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Zanzibar looks to its heritage

09 January 2015

by a staff reporter


Overhaul: temporary crack-repairs on the south roof of the cathedral

Overhaul: temporary crack-repairs on the south roof of the cathedral

CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL, Zanzibar, in Tanzania, which marks the site of one of the most notorious slave markets in East Africa, is undergoing restoration work after a successful appeal was made for funding.

The open-air slave market once had 15,000 slaves a year passing through it. It closed in 1873 - the last in the world to be shut down - and the site was bought by Anglo-Catholic missionaries from the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, who began to build the cathedral on it immediately.

The cathedral's altar was constructed over the exact spot where the whipping post - to which the strongest slaves were tied and whipped to prove their strength - once stood. Underneath the cathedral there are bones of the slaves who did not survive; and two of the holding chambers, where slaves waited to be sold, still remain in the grounds. The whole site has a UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim, and members of the cathedral's small congregation were unable to cope with the cost of repairs needed to the coral-stone structure, and the roof. But, after years of lobbying, international recognition by the World Monuments Fund (WMF), the European Union, and the governments of Tanzania and Zanzibar in response to appeals from churches in the United States, £1 million has been donated to begin the repair work.

Immediate work to secure the cracks was carried out earlier this year, but the entire roof now needs replacing. The charity Christian Engineers in Development is advising the project.

The WMF is also supporting the building of a heritage and education centre on the site, to commemorate the abolition of slavery. The centre will also highlight the continued existence of trafficking and modern-day slavery.

A formal link has been established between Ely Cathedral and Zanzibar to try and assist the restoration project. The Vice-Dean and Canon Missioner of Ely Cathedral, the Revd Dr Alan Hargrave, said: "The Christian population on Zanzibar is very much a minority, and there has been tension in recent years and months between the communities.

"It is hoped the new education centre will act as a bridge between the communities. . . Zanzibar Cathedral has to raise £30,000 a year as part of the project. In Ely, a stewardship programme has been sending out about £4000 a year to help.

"It is a hugely important piece of work. Zanzibar was the stepping stone for evangelism in East Africa; it is where David Livingstone was based, and his house still stands. It was a very important place for the slave trade, as almost all of those going to the East passed through Zanzibar."


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