St Mary’s Seminary, the great unknown!

It’s perched on the top of a hill, surrounded by ancient cedar woods, hidden and seemingly unknown. Not many people have heard about St Mary’s Seminary. In fact many of the locals who have lived here for years are not even aware the school exists. It was built in 1928 by the German Trappist Monks and was once a high school for Catholic priests in training. These days, St Mary’s Seminary dances to a different tune. It’s now a nursing college and is home to mostly women students.



“The world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” J.R.R Tolkien



“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.” – John Muir


In the last few years,’Mission Tourism’ has taken off in KwaZulu-Natal. It’s not surprising really. Have you seen the missions? They’re quite spectacular and their appeal lies not just in religion, but in the architecture, the history and the enchantment born of somewhere old and beautiful.


“You can fall in love at first sight with a place as with a person.” – Alec Waugh

Though St Mary’s Seminary is near a busy Ixopo road, no-one would think that a little school-oveninconspicuous dirt road that juts off and that climbs a steep hill, would take you to a place so grand and captivating as this. If you’re not a nurse in training in the Ixopo district, it’s likely that you’ve never heard of St Mary’s. It’s not surprising either. I dont believe it’s a destination on the tourist map. And I suppose I can I understand that to some degree. It’s a college after all and having tour buses pull in during lessons would certainly be somewhat distracting to the students. But if you ever do see this magnificent old school, it will enchant you and you’ll want others to see it and to experience it’s magic!  I wish I could tell you ‘visiting times,’ but I cant! When I went there, I had to get permission from the caretaker and security guard to enter the building. The steel gate with lock and chain had to be opened first. When I asked them later whether they get many visitors, they said ‘many, but mostly old students.’ Apparently wedding ceremonies also take place here and when you see the chapel, you’ll know why!



“We shall not cease from exploration and at the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot



“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” -Ursula Le Guin

“A traveller without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

In the next few months, I will be blogging about some of the missions in the area, as well as my mother’s guest house which is based just ‘down the hill’ from the Seminary and which was originally the supply farm for St Mary’s.

The missions were all built so that they were distanced ‘a day’s horse ride’ from a neighbouring mission. These days, the roads to the missions meander through lush hilly countryside, with a backdrop of farms, rural homelands, forests and aloe studded grasslands. As I discover each mission, I’ll be be posting about them. For me, these grand buildings transport me to another world and another time. It’s their old world charm that captivates me and of course, the beautiful and varied countryside that we must travel to get there.


“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.” – Alan Paton

16 replies »

  1. Thank you Lianne. I grew up there and I remember as a young girl growing up in this rich but yet unknown world. I remember the summer dayz walking playing with my couson, my uncle was one of the teachers there. It saddens me to see it in this state. I remember my childhood dayz back in the early 80’s. Its beaty still lives inside me….

    • Hi Kim – it is on the same road as Kings Grant Country Retreat and Sutherland Seedlings on D527 just outside of Ixopo. It is now a nursing college so will need to get permission from them to enter the grounds.

  2. Thanks for first of all perceiving St Mary’s amazingly beautiful architecture, positioning, old trees and ambiance Lianne, and then for sharing your amazing photographs, words and apt quotes. Love the idea of mission tourism and your plan to capture on film other beautiful missions as well. All good!