Monday, June 6, 2011

San Ambrosa Church

One of Daleen Matthee's books, The Mulberry Forest, tells the story of a group of Italian silk farmers who where brought to Knysna to farm with silk worms and start up a silk spinning industry.  They were settled at Gouna in a forest clearing occupied by a headstrong Silas Miggel and his daughter.  When it was clear that the Italians weren't coping, they the father and daughter came to their rescue.  The daughter because she cared and Silas because he wanted them off his land and on board a ship heading for Italy ...

The book was based on the true story of 30 Italians that were brought to Knysna in 1881 to farm with silk.  Unfortunately the dream never materialised due to a failure to produce Mulberry trees to feed the silk worms required to spin the silk.  When they were brought to Knysna it was with the understanding that there were mulberry trees in the forest, but it turned out what was referred to as a wild mulberry by the forest people wasn't related to the real mulberry at all. 

The Italians were forced to live out a meagre existence by means of agriculture and small scale cattle farming at Gouna.  The San Ambrosa Church in Gouna was built for them by Rev Rooney ten years after their arrival in 1891.  The church was built to remind them of their lives back in the foothills in Italy and give them a closer connection to home.

Unfortunately over the years the church has been vandalized and looted of its original valuables.  Some restoration has taken place and a fund has been started to restore the rest of the church.  Visitors to the church on a farm in the middle of the Knysna forest is asked to make a donation towards the fund.

The descendants of these Italian pioneers still live not just in Knysna, but all over South Africa.  In the back of the church there are two rooms that act as a museum with a lot of information, old photos and implements.  There is also information on the more recent achievements of their descendants in both the sporting and business fields.  It was amazing looking through the museum and seeing the real photos of the people I read about in the book.  Suddenly I'm in the mood to read the book again... for the third time.

11 comments:

  1. Lovely little church ... such a shame it's lost it's treasures. Interesting walls of photos of the old folk and an interesting story of the silk industry which didn't materialize.
    Having difficulty commenting on your PE Daily Photo - great photo taken as just at the right moment, wet pants and all !!

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  2. Too bad they didn't settle a bit further north where they could have been successful in the silk industry. What I saw there was amazing. Yet it is nice to see these bits of history preserved.

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  3. What an interesting post! Did u know that when Elizabeth got married they had to choose silkworms that were politically correct to make the silk for her wedding dress. Couldn't have Italian so they chose Chinese!! Don't know how much truth is in that but its what I heard! :)

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  4. Great post. The church appears to be in very good shape to be 110 years old, I think I did the math right on that.

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  5. Thanks to Google, I landed up here! Awesomeness... I am doing some research on my wife's Italian forefathers (nee Tome) who arrived on that very ship in 1881 from Italy. I would love to visit this church. Can anyone tell me where exactly it is? Many thanks! George

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    1. George, its situated in the forest just north of Knysna close to Gouna. Probably about 15 min from town

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    2. George, did you ever get to Gouna? I live up here if you ever need help. Reading the Mulberry forest with my son at the moment...

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    3. George Meyer, I am a Tome. Could you wife maybe contact me 0728485098

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  6. Gerhard Tome My great,great grandfather came as one of these settlers and was misled by the British. When the silk farming did not work they were treated like scum and just thrown one side, they were given land and when the silk thing did not work the British said they must pay for the land, 90% of them could not, so they became woodworkers in the forest.These people were respected silk farmers in Italy. Just shows you stay in your country, you never know what will happen in a nother.

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  7. Hi if there is anyone that can help me with the History of the two Tome brother please contact me on 0728485098. I am a Tome too!!!!

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