MONTAGU MUSEUM – THE OLD MISSION CHURCH
This beautiful building with its neo-Gothic elements in its turrets and buttresses was built as a Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1907.
Because of the Land Reform Act of the 1960’s, the members of the church were forced to vacate the building sixty years later. The last service was held on 13 June 1970, after which the building played host to the Montagu Museum which opened its doors to the public in 1975. The old church building was declared a national monument in 1976.
The recently upgraded and permanent museum-display today tells the story of a rural church and its members. Through their words which are captured as quotes on the display material, the story is told in layers of a holy space, where through assembly, hymns, sermons and a solid believe in their saviour, a safe haven was created over the years where people could find solace in their collective hardship.
Today the collection of bibles, wooden benches, prayer books and framed faces on the walls are mute reminders of a time gone for good. On display in the church-museum is the original pulpit, organ, baptismal font and wall mural behind the pulpit. The original wooden collection plates and musical instruments used by the church’s brass band can also be seen.
A glass cabinet filled with a collection of various rock tools underneath a banner depicting images of rock art recently discovered on the banks of the Keisie River in Montagu West, is evidence that the Khoesan people were the original residents of the area. Symbols painted on the rocks suggest that this was a sacred site where initiation ceremonies were performed.
The museum has its own Herb Shop (situated in the old Vestry ) where the visitor can purchase medicinal teas for a variety of ailments – from anaemia to whooping cough. Up to 53 herbal mixtures are on display at the back of the church. These are based on herbal remedies used by the Khoesan and whose knowledge was handed down and absorbed by the community over thousands of years. These indigenous herbs have been researched by the Montagu Museum since 1982, and the project has become very much part of the preservation of our shared indigenous heritage.
The Herb Department has an online shop on our website and can dispatch our products all over South Africa.
Today the Old Mission Church museum is as popular as ever as a venue for weddings and intimate church services. Because of its acoustic ambience, music evenings are regularly held in the church.
The Old Mission Church is also the main centre for the annual Montagu Museum Herb Fest. This fest takes place every year during Heritage Weekend in September. There are exhibits, talks by experts in their fields as well as informal talks on a variety of subjects, workshops and guided walks in Donkerkloof, the Nature Garden and Kogmanskop.
The museum archives which adjoins the church is an important research centre which not only serves as a depository for local family histories and of the area in general (focusing mainly on the theme of the museum – namely the history of the church and its congregation members) but it is also a popular venue for meetings and gatherings.
On our website, Montagu Stories collects stories and pictures about the history of Montagu and extends the availability of this historical material to a world-wide digital audience. These stories are now also available in printed form. Its success depends on the public’s involvement, so please contact the museum’s research team with your contributions and ideas.
Visitors to the Montagu Museum are taken on a journey, which clearly shows the story of early man, the medicinal herbs they harvested in the mountains and valleys surrounding Montagu to the place of worship their descendants attended many years later.
41 Long Street, Montagu