Constructed by worshippers lacking any prior architectural or building experience, this remarkable amateur-built ecclesiastical anomaly has stood out in Blantyre, Malawi, since 1891.
Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city and its capital of commerce and industry, was founded in 1876 by Scottish missionaries and named after a small town outside Glasgow, Scotland. Little remains to hint at the bustling East African city’s Scottish roots, except for this seemingly out-of-place Presbyterian Church, which is said to be “the first permanent Christian church erected between the Zambezi and the Nile.”
The current building was the brainchild of Scottish missionary and architecture rookie Reverend David Clement Scott, meant to replace a much less grand Presbyterian chapel. There were no detailed plans or drawings made for the church outside of Scott’s imagination. Beginning in 1888, brickwork was simply laid dry without mortar to test for strength and aesthetics before continuing to the next layer of the 37-foot-high structure.
The clay for the bricks was excavated and baked in wood kilns on site by parishioners, allowing the whole cathedral-like edifice to be erected in just three years. The laborers on the project were all local people who had no prior experience in this type of construction. Despite this, the anomalous amateur-built church, with its mismatched towers and Moorish domed bell tower, has withstood the test of time. It has been designated a national monument by the Malawian Department of Antiquities and is a symbol of and source of pride for the city of Blantyre.
Know Before You Go
Blantyre is easily reached by air or coach from the capital Lilongwe. There are regular connecting flights to Lilongwe, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, and Johannesburg for international and intercontinental connections.