One of South Africa’s smallest Anglican chapels restored to its former glory
The sun-baked little village of Calitzdorp is blessed to be recognized as the Heart of the Klein Karoo, lying as it does, almost precisely half way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Only four hours by road from the Mother City on the scenic and quiet Route 62, Calitzdorp has for long been known as the Port Capital of South Africa and latterly, also as the gateway to the Garden Route.
This friendly town welcomes visitors with a profusion of Bougainvillea blossom, blanketing virtually every garden in the old village center. Houses of widely differing architectural styles trace the history of the town, from its founding in 1831 by the granting of a farm to the brothers Calitz, to the present time. One of the most popular requests from visitors to the tourism office at the western entrance to the village center is for the free brochures detailing an easy one hour stroll to cover the most interesting of these stylish houses.
Other buildings have their own claim to attention. Die Dorpshuis (the Townhouse) is in a side road within sight of Route 62. Distinguished by its traditional lang stoep (long open veranda) facing the street, it is ideally placed to receive visitors wanting to rest their weary feet and refresh with a cold beer or glass of the renowned local Port. And the town’s icon, the imposing Dutch Reformed Church, a national monument in the New Byzantine style, is a must-visit for tourists.
Calitzdorp’s big news, however, is the restoration of St. Mark’s chapel, a tiny place of worship reputed to be the second smallest Anglican church in South Africa. Long of interest to visitors, but badly neglected in recent years and sorely in need of a face lift, the chapel has recently been restored to its original elegant but simple condition.
When the sister of one of the town’s leading residents expressed a wish to be married in the church, it triggered a frenzy of activity by her brother, with stunning results. Now a newly-laid garden set with indigenous succulents and aloes sets the scene for the freshly painted exterior, where the old slave bell, used to call the faithful to worship, stands proudly at the side of the main edifice.
Inside the little church, the Oregon floors have been lovingly sanded, resurfaced and finished to replicate their original gleaming condition, while pews have enjoyed similar treatment. All that remains is to replace the east end windows, now fitted with ordinary clear glass, by a work of art designed by the village’s foremost stained glass artist. This work is being currently planned and should soon provide the finishing touch to this important tourist attraction. Needless to say, the wedding was a great success and has brought in its wake an added benefit for every visitor to Calitzdorp.
Keys to enter the building are available at the Tourism office on payment of a small, refundable deposit.
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