st-cipriani-photo-3_8497566834_oIt 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.

st-cipriani-2_8496458761_oThe 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. 

st-cipriani-photo-12_8497588818_oA 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?

st-cipriani-photo-10_8496487649_oA 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 


Igreja+Sto+Antonio+da+Polana_1965In the bairro of Sommerschield is the Church of Santo António, also known as the Igreja de Polana (even though it is really in Sommerschield). The streets of this part of town are unlike those elsewhere in that they are not the wide tree-covered walkways known as the avenidas. The wealthy residents of this community who most likely had graduated to motor vehicles at the time enjoyed much larger plots of land. The homes built here from the 1950s onward are modern with a wide footprint leaving little space on the street for pedestrians.

It may be for that reason that one would not easily notice the Church of Santo António which is flanked by generous multi-storey homes with their tall perimeter walls. One has to drive to the very end of the block to behold all its glory. It was Nuno Craveiro Lopes, the son of a former president of the Portuguese republic, who designed the church. The project is a reflection of the modernist tendencies in architecture that were gaining momentum around the world in the middle of the 20th century. It is said to be associated in its likeness with modern Brazilian architecture of the era developed by Oscar Niemeyer.

It is a bold, heavy and marvelous structure of reinforced concrete in the shape of an inverted flower with light flowing from the top and sides through stained glass. It has a capacity for 600 people seated, 7 altars and 16 spaces which allow for light to enter. Some of the glass panels have been designed to open allowing for ventilation.

Craveiro Lopes appears to have had a falling out with the members of the congregation when they requested certain changes to both the interior and exterior. Initially, the alter had been conceived to be at the center of the building, illuminated by the stained windows on the spire, with congregation seated around it.

The congregation decided later that it be fixed adjacent to one of the walls. There was also some disagreement with regards to the interior paving. Craveiro Lopes had planned the paving to be made from white marble but the congregation decided on a brown-coloured tile.

Due to the conflicts, the architect broke his relations with the religious community after construction which he felt was a serious and negative adulteration of his work.

A close-up view of the exterior shows the sharp, angular characteristics of the pyramidal concrete structure. The stained windows extending from the top of the spire produce a red-orange glow on a sunny day, highly in contrast with the cold and sombre interior.

Aerial images of the church and the surrounding blocks provide some guidance of its scale. It was said that the project was initially to be built some 500 metres to the south near Parque Jose Cabral, ultimately being located in bairro of Sommerscheld. At the time of construction, the area was sparsely populated, with the bairro having begun its life only a decade earlier.

The church is some distance away from the road and not immediately noticeable due to the overgrowth of vegetation, not yet visible in this early image. Driving from the south you would follow either Av. Dr Egas Moniz or Rua de Nevala (Av. Nkruma).

From the neighbouring bairro of Polana, the church is seen in the distance. The vantage point appears to the be the sprawling campus of the Hospital Miguel Bombarda and the Faculty of Medicine of the Universidade de Lourenço Marques. Even further into the distance one can see the Bucellato building, likely owned by Bucellato & Sons, a wealthy immigrant family from Italy.

Sadly, Craveiro Lopes (left in photo) died in 1972 at the relatively young age of 51 of an undisclosed illness. He did not live to see the independence of Mozambique from Portugal although he would have followed the Liberation War in the 1960s.

o-marechal-craveiro-lopes-em-1961-em-visita-a-seu-filho-nuno-em-lourenc3a7o-marquesWhile his work in Mozambique was limited to only a handful of projects, he was quite visionary in his approach and rejected the powerful directives of the Salazar regime in Portugal which tried to control the colonies such as Mozambique and Angola in more ways than it needed to.