Dutch Reformed Church
In 1743 Swellendam was declared a magisterial district, the third oldest in South Africa, and was named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel, the first South African born Governor, and his wife, Helena Ten Damme. This outlying settlement soon became a gateway to the interior, and was visited by many famous explorers and travellers including François Le Vaillant (1781), Lady Anne Barnard (1798), William John Burchell (1815) and Thomas William Bowler (1860). In time, a village was established beyond the Drostdy, where artisans including numerous wainwrights and traders settled. Swellendam was the last outpost of Dutch civilisation on the eastern frontier and thus the services of the residents of the town were of utmost importance.
Only 53 years later, on 3 Mei 1798 was the first Minister appointed to Swellendam - J.H. Von Manger. Before this you had to travel back to Stellenbosch or Cape Town for baptisms and communion. Because there was no church built yet, services were held in the Drostdy. The first church was built in 1802 by Christoffel Koents. He also built the pulpit out of stinkwood and yellowwood panels.
The congregation grew and in 1875 the church building was expanded. In 1909 it was decided to demolish the original church and build the new church in exactly the same spot. This is the church that you will see when you visit Swellendam today.
It cost £7,500 to build and the inauguration was on 10 June 1911.
The building is a mixture of styles. The gables are baroque, the windows Gothic, the cupola vaguely Eastern, and the steeple extravagant. The tower houses two bells. Inside is an interesting tiered amphitheater with banks of curving wood pews facing the pulpit and organ. The tower is a replica of a famous tower in Belgium. Very large yellowwood beams can be seen on the inside which were salvaged from the original church. The building also has Cape-Dutch properties. The church can now seat 900 people at the bottom and 500 people on the gallery.
Want to know a interesting fact? Minister Cornelis Moll served at this church from 1823 - 1832 and was buried the traditional way - in front of the pulpit. On Sundays the congregation now gathers in the area where Minister Cornelis Moll was buried.
Today Swellendam’s Dutch Reformed church is an impressive building that has been famed to be the most photographed church in South Africa.
Be sure to check viewing times. Visitors are welcome to walk through the church-building and view the historic photos in the vestry.