Famous Joburg houses of worship

Famous houses of worship around the City of Johannesburg

While not many have to or have the will to enter a place of worship belonging to a different faith than their own if religious and cultural heritage interests you, the city is made up of many significant churches, mosques, and synagogues that have been around for many generations that would be worth a visit.

Central Methodist Church in Pritchard Street

The Central Methodist Church has been a place of refuge for numerous illegal immigrants from around the continent – 80% of whom are Zimbabweans in search of jobs, part of an exodus that has seen up to three million Zimbabweans leave their country over the last decade.

Over the past two years, the church building is being restored by volunteers and members of the church, all digging into their own pockets for repairs that are expected to run into the millions.

The flood of people seeking refuge took a toll on the building turning what was once a spiritual and religious haven into one the CBD’s crime hotspots.

Dutch Reformed Church, Jeppestown

The foundation stone of the Dutch Reformed Church building was placed on 5 May 1906 by General Koos de la Rey and the church was officially consecrated on 26 January 1907.

It is significant for its high steeple and the stained glass windows and its gables. The church building was declared a National Heritage Site, under old NMC legislation on 9 March 1973.

St Mary's Cathedral, Inner City

St Mary's was designed in a Romanesque-Italian style with its interior (some four to five-storeys high) dominated by soaring white-plastered columns and arches, glossy parquet floors, beautiful stained glass windows and simple wooden benches.

Consecrated on 27 September 1929, the church's exterior is finished in stone; although these days it dissolves into the surrounding buildings, when it was built it stood tall and splendid in Wanderers Street.

Alongside the restful, domed apse is a magnificent pipe organ, which is still played on Sundays, echoing its resonant melodies through the high spaces. The cathedral seats 2 000 with up to 25 percent of the congregants are immigrants from other parts of Africa.

The church is famous for its strong ties to the struggle against apartheid. In the 1950s, it was one of the few non-racial churches in downtown Johannesburg.

The adjoining Darragh House, which belonged to the church, was a venue for non-racial meetings and in the 1970s and '80s, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu was dean of the church, services in support of the struggle were held.

And in April 1993 the body of Oliver Tambo lay in state in the cathedral before he was buried in Benoni.

Great Park Synagogue

The architectural thinking and design of the Great Park Synagogue is entangled with the spiritual life of the congregation.

The Great Park Synagogue replaced the Wolmarans Street Shul in the Johannesburg CBD, when it closed in 1994 after 80 years - with the new site being a park-like suburban locale close to the M1.

The architecture is based on the Wolmarans Street Great Synagogue, which was itself moulded on the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and was designed in collaboration with Julian Michaels Architects and MV3 Architects.

The Great-Park Synagogue, although smaller than its muses, maintains a lot of the charm of the Wolmarans Shul due to the design principles retained, as well as the use of many original fittings including the pews, chandeliers, menorahs, and bimah.

However, Great-Park is a modern building, which creates a harmonious legibility of heritage and current context.

Nizamiye Mosque

Nizamiye Mosque is often called the biggest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere.

With construction starting in October 2009 and completed in 2012, the plans for the mosque were originally designed in Turkey, but a South African architect adapted the design to South African building standards.

Towering over Midrand, the mosque is modelled on the 16th-century Ottoman Selimiye Camii mosque in Edirne, Turkey.

All the marble, carpets, stained glass and ceramics used in the construction of the mosque were brought in from Turkey, and the intricate interior detailing was hand-painted.

With 21 domes, the main dome is framed by four towering minarets and rises 32m. More than 200 stained-glass windows decorate the building.

Within the Nizamiye complex, there is also a school, clinic, Turkish supermarket, bakery, barber, bookshop, a carpet and ceramics store, and a Turkish restaurant.


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