It is one of a unique group of eighteenth century buildings, the others being Martin Melck House and Sexton's House. These buildings are of particular historical importance as they symbolise the long drawn-out struggle of the Lutherans for the right to practice their religion.
When the Dutch first settled at the Cape in 1652, the Dutch East India Company limited the colonist's freedom of worship to the Dutch Reformed faith. However, for many years Lutheran worship was held in a hall, erected by a wealthy merchant, Martin Melck. The building was officially described as a warehouse. However, although the colonial administrators were aware of the actual use of the building, they chose to turn a blind eye.
In 1776 the hall was transferred to the congregation by Martin Melck. It already contained an organ, a communion chalice and a lectern in the form of a swan with outstretched wings: the symbol of Lutheranism. Another swan was proudly displayed above the entrance.
In 1779, following a number of petitions from German, Danish and Scandinavian officials in the Cape, the Company relented and decided to grant the Lutherans the right to form their own church. In the following year, Andreas Kolver of Rotterdam became the first Pastor. During the next four years considerable improvements were made to the hall, but it was mainly during the years 1787 to 1792 that the building was transformed and beautified. This was done by the leading Cape sculptor of the time, Anton Anreith. He designed the front elevation, but his main contribution was the decoration of the interior by his excellent wood carvings. The most important of these works were the magnificent pulpit supported by two great male figures and the choir-stalls with a carving of King David in high relief.
In 1818 the church had to be rebuilt to a considerable extent because of the poor condition of the walls and the roof. At this time a spire was built, but unfortunately there were deviations from Anreith's design which robbed the facade and entrance of much of their former beauty. There have been few alterations to the church since. The spire with its belfry rises almost from street level, while the original old railings offer brave resistance to the encroachment of the city. The same slate path which so many churchgoers have used over the years still leads from the gate to the paved entrance porch. Inside, the sense of devotion is enhanced by Anreith's incomparable pulpit, the historic old pews, the lovely copper basins and font. Here the Church Archives and the valuable communion plate are also preserved.
For more images of Early Cape Town, take a look in the gallery.
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