Pella Cathedral

By Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit

There’s something otherworldly about the date oasis of Pella, a little more than 30km from the village of Pofadder in the Northern Cape.

Driving in out of the dust, the whole scene before you resembles a desert movie scene featuring cowboys, aliens, peasants and priests.

The poor folk and the clergy are the locals. The cowboys and aliens are the cross-country visitors in their SUVs, who have come to see a marvellous place of worship.

In the midst of it all, fringed by date palm trees, stands a beautifully-built sand-coloured cathedral. On the balcony above the entrance, a statue of Jesus welcomes one and all with his arms outstretched.

Pella, this little mostly-watered smudge in the vastness of the Kalahari, has witnessed the arrival of Bushman hunters, Baster bands, missionaries, surveyors and soldiers over the centuries.

The building of Pella Cathedral was the joint project of two very dedicated men of God, Father JM Simon and Brother Leo Wolf of the Oblates of St Francis de Sales. Who, one is proud to add, is also the patron saint of writers and journalists.

They first set up a large food garden for the community and then spent seven years heading up the building project. It is said they used an encyclopaedia as their construction manual. And even the ironwork was locally forged.

The mission motto is apt:

“I have taken hold. I will not let go.”

  • For an insider’s view on life in the Karoo, get the Three-Book Special of Karoo Roads I, Karoo Roads II and Moving to the Platteland – Life in Small Town South Africa by Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais for only R720, including courier costs in South Africa. For more details, contact Julie at


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