The Groot Kerk is one of Graaff-Reinet’s best-known landmarks, but the town also has a number of other historic churches and church buildings worth taking note of and visiting.
St James’ Anglican Church
The oldest original church building in use in Graaff-Reinet is St James’ Church situated on Somerset Street. The original church consisting of the present nave was built in 1850 and consecrated by Bishop Gray, the first Anglican Bishop in South Africa. The chancel and sanctuary were added in 1868 and consecrated in 1870 whilst the entrance porch was added in 1874. The interior fittings date from different periods; the pews from 1885, the alter and reredos from 1891 and the pulpit from 1935. After the First World War the chancel screen was carved and installed in memory of those who had served in the war. The previous organ chamber was converted in the late 1970s into a Lady Chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The Methodist Church (Trinity Methodist Church)
In 1871 the foundation stone of the Trinity Church on the corner of Caledon and Bourke Streets was laid and on 15 September 1875, the official opening of the church took place. The church was established at the behest of Reverend John Edwards of Somerset East in order to cater to the spiritual needs of the small Wesleyan Community in Graaff-Reinet. In 1894 it was necessary to enlarge the building and at the same time, the school room was built and named Dudley Hall in memory of Mr. B.F. Robert’s son.
The Dutch Reformed ‘Nuwe Kerk’
The Dutch Reformed ‘Nuwe Kerk’ or new church was established as an independent Dutch Reformed Church congregation in 1929. The split away from the established Dutch Reformed Congregation in the Mother Church largely centered on the controversial minister Reverend Naude who refused to preach in Dutch and rather ministered to the congregation in Afrikaans. The split pitted liberals against conservatives, wealthy landowners and farmers against poor plot dwellers and ‘back-streeters’ and those who embraced Afrikaans against those who regarded the new language as ungodly.
The Roman Catholic Church
The present-day Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bourke Street, between Somerset and Middle Streets, was consecrated on 23 April 1957 and the High Altar on the 24th April 1957. First-class relics of St Pius X and St Maria Goretti are buried in the altar. It would appear that there was an older church on this site as mention is made of Rev Father Lennon’s remains being placed in the R.C Church of the Im. Conception by Rev. Father J. Coffey assisted by the members of the congregation and on 6 September 1870 an instruction was received by Father Coffey to pay off the mortgage on the property. On 25 June 1894, the Convent next to the church was opened with seven sisters.
The Gereformeerde Kerk
The original foundation stone for this building situated on the corner of Bourke and Middle Streets was laid on 9 July 1913. After undergoing many transformations including being used as a cinema the building was reconsecrated on 21 May 2006. The present bell constructed on the lines of an old “slave bell” was cast in 1969.
Jan Rupert Centre
The Neo-Gothic building in Middle Street was originally a place of worship for the Manatees, a refugee Sotho tribe that had fled south across the Orange River in the 1820s. In 1870 improvements were made to the building. As the membership numbers dwindled and the remaining members joined the Parsonage Street Congregation the building was for years used as a storehouse and eventually fell into disrepair. Through the intercession of Dr Anton Rupert the property was restored and officially handed over to the Save Reinet Foundation in 1986 when it was renamed after Dr Rupert’s late brother Jan.
John Rupert Theatre
The actual date this building was built is unknown. The design is of a straight-sided gable with a small belfry at the apex within an ochre façade with long and short work round the semi-circular topped door and flanking windows, the large rose windows and along the corners and gable edge. The building was known by the coloured community as the Great London Church and was consecrated by Dr John Phillip of the London Mission Society, in whose name the property was transferred, in 1847. In 1920 the Society sold it to the United Congregational Church. The original pulpit can still be seen in the foyer. Dr Anton Rupert acquired it in 1969 and after restoring it donated it to the Graff-Reinet Town Council in eternal Trust.
Hester Rupert Art Museum
The foundation stone for this building was laid on 24 April 1821 to serve as a church and school for the “Graaff-Reinet Missionary Society for the Expansion of God’s Kingdom among the Heathen”. With funds raised by the directors, it was the artisan members of the congregation who built the solid walls and gables with an expert called in to assist in completing the vault. Consecrated in the same year it was the sixth oldest church in South Africa and one of the three remaining built on the traditional cruciform plan. The building was saved from becoming a filling station in 1965 and the building restored. On 26 July 1966 the art museum, with a total of 90 paintings and sculptures donated by 83 artists, was opened.
- Graaff Reinet