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*All distances listed are as the crow flies, and not actual travel distances.
The imposing white church at the centre of Swellendam town in the Western Cape tends to cause a slowdown in traffic as motorists gawk at its sheer magnificence. The church, a national heritage site, is that of the Nederlandse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) or Dutch Reformed Church denomination. The NGK was the established church of the Dutch colony that first arrived in South Africa in 1652 and the church held sway for over a century before other denominations were allowed to openly worship.
The existing church was built in 1911 after the original had become too small to accommodate the congregation and since the rebuild has been able to house 1400 parishioners. The architects, a Dutch father and son team, incorporated a Cape Revival style to create a unique and awe-inspiring building. Bits of baroque, gothic and Cape Dutch styles were fused into the design. Much of the wood from the old church was re-used, as was the decorated gates and the archway at the front entrance. It’s believed that the tower was modelled on the Mons city bell tower in Belgium. In 2008, attempts to remove the tower resulted in it being dropped from height and badly damaged. The tower has since been restored. In the church grounds are several family tombs and graves, at one stage the number of graves amounted to roughly 900.
Afrikaners refer to the Swellendam Church as the Moeder Kerk or Mother Church and the townspeople attend sermons every Sunday and donate generously to ensure the church is efficiently run.
The church is one of the most photographed structures in South Africa and we suggest you pull over, rather than cause a traffic accident, to appreciate its beauty on your next visit to Swellendam.