It was completely by chance that I found myself at the Anglican Church of São Cipriano one Saturday morning in March. I was invited to participate at an inter-faith prayer meeting held by the Council of Religions of Mozambique in respect of the worsening situation in Cabo Delgado which was by now a more than a skirmish between a headless Al-Shebaab offshoot and the meagre forces of the Mozambican Defence Forces, the FADM.
At first I did not recognize the building but its strange and unusual design bore familiar hallmarks. I eventually recalled the building from an article I had read over a decade earlier showcasing the works of Mozambican architect Pancho Guedes. It was amusing that I had stumbled into a Guedes building while researching his work. If anything it is confirmation of Guedes prolific career in Mozambique.
The Anglican church has had a presence in Mozambique since the early 19th century when the country was still largely unexplored and under the dispute of various colonial powers such as the British who were sizably established on the eastern coasts of Africa. Growing missionary activity resulted in the establishment of a number of buildings such as schools and the church itself on the site in 1905.
The original structures had fallen into increasing disrepair by the middle of the 20th century and with funds mobilized internationally from the United Kingdom, USA and The Gulbenkian Foundation plans were drawn out for the demolition of the old structures and its replacement with the new complex, as above. The original design was conveniently accessible from two roads which are today Av. do Trabalho and Av. do Rio Tembe however, with the erection of additional buildings the entire complex was eventually closed off with a boundary wall.
At this point it is worth mentioning a little about the church’s namesake. Saint Cyprian was an early bishop of North African heritage during the Roman Era. When Decius a Roman Empire issued an edict requiring the population to declare allegiance to the new Emperor, the Christians refused leading to the very first wave of persecution of Christians. During this time Saint Cyprian went into hiding and many members of the faith renounced their beliefs. Saint Cyprian eventually regained his authority and introduced a set of rules to re-admit the “fallen” believers.
The gates at the front of the church lead through a patio and into the chapel where the alter is. Guedes was a multifaceted architect who dabbled in painting, sculpting and woodworking and it is not surprising that he developed fixtures and furnishings to accompany his buildings much like Le Corbusier.
The box-like elements with porthole windows I suspect are lamps. I tried looking into the lamps to find out how the bulbs were laid out but the glass was frosted making it impossible. They are one of the unique features which have probably long since fallen into disrepair, I would be surprised if the current congregation / administration knows not that is more than aesthetic feature of the building.
Original artwork depicting scenes from the Bible adorn the walls of the interior of the chapel and double volume compartment creates a sense of airiness and calm. Lightboxes found at the entrance of the chapel are also reproduced in smaller scale on both sides of the alter.
The entrance of the chapel as viewed from the inside and opposite to the alter gives an indication of the use of different sources of illumination used. The larger porthole windows allow natural daylight to permeate the chapel while the smaller square windows allow sharp and narrow beams to project onto the alter. We can also see some of the small lightboxes in operation.
There also a number of residences built on the site accessible from the patio permitting visitors to be accommodated as shown in the photo taken below during the construction phase. The semi-circular elements are the stairwells inside of the residences.
A view from a nearby street accentuates the complex’s unusual angle of implantation – I can hear moaning first-time visitors to the church as they try to find their way to the chapel – “is this the front or back of the building?“
A plaque in the corridor beside the patio reads…
Being the first Bishop of Libombo, William Edmond Smyth ordered the construction in 1905 on this very site of Chamanculo, houses, schoools and the church of St. Cyprian and being in a state of ruin, this centre was constructed with donations of churches of England, the United States of America, Switzerland, as well as the Diocese of Natal, of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the people of Mozambique, dedicated on the 9th of June 1974 by the 9th Bishop of Libombo, Daniel Pereira dos Santos de Pina Cabral. The architect was Amancio D’Alpoim Guedes and the builder Messias Pereira de Carvalho