Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Roman Catholic Church in Emthambothini

The Roman Catholic Church in Emthambothini. That's this church's only name. Usually Roman Catholic churches carry a saint's name like "St. Michael the Archangel" or "St. Peter". Or they are named after Mary, the Mother of Jesus such as the church "Our Lady of Lourdes." Or they are named to commemorate a holy day or devotion like the "Church of the Immaculate Conception" or the "Most Sacred Heart of Jesus."  But not the Roman Catholic Church in Emthambothini. Its only name is The Roman Catholic Church. I asked.

The church was built in 1975 and painted by Francine Ndimande with help from her husband. It took them about a year to paint all the murals! Francine had grown up in Middleburg, a part of the Ndebele homelands that had been settled by German missionaries at Fort Merensky. The Roman Catholic mission was called Botshabelo, "place of refuge." It was because of Francine that this new church was built near her new home in Emthambothini.

(Interestingly, there is another great South African artist who came out of the mission at Fort Merensky.  Gerard Sekoto. Gerard, the son of mission-trained teacher Jan Sekoto, was born at Botshabelo in 1913. Gerard would later emigrate to Europe, obtain French citizenship and achieve considerable international renown as an artist.)

Over time, the natural paints and pigments that Francine had used in 1975 weathered and faded. In 1995, the church was completely renovated and Francine led the team restoration of the paintings. This time she had the help of over 40 women in the community and it only took them about four months to complete the painting!

That's Serge at the entrance
Like all Ndebele structures, there is a walled courtyard completely surrounding the church.
The Roman Catholic Church
a belltower
inside the church with a holy water well

It is interesting to note that the first Ndebele wall paintings featured exclusively geometric designs and there weren't really any literal depictions of figures or objects as there are for example in San rock paintings. The Roman Catholic Church however had many religious images. Here are some of them ...

the Cup and Chalice
the Bible
flame and lights representing Jesus, the Light of the World
the tabernacle in the sacristy
the front piece of the main altar
on the altar there were seats for the priest and altar servers and a lectern
the altar cross with last year's palms
instead of stained glass, there were colorful window frames

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the old palms on the altar cross will be replaced with fresh new palm fronds to begin Holy Week. We thought long and hard about coming back to The Roman Catholic Church for one of the Easter Masses next weekend. But it is far and quite frankly, I am not sure if we could find it again! We will probably just go to Mass at our local parish church before we go out for a very special Easter lunch.

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