[Disclaimer: I was actually there in November 2010 but that was not an option on the drop-down list]
Reichenau is one of the foundations made approximately 150 years ago by the Trappists from Central Europe who establised Mariannhill Monastery outside Durban. This missionary effort, for good and ill – mostly the former – had a definite effect in shaping the character of rural KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape, as churches and schools were built and farms and other productive endeavours established. Reichenau, in a beautiful location on the Pholela River, is notable for its water mill powered not by the more usual wheel but by the force of a small waterfall. And like all Mariannhill foundations it is notable for the remarkable craftsmanship of the missionary brothers. The church, in a state of considerable disrepair owing to the prohibitive cost of restoration, boasts a stone structure, magnificent ceiling beams of local hardwood engraved with the papal keys, and faded, peeling fresoes or murals (I don’t know the difference, I’m afraid) of, it must be said, regrettably European-looking saints and biblical figures. The old vestments have been kept, and are exquisitely embroidered.
While the parish and primary school (serving the impoverished local rural community) have always continued to function, the farm land was leased out and the workshops and mill fell into disrepair. About two or three years ago engineers and other volunteers from Durban and Pietermaritzburg got together and over time restored the mill which is now functioning again and producing a small quantity of flour for sale. There is also an effort underway to restore the other buildings and hopefully have a fully-functioning, self-sustaining enterprise in place. Evidently there is a locally-trained guide (who was ill the day I visited so I just wandered around on my own and was shown the church by one of the sisters teaching in the school) and a small craft shop – which I also didn’t see, having run out of time. Next time, perhaps...
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