Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar – an icon of reconciliation

By Phil Groves

In 1998 I observed Good Friday in this iconic Cathedral. It is built on the site of the salve market and the altar is the very place where slaves were sold. The crypt is the holding cells of the slaves. What a place to observe Good Friday. It is the place of the Cross; it speaks of the one who humbled himself as a salve and died for all slaves.

In 2007 I was back there this time with the Primates of the Anglican Communion. We crossed from Dar es Salaam on the Middle Sunday of the 2007 Primates’ Meeting for a Eucharist.

Archbishop Rowan preached on the open inclusive love of Christ for all. In that place and after that sermon all Primates received communion – Archbishop Donald Mtetemela gave them no option.



Later Archbishop Sentamu went missing. He was not at the lunch. He stayed behind to swell in the place of the slaves – moved to tears that here could have been his relatives, bought and sold like cattle and treated as subhuman.

But this cathedral is also a symbol of the colonial rule. Slavery was ended by British gun boats, not by local consent. The ending of the slave trade by force, led to the partitioning of East Africa and rule from London and Berlin. The ending of slavery was not the ending of the imbalance of power and a new subtle evil emerged that appeared to be good.

Local Muslim rule was overcome through military power linked to Christianity and resentments festered. The British believed they were righteous impartial overlords. They believed that the colonial era would ‘civilise’ the ‘natives’.

This majestic icon stands as a conversation. Reconciliation is never easy. It does not have an end. It is an ongoing journey. Our best intentions can have devastating effects. Ending the slave trade was a great event worthy of being celebrated, but it ushered a new era of oppression and the effects last to this day.

It is great news if this Cathedral can be a place where reconciliation can flourish. It is a vital reminder of the identification of God with the weakest and most vulnerable in society it is a place to remember the perfect sacrifice made by Him on the Cross. It is also a place to remember that we are open to failure and sin as we follow Him even when our intentions are good.