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 inconspicuous 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.