Sunday, 19 April 2015

A small church with a big heart

A small church with a big heart 
As told by the hosts of De Oude Huize Yard 

We are paying a tribute to the smallest church in the southern hemisphere. It's design is based on a wing of Cardiff Cathedral in Wales. This unimposing little building sits on the pass between Harrismith and Ladysmith. 
Blink and you’ll miss the sign and the small road leading to the church

Tiny it certainly is, about 20 bricks in length, with a small curved apse, and the front fa├žade just 15 bricks wide. It is charming, resting under old trees on its sandstone base, with its quaint bell-tower surmounted by a stone Celtic cross. 
Below is a marble circle with the inscription ‘Landaff Oratory 1925’.

Only one person at a time can fit through the entrance. Inside, there is a narrow aisle leading to a small altar and, beneath the beautiful stained glass windows with their iris motif are just four pews, each able to seat two. 

There is no doubt that the tiny church was built by eccentric local Van Reenen Magistrate Maynard Mathew in 1925. Mathew was a peculiar man who was the grandson of Viscount Llandaff 2 of Ireland and he was a friend of General Jan Smuts.
 The death of his favourite son, Llandaff, affected him deeply.

And therein lies a story that is huge, the story of a retired magistrate Maynard Mathew, whose son Llandaff died while saving miners from a coalmine accident at the Burnside Colliery in KwaZulu-Natal on 19 March 1925. Llandaff’s bereft father, Maynard, was determined to erect a plaque to comemmorate his son’s bravery and that his son should not be forgotten. He decided to build his own church and sidestepped the restrictions by building a church himself. He had plans drawn up on a similar design to a wing of the famous cathedral in Cardiff Wales. So he purchased a quarter acre of land from Bob Bloy of the farm Scottstan and commissioned Mr John Smith, a contractor from Pietermaritzburg, to build his little church.

Mathew was also clearly a devout Christian, for the stone plaque on the left wall proclaims ‘To the Glory of God’ first, and then follows ‘And in loving memory of Llandaff Mathew, who gave his life to save those of others at Burnside Colliery on March 19th 1925 Aged 28 RIP.

The oratory seats just eight people, apparently the same number of people Llandaff saved in the mine accident 

The quirky little church has passed through many hands since it was built in 1925.
When Mathew died, the chapel was sold to a George Tierny, and later to a Mr Osborne.
In 1960 Mr Charles West-Thomas bought it and put up a tribute on one wall dedicated to his first wife, Terry. After her death, he remarried, and gave the chapel to his second wife, Mims, as a wedding present in 1974. On October 28, 1983, the Little Church was declared a National Heritage Site by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA).

Mr Maynard is remembered as a very colourful, family figure. His wife, Sadie, apparently had to endure bigoted good humour.

Till next time 
Love from South Africa 

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