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Evangelical Lutheran Church Complex

Bethanie | Namibia

The Evangelical Lutheran Church Complex in Bethanië was proclaimed a national monument because 'the buildings date from the 19th century and are closely associated with the history of missionary endeavour among the Namas'. The complex comprises of a restored mission church, Rev Johann Heinrich Schmelen's Cottage and a cemetery.

In 1814 Johann Heinrich Schemelen of the London Missionary Society arrived in Bethanië. In true missionary fashion he built a small, one-roomed 'stone house' and lived in it until he left in 1834. at some stage between 1830 and 1842, it burnt down.

The 'stone house' was rebuilt in 1842 by a Hans Christian Knudsen of the London Missionary Society, an active missionary here until 1851. It is arguable whether it should be referred to as Schemelen House or Knudsen's House. It was Knudsen who persuaded the leader of the Nama of Bethanië, Petrus Fredericks, to donate the house and adjacent piece of land to the Rhenish Mission Society, who still own the property today. But Schemelen set it up and it is his name on the proclamation.

Knudsen built the house by piling up layers of flat stone and by using clay bricks to finish the walls off for the other half. They were plastered inside with a cow dung and clay combination and lime washed in various colours. Reeds and bulrush mats were fixed to a camelthorn beam construction before being capped with a layer of clay. There was a firing-port in the western wall, facing an original spring.

The 'stone house' is believed to be the second oldest house built by Europeans in the country of Namibia. (The oldest was built by Wesleyan missionaries at Warmbad in 1806, destroyed by Jager Afrikaner, father of Jonker Afrikaner, in 1812). It is actually the oldest existing building in the country and has undergone a number of renovations during the 1960's and 1970's.

Another building in the complex is the mission church built by Herrmann Heinrich Kreft of the Rhenish Mission Society; one of the first of its kind built in Namibia, with the building works starting in 1859 and consecrated on 26th June 1859. The Nama leader David Christian provided the windows and the pulpit. Ten years later the trader Gilmore donated some church benches to replace the skins on the floor, that some of the 560 strong parish members had to sit on.

Original records show the church was built with 2 towers, serving as a reminder of a church at Unterbarmen in Germany. In time these towers decayed and had to be removed for safety reasons. A new church was built, the 'stone church' and was inaugurated on 30 May 1899. The old church building was then used as a school, and years later between 1970 and 1998 as a storeroom. Near the original mission church is a small cemetery in which some of the missionaries and their relatives are buried.

The restoration included the reconstruction of the original towers and the old mission church in Bethanië is the only dual-towered mission church in Namibia. Rev. Schmelen's Cottage was proclaimed a national monument on 1st February 1952. On 17th August this proclamation was revoked and instead and on the same date, the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church Complex - which included the mission church, cemetery and Rev. Schmelen's Cottage - were proclaimed a national monument.

The entire site is now accessible to those on a self drive safari in Namibia, who are willing to make the short detour to the village of Bethanie (just north of the B$ road between Keetmanshoop & Luderitz)

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