophy Gray church with the loveliest setting is arguably St Peter’s in Plettenberg Bay. The church is situated close to a grove of trees and overlooks the ocean and the distant Tsitsikamma Mountains and is within easy walking distance from the town centre. You may also note that Saint Peter’s is built of a random selection of stones. Noteworthy features are the buttresses set at right angles to each corner of the west wall and the scissors truss roof.
GPS coordinates: S 34° 03.249′ E 023° 22.463′
Sophy was a busy woman and designed about 53 churches scattered all over South Africa. She was the first woman to practice architecture in South Africa, and one of the earliest to do so in the world. No mean feat for a woman who was a wife during the Victorian era, and a mother to five children.
There are also some other interesting churches to visit in the Garden Route. Have a look at San Ambrosio church in the forests of Knysna.