Year Built

The Cemitério de S. José de Lhanguene is not the oldest cemetery in Lourenco Marques / Maputo. It was preceded by the Cemitério S. Xavier and  the S. Timóteo – the former which is still in existence but in an unfortunate state. Alfredo Pereira Lima who was one of Mozambique’s foremost historians; researching and recording the history of the city wrote that subsequent to the 1st world war, there was a need for a new cemetery to be established which is how the S. José de Lhanguene came to existence.

A programme organized by the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Maputo was held earlier in the week. On the agenda was the offering of prayers and a small introduction of each of the members who lay buried there. A small group of community members gathered at the entrance of the cemetery at 9 o’ clock as had been planned. For a June day in the southern hemisphere it was sunny and not particularly cold.

It is interesting to note that there is now a new cemetery 30 kilometers away and that this cemetery is “closed” but burials continue, especially when they related to family and far exceed capacity of the cemetery. All semblance of order has been lost and since the independence of the country from Portugal in 1975, inadequate planning and upkeep has resulted in the unfortunate removal and replacement of tombs – that is to clarify that bodies have been dug up and plots reconditioned for new burials. At one point, space had become so limited that plots were made in places not appropriate such as the walkways and internal roads. A recent announcement in the newspaper this year provides some hope that the city council is working to remove unclaimed or abandoned plots in an effort to restore some dignity to the site.

There are only a handful members of the Baha’i community buried here. The friends were able to identify some of the sites and offer prayers but a small number of tombs could not be found. It is most likely that these at some point lay unattended and were removed and reconditioned for new burials.

As the old saying goes, “fortune favours the brave” and even this derelict and crumbling part of the city I could see remnants of what once was the very blissful resting place of so many of its citizens. It is quite common to see in southern Europe elaborate markers, monuments and vaults. Mozambique being a colony of Portugal (a southern European nation), it is not surprising that these traditions have been brought over.

At the front of the cemetery, one will find rows of family vaults supposedly of the wealthier families of the city who decided that their dead should be buried together and who could afford it. Each more beautiful than the next but equally befitting the celebration of life.

One of the many casualties of the revolution in Mozambique, the mass exodus of these families led the grave sites and vaults to be abandoned. The ensuing civil war for the next sixteen years sealed the fate and severed any possibility of allowing the families to return to Mozambique. Not long afterwards vagrants moved into the cemetery broke into the vaults and caskets looking for anything of value to be sold.

DSC_3039The official history of the cemetery begins in 1951 when the CMLM (City Council of Lourenco Marques) identified, formalized and opened to the public the new burial grounds. Alfredo Pereira Lima recounts,

Shortly after the end of the Great War of 1914-1918, to attend the mass burials of the many hundreds of indigenous victims of the pneumonic epidemic, the São José de Lhanguene Cemetery was opened. From the date of its establishment until 20 November 1951, this cemetery was reserved for natives who had to be buried in a common grave. From that date onwards, the City Council was compelled to provide the city with a new cemetery and the burial grounds of São José de Lhanguene was then enlarged and opened to the public on that date. The opening ceremony in 1951 was filled with solemnity. After the Catholic ritual of blessing the Campo Santo, followed the first official burial: that of the bones of the old settler Vitor José Milho da Rosa. This old settler who resided in the S José de Lhanguene Mission had expressed the desire to be buried there, even though at the time the cemetery only contained mass graves, and his wish was respected. The Cemetery Section of the City Council exhumed his bones [from the São José de Lhanguene Mission] placed them in a small urn and this was the first official burial in the new Cemetery, giving his grave Number 1.

So with that, the members visit a few more of the graves and offered prayers. Most of those buried had pioneering roles with the establishment and growth of the Baha’i Faith in Mozambique. Papa and Mama Sabapathy arrived from Malaysia in 1970s just as the country become independent; Papa Nduna whose grave could not be located was one of the founding members of Local Spiritual Assembly; Mama Charlotte arrived from the USA in the 1950s and was later deported for her activities not returning permanently to Mozambique until 1983.

The catalyst for this event was the rehabilitation of the grave site of Mama Charlotte which was completed in June. The site had over the last twenty years degraded and the gravestone had been damaged. Vandalism and theft are an on-going concern at the cemetery which has lead certain improvisations such as the installation of steel barriers and monthly payments to the staff to “stand guard”.


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