St. Alban’s: A Hidden Cathedral in Ferreirasdorp

by | Mar 22, 2023 | Arts and Culture, Hidden Joburg, Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre, Museums and Buildings | 10 comments

This post is not part of my Hidden Joburg series, which I started last year (and will eventually return to). But it should be. St. Alban’s Anglican Mission Church in Ferreirasdorp would have been a perfect addition to the Hidden Joburg book and I don’t know why it was left out. This church is so hidden, you can’t even see it on Google Street view.

St. Alban's Anglican Mission Church in Ferreirasdorp
St. Alban’s Anglican Mission Church is physically very large and not hidden at all. The reason you can’t see it on Google Street View is because the Google address is listed as 4 Anderson Street, when in fact the church entrance is around the corner on Ridout Street.

I visited St. Alban’s last weekend as part of a Johannesburg Heritage Foundation tour of Ferreirasdorp to honor Human Rights Day. Like most of Joburg, this historic area has a checkered past. Ferreirasdorp was the site of the original mining camp that became Johannesburg; many of the city’s first permanent buildings sprung up there. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo’s law offices were in Ferreirasdorp in the 1950s when it was a thriving, racially diverse commercial district. But due to the apartheid-era Group Areas Act, carried out in the 1950s and 60s, Ferreirasdorp’s black, colored (mixed-race), and Indian communities were mostly forcibly removed from the area during the mid-20th century.

St. Alban’s became a site for Ferreirasdorp’s colored Anglican Christian community in 1898, and the current church structure was built nearly 100 years ago in 1928. The church was at risk in the 1960s, when the congregation was forcibly removed, but fortunately the offices of the local Anglican diocese moved to the property and that helped the buildings survive. Anti-Apartheid Struggle icon Desmond Tutu had his offices at St. Alban’s when he served as Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986.

Despite various periods of neglect, St. Alban’s is now a beautifully maintained church with an active congregation. The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation has done a lot of work to restore the church, which is now marked with a coveted blue heritage plaque.

St. Alban's blue plaque
The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation’s seal of approval.

Visiting St. Alban’s in Ferreirasdorp

I love visiting old churches, especially hidden ones that I never knew about, so I was super excited to get inside St. Alban’s.

Inside St. Alban's with Flo Bird
Inside St. Alban’s with the tour group, led by legendary historic preservation activist Flo Bird.
Wide view of St. Alban's interior
A wider view.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph carvings
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Similar to the Christ the King Anglican Church in Sophiatown, which architect Frank Fleming also designed, St. Alban’s is both simple and grand. The inside of the church, built entirely of brick, is huge, with soaring, leaded glass windows that let in tons of light.

The church pews, which aren’t original, bear the Star of David on their ends. The pews were donated by Villa Arcadia, which was once a Jewish orphanage, and the initials of various Villa Arcadia students are still carved into the wood.

Windows at St. Alban's
I love both the windows and the pews. Each wooden seat folds up and down; in front of each seat is a little shelf with a seat cushion.
Star of David on church pew
Closeup of the Star of David.
Carving in St. Alban's church pew
Carved long ago by an orphan at Villa Arcadia.
Inside St. Alban's
Another look.
Vertical church interior
I can never get enough of church interiors.

St. Alban’s has a large, pretty garden — a rarity in this part of downtown Joburg — that gave us a nice perspective on the outside of the church.

St. Alban's windows
The other side of those huge windows.
Glimpse of downtown Joburg from the St. Alban's Church garden
A glimpse of downtown Joburg from the St. Alban’s garden: The yellow building on the right is an old Methodist church.

If you’d like to check out St. Alban’s yourself, ignore the location on Google Maps. The church is on Ridout Street near the corner of Anderson Street.

Thanks to the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation for another great tour. I’ll be back next week with the third and final installment of my Quirky South Africa road trip series.

10 Comments

  1. Barend van der Merwe

    Wonderful! Thanks for these lovely photo’s.

    Reply
  2. dizzylexa

    Great blog on a beautiful church that I’ve visited many times. I have a book on the children who where at Arcadia and after seeing your photo of the pew engraving DK 1953. I had to see if I could find someone with those initials from 1953 – I found a David Kotzen who was there from 1941 to 1955 who was one of the founders of the photographic society amongst a string of other achievements. I’d like to think that could have been him who engraved that. Love the photo of the windows.

    Reply
  3. Margaret Urban

    Beautiful post – I love looking at the brickwork and thinking of the skill needed to construct all those arches. I salute both the architect and the workmen. It would be interesting to know how long the construction took and how many worked on it.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      That’s a good question. I think the construction started in 1927 and ended in 28. But I don’t know how many workers…Must have been a lot!

      Reply
  4. Maarten

    Lovely and heart warming place. I’ve been there a few times for retreat and one day I met the famous Peeter Storey when we had our retreat, where he did mass. After mass he took time to talk to all of us and that day is still in my memory as a very special day.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      That’s really cool. Thanks Maarten.

      Reply
  5. AutumnAshbough

    The red brick reminds me on so many school buildings in Washington, D.C. It’s also kind of incredible to see the Star of David in a church.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I know, right? I loved it.

      Reply

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