Oldest Cathedral in South Africa Desecrated, Prelate Asks Faithful to Offer Reparation

The iconic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt, Cape Town where there was robbery and vandalism on April 18, 2020.
Credit: Public Domain

Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt Cathedral of South Africa's Cape Town Archdiocese, the oldest Cathedral in the country, was vandalized last Saturday, a Church official has confirmed.

The Auxiliary Bishop of Cape Town Archdiocese, Sylvester David confirmed the incident Sunday, April 19. 

In his letter about the Saturday, April 18 vandalism, Bishop David disclosed that various sacred objects as well as money were stolen from the 169-year-old church, which is also known by the name St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“It is with great sadness and alarm that we confirm the news that has been doing the rounds on Social Media viz. that the Cathedral had been vandalized and that a ciborium, a pyx, four silver candelabra, a gold plated chalice, and two gold plated patens have been stolen together with some money from the votive candles box,” Bishop David stated in part in his one-page letter.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) missionary Prelate added, “The consecrated hosts from the ciborium have been left inside the tabernacle but the host from the pyx has been removed. There has been desecration.”

Considered the mother church to all Catholics in Southern Africa, the Cathedral was consecrated on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt on April 28, 1851. It is located in Cape Town city, directly opposite the Parliament Houses.

Through its Facebook page, the Cathedral Parish had announced the vandalism and theft incident on Saturday, April 18 saying, “Our Cathedral was broken into and desecrated during the early hours of this morning.” 

The Parish advised the faithful to immediately report to the South African police authorities or the Cathedral dean, if they had any information regarding the desecration, or if anyone tries to sell them the stolen items.

According to the police spokesperson FC van Wyk, “The church was closed as per Covid-19 regulations. The complainant (Cathedral Administrator) received a call from the caretaker that a side window was broken and the church had been broken into, and reported the case to Cape Town Central Police on Sunday.”

Terming the incident “really heartbreaking,” the Cathedral Administrator, Fr. Rohan Smuts estimated that the repair of the damages and replacement of stolen items could cost R100 000 (US$ 5,334).

Referencing the stolen items, Fr. Smuts has been quoted as saying, “They are not cheap, the cross and the candelabra are from the same period (18th century), and these are priceless.”

The cleric noted that the lockdown had put churches in a difficult situation because “there is no one at the church, and one can see they were after things that can be sold.”

Fr. Smuts also decried in reference to thieves during COVID-19 restrictions, “They even tried to steal our televisions. We are all devastated and heartbroken. This is the second break-in at the church.” 

In his letter, Bishop David noted, “Although we are victims in this case, reparation has to be done and so we request all the faithful in the Archdiocese to join in with the Cathedral parishioners and to engage in the prayer, which will soon be sent out to the Parish priests for distribution.”

“It is important that the entire local Church engage in this as the Cathedral is the Mother church,” the 66-year-old Prelate stressed and clarified, “This prayer does not replace other daily prayers but supplements them.”

The Auxiliary Bishop offered to the faithful who have the means, a further optional but “strongly recommended” act of reparation, to “make an extra contribution to the account set up to feed the poor.”

On Facebook, some faithful decried the desecration terming it as a disgrace and heartbreaking incident.

Ellen Christine Deane commented, “What a disgrace! The stolen articles are irreplaceable, their history goes back many many years. Oh Lord! What next. Lord have Mercy.”

“Heartbroken to hear about this news. Thank you God, no priest was hurt in this incident. We pray for the church and we pray for the people who committed this crime. God may these restless souls be healed, may they turn their lives around and choose the Jesus way,” Blessed God has my heart commented and added, “(I) Pray for the restoration of St. Mary’s and pray for quick replacement for the goods that were stolen.”

Referencing the nationwide lockdown restricting movement, David Wilke wondered, “With all the supposed roadblocks and rules about being out, one has to wonder how these people managed to get to the cathedral and out with all that stuff without being noticed.”

“This is extremely heartbreaking to hear this, it is truly very sad,” Geof Dalglesih posted and added, “I will forever remember the cathedral with doors always open to welcome everyone in.”

“Baptized there, attended mass there. Got married there, my parents and eldest brother buried from the Cathedral,” Joe Schaffers recalled and continued, “can you imagine my anger and disgust at this act of theft and desecration of this Cape Town land mark. How difficult it is to forgive but try we must.”

Doune Currie implored, “Saint Michael De Sanctis, you are represented kneeling before the Altar where the blessed Sacrament is exposed so I ask you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit please intercede for us and may thee Sacred Vessels you kneel in front of before the Altar be returned in Jesus Mighty Name Amen.”


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]