Meaning of Emmanuel and « cathedral »

Emmanuel is the Hebrew word meaning “God is with us”. The Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop and the mother church of the Archdiocese. The ‘cathedra’ or bishop’s chair from which he presides over liturgical functions, is the origin of the word ‘Cathedral’.

Why a new Cathedral?

In 1902, newly arrived French Bishop Charles Jolivet OMI wanted to build a Cathedral for the vicariate of Durban. There was already a large church, Saint Joseph’s, founded in 1852, a few hundred yards away in what is now Dr Pixley kaSeme Street. At that time the church did not have sufficient funds to build a cathedral, and the bishop calculated that if he sold the valuable, but noisy Saint Joseph’s property, St Joseph’s could be physically dismantled and moved to Greyville. This was done and the Cathedral was then built for £48 000 (which was a huge amount of money at that time)!

Therefore Durban had two churches instead of one! Selling the Saint Joseph’s site and building the Cathedral, during this period was not easy as there was an economic depression following the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) and finances were hard to come by.

 Focus on:

  • the Empress Eugénie’s visit

In 1880, Empress Eugenie of France, wife of late Napoleon III, made a pilgrimage to Natal to visit the spot where her son, the Prince Imperial, had been killed in the Anglo-Zulu War the previous year. Whilst in Durban, she gave ‘a generous donation’ of £5 000 to Fr Sabon, curate of Saint Joseph. Some have said that various side altars were paid for out of this donation, however, there is no record of how this money was spent. Given the financial stringency in the church of Natal at the time.


The foundation stone of the Emmanuel Cathedral was laid by Bishop Jolivet on the 1st of January 1902 and the church was completed by Christmas of 1903. However, even before it was completed, a Requiem Mass was celebrated in this building for the great Pope Leo XIII and in September 1903 a Requiem Mass for Bishop Jolivet himself, He lies buried at the head of the centre aisle, just outside the sanctuary.

 What remains of the former church

Certain parts of the old St Joseph’s were incorporated into Emmanuel Cathedral; the round stained glass windows on the side walls (known as ‘eyes’) and the bell tower,  at Bishop Jolivet’s specific request.

 Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross, which are a special feature of the Cathedral, were made in Angers in France in 1902 and installed in 1904. Originally they simply showed the biblical scene without a framework which was added by a local firm in 1926.

The organ

The organ was purchased from a company in the United Kingdom for 2 700 pounds and installed in 1912.  The maintenance of this organ was so costly that a fund was established specifically for ,  this purpose. An opening concert, celebrating the new organ, was held on 17 April 1912 amid great festivities. On the centenary of this occasion a special organ recital was held in 2012.

Chapel of Our lady

The beautiful chapel of Our Lady was built in 1928, the year that Bishop Delalle celebrated his silver jubilee of consecration. The chapel was a gift to him from the people of the diocese.

The baptismal font

In front of the chapel, against the wall, is the lovely baptismal font given to the Cathedral at the time of its construction, as a gift by the Trappist monks of Mariannhill. It was originally in the chapel at the back of the church where the statues of various saints are now located.

Bishops in the 20th century

Bishop Jolivet was succeeded by Bishop Henri Delalle OMI, the youngest bishop in the world at that time, and in 1946, over four decades later, Bishop Delalle’s successor, Bishop Denis Hurley OMI, also the youngest bishop in the world at the time, was consecrated in the Cathedral amid what the press called ‘medieval splendour’.

 Focus on:

  • Archbishop Denis Hurley

A tireless opponent of apartheid and campaigner for social justice throughout the 45 years he was bishop and archbishop of Durban (1947 – 1992).

Cardinal Napier

In June 1992 Archbishop Wilfrid Fox Napier OFM took possession of the Cathedral as its fourth bishop. He was elevated to the College of Cardinals on 21 February 2001. Cardinal Napier participated in the last two papal elections (Benedict XVI and Francis).

Click on the following chronology to know more about the Cathedral:

frise copie couleur












Mass Times

No- Mass




07:45am– English
10:00am – Zulu

Public Holidays

Confession Times

1st Saturdays of the month
09:00am & 11:00am

Linked websites