Emmanuel Cathedral

My attempts to get a good angle for this photo was thwarted by locked gates, a solid fence, lack of parking and some other challenges. The only angle I could get in amongst the bustling crowd was really tough – my tripod looked like a space shuttle about to take off.

Enough with the excuses; let’s see what the Cathedral’s website has to say:

“Emmanuel Cathedral is situated at the heart of Durban’s inner city and one of the busiest transport hubs in Africa. Every day, half a million commuters make their way through the nearby road and rail intersection. Among them are refugees from our northern neighbours, many of them fleeing traumatic political and economic crises in their countries. The poor of Durban and refugees from other parts of Africa – hungry, ill, homeless or disorientated ‐ look to the Cathedral for help and support. Hundreds of refugees fleeing from xenophobic attacks were accommodated in our parish centre in 2008.

The Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop and the mother church of the Archdiocese. The ‘cathedra’ or bishop’s chair from which he presides over liturgical functions, is the origin of the word ‘Cathedral’.

The foundation stone of the Emmanuel Cathedral was laid by Bishop Charles Jolivet OMI in January 1902 and the church was completed by Christmas of 1903, taking a full two years to build. However, even before it was completed, a Requiem Mass for the great Pope Leo XIII and in September 1903 a Requiem Mass for Bishop Jolivet himself, were held. Bishop Jolivet lies buried at the head of the centre aisle, just outside the sanctuary.

What prompted Bishop Jolivet to build a splendid new church when there already existed a large church of St Joseph a few hundred yards away on what is now Dr Pixley kaSeme Street? Well, at that time the church did not have sufficient funds to build a second church, and the bishop calculated that if he sold the valuable, but noisy Dr Pixley kaSeme Street property, St Joseph’s could be physically dismantled and moved to Greyville. This was done and the Cathedral was then built for the ‘huge price’ of £48 000! Therefore we now had two churches instead of one! Selling the Dr Pixley kaSeme site during this period was not easy as there was an economic depression following the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) and finances were hard to come by.

Certain parts of the old St Joseph’s were incorporated into the new Cathedral. The round stained glass windows on the side walls (known as ‘eyes’), were incorporated into the new church at the bishop’s specific request. An organ was purchased for the ‘pricy’ sum of R2 700 and installed in 1911. The maintenance of this organ was so costly that a fund was established specifically for this purpose. An opening concert, celebrating the new organ was held on Wednesday, 17 April 1912 amid great festivities.

In 1880, Empress Eugenie of France made a pilgrimage to Natal to visit the spot where her son, the Prince Imperial, had been killed in the Anglo-Zulu War the previous year. Whilst in Durban, she gave ‘a generous donation’ of £5 000 to Fr Sabon. Some have said that various side altars were paid for out of this donation, however, there is absolutely no record of how this money was spent. Given the financial stringency in the church of Natal at the time, it is probable that the money was spent on a variety of mundane items.

The Stations of the Cross, which are a special feature of the Cathedral, were made in Angers in France in 1902 and installed in 1904. Originally they simply showed the biblical scene without a framework which was added by a local firm in 1926.

The beautiful chapel of Our Lady was built in 1928, the year that Bishop Dellale celebrated his silver jubilee of consecration. The chapel was a gift to him from the people of the diocese. In front of the chapel, against the wall, is the lovely baptismal font given to the Cathedral at the time of its construction by the Trappist monks of Mariannhill. It was originally in the chapel at the back of the church where the statues of various saints are now located.

Bishop Jolivet was succeeded by Bishop Henri Dellale OMI, the youngest bishop in the world at that time, and in 1946, over four decades later, the new Bishop Denis Hurley OMI, also the youngest bishop in the world at the time, was consecrated in the Cathedral amid what the press called ‘medieval splendour’. On 22 June 1992 Archbishop Wilfrid Fox Napier OFM took possession of the Cathedral as its fourth bishop. He was also the first to be elevated to the College of Cardinals on 21 February 2001″.

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