St Joseph’s Chapel
[Rubbi Road, Kommetjie]
A short history by Rev W. J. Smeets O. Praem.
On Slangkop Hill overlooking the village of Kommetjie on the West coast of the Cape Peninsula, stands the little chapel of St. Joseph, built in 1948 to the memory of one Joseph Rubbi.
JOSEPH RUBBI AND HIS FAMILY
Joseph Rubbi was born in the village of Marostica, near the city of Padua in Italy, on 22 January 1873. As a young man he qualified as a carpenter and at the age of 16 he left the country of his birth in search of better prospects. He visited Buenos Aires in the Argentine but was unable, it appears, to find suitable work in the Americas, and so he consequently decided to seek his fortune in South Africa.
From 1891 until 1895 he worked on the mines in the Transvaal and then moved to Cape Town where he was joined by his sister, Maria, who became his housekeeper. Although a carpenter by trade, Joseph saw greater avenues for advancement in building and construction and soon became one of the leading contractors in Cape Town. On Robben Island, a leper colony at the time, he erected the buildings required by the Cape Government. The first major job he undertook was the construction of the Salesian Institute in Somerset Road, Cape Town whilst another large building which stands to his credit is the “Old Mutual” skyscraper in Darling Street.
After his original success in the Cape, Joseph – he was soon a master builder and a very wealthy man – decided he would settle there for good. He took his sister, Maria, back to Italy and there he married Ines Mattiello, a childhood sweetheart, who was born on the 17 March 1880.
Joseph and his wife made their home at 3 Forest Road, Oranjezicht, where he had built a magnificent house for his bride-to-be. There they were to remain for the rest of their lives.
Among Joseph’s closest friends were Ernst Seeliger, a German architect (born 18 December 1883 and who had five daughters and one son), Anton Benning, another builder, and Henry Teubes, the Government surveyor.
Another mutual friend was Johannes Gerardus van der Horst, who owned Imhoff’s Gift Farm on Kommetjie Road. In 1904 Johannes Gerardus van der Horst divided part of the farm into building plots and had the necessary survey done by Mr Teubes. The four friends, Seeliger, Benning, Teubes and Rubbi bought the first four adjacent plots on the Beach road, Kommetjie. It was Seeliger of course who designed and Rubbi who built these first four, almost identical houses. They were built of T.M.S. i.e.Table Mountain Sandstone (which had to be dressed on site)and were used by four families as holiday homes.
Joseph loved Kommetjie and its unspoiltr nature, its Long Beach and mountain. The Rubbis came to their seaside haven whenever they could get away from the city. It became their second home. Ines, an ardent equestrian, had her horses and horse-drawn cart and Joseph delighted in his mountain walks. His favourite spot was one of the large boulders which are strewn across the slopes of Slangkop. Here he could sit and enjoy the magnificent view of Long Beach and Hout Bay, which, he said, reminded him of his birth place near Padua.
It was on this very spot that he was later to be buried.
Although there was no water or electricity in those days, the Rubbis were great entertainers and an invitation to one of their numerous parties or dinners was much sought after by Cape Town’s society. It will be of interest to note that water was obtained from a small mountain stream dammed where the Kommetjie Hotel now stands.
Early in Joseph felt he was nearing his end and he expressed the wish to be buried at Kommetjie, “on the high”, as he put it. When he died on 23 February 1946, his wife sought the permission of J.G. van der Horst, the owner of the farm, to inter Joseph on the slopes of Slangkop, on part of the farm which had not yet been subdivided. Mr van der Horst willingly gave his consent to his long standing friend being buried near the rock which had been his favourite spot for many years.
lnes decided to have a vault erected to house her husband’s remains and purchased an area surrounding the grave – it measured 190 by 150 feet – from Van der Horst. Here an underground vault was built by the Rubbi Building Company, now owned by Pino Granelli, Rubbi’s nephew, son of his sister who lived in Zimbabwe. It was the size of a small bedroom and constructed entirely of concrete, with provision for the reception of the coffins of both Joseph and his wife.
Joseph’s coffin was made of the highest quality wood, leadon the inside and reinforced by a wooden hoop. It was placed in the vault, where it still stands on two small concrete pillars. As the vault itself cannot be seen from the ground level Ines had an elaborate tomb erected over it. This had three terraces of Table Mountain Sandstone and cost, even in those days, some ten thousand pounds to complete.
Once the tomb had been completed Ines decided to have a chapel built on the property in memory of her husband. The then Bishop, Rt. Rev. Francis Hennemann objected strongly to the erection of a chapel at Kommetjie, which he felt needed neither a church nor a chapel. He tried to persuade her to help instead with the building of a church at Fish Hoek, where the need was pressing; all to no avail!
A Yugoslav architect, Norman Lubinsky, was commissioned to design the structure. His concept did not include a steeple and when Ines returned from Italy, after a visit during which she had impulsively bought three bells, a steeple had to be added to the partially completed building to house these bells. As a result the steeple is tall and too narrow, the bells could neither be properly installed nor rung simultaneously – in any event, they had been poorly cast and were below standard. In January 1985 they were replaced by a single bell of good quality cast in Holland. This bell is now in situ and carries the inscription “Eijsbouts Astensis me fecit 1983 – Omnia fiant ad Gloriam Dei” (i.e. “Eijsbouts (of Asten) made me in 1983 – Let all be done to the Glory of God”) – and – “Tell out my soul the Greatness of the Lord.”
The altar, the communion rails, the floors, the statues of Mary and Joseph and the Stations of the Cross are all in marble imported from Italy, and were set in place by an Italian craftsman who came to South Africa especially to carry out this task. The mosaic of the Madonna and Child on the right-hand wall once adorned the wall of lnes Rubbi’s bedroom. The painting on the ceiling, depicting Mary and the Infant Jesus with Elizabeth and John the Baptist, was done by a student of the school of Andrea del Sarto. The original by del Sarto (born in Florence on 16.8.1486, died 29.9.1530) hangs in the Vitti Gallery in Florence. The other two paintings on the ceiling are the work of local artist James Eddie of Plumstead. The text on the one painting reads “Soli Deo honor et Gloria” (To God alone be honour and glory). The main statue above the altar is of Christ rising from the tomb. The text on the outside front wall of the Chapel refers to it as “Christo Resurgenti et divo Joseph D. “D. (Dedicated) to the rising (risen) Christ and St. Joseph. The Chapel was officially Opened on 15th May 1948, but for many years it was only during the summer holidays and only once a month that Ines was able to bring a priest from Cape Town to say Mass for holiday-makers.
In the interim the Archdiocese of Cape Town had acquired two plots, one opposite the Chapel and another behind it.
THE RUBBI ESTATES
lnes Rubbi died in Cape Town on 24 August 1978 at the age of 98, thirty-two years after her husband and is buried at his side in the vault.
The Rubbis had no children and Joseph Rubbi left a large part of his estate to charity. In Italy he endowed an orphanage and an old-age home and left money for research into tropical diseases and cancer. In South Africa he bequeathed ten thousand pounds to the University of Stellenbosch and a thousand pounds to Groote Schuur hospital. His construction firm went to his nephew, Pino Granelli, who was married to Mary Bekker, daughter of Carl Bekker, a German immigrant. Bekker bought two of the original Kommetjie houses, viz. those of Benning and Teubes. The Rubbi House was sold after Joseph’s death.
On her death lnes left most of what remained of the estate to the two children of her sister, who lived in Italy. The Kommetjie chapel went to the Norbertine Fathers.
ST NORBERT’S CHURCH
It had always been lnes’s hope that one day her chapel would serve a purpose other than a memorial. Her dream became a reality when in 1967 the Norbertine Fathers came to Kommetjie to establish a Priory for their Order.
The Archbishop of Cape Town, Owen Cardinal McCann, had assigned to them the territories of Kommetjie, Ocean View and Scarborough, (Ocean View was an area originally called Slangkop, established in 1968 as a “Coloured” Township to house the Coloured community who were being relocated, in terms of the notorious Group Areas Act, from Simon’s Town where they had lived for many generations.)
The Norbertine Fathers arrived on Monday 4 September 1967 and immediately set about building their Priory. The first wing on the plot to the west of the Chapel, was completed in June 1968. In August of that year the first people from Simon’s Town and Glencairn began moving into Ocean View. By 1970 Br Norbert Scheepers had built a church, dedicated to St Andrew, for them in their new township.
As the years passed so Kommetjie gradually developed. In the early 1980’s especially a large number of houses sprang up and within a short time the Chapel proved to be too small too often. The need for a bigger church became manifest.
Where would the new church be built? The monumental tomb of the Rubbis occupied a large piece of ground in the very middle of the property. What alternative was there but to build the church over the grave?
The family in Italy was approached and they at once approved of the idea.
On 16 December 1986, Brother Norbert began working on the new complex by digging the first trenches in preparation for the main works to be undertaken in 1987. In that year the massive tomb with its three terraces was gradually dismantled and the sandstone was used to erect the new edifice consisting of an ablution block and columbarium at ground level, sacristy and church hall on the first floor and the church above that.
The concrete vault with its two coffins has been left intact, whilst the main tombstone, although removed during the building operations, has been built into the back wall of the Church above the resting place of Joseph and Ines Rubbi.
Brother Norbert Scheepers O.Praem., assisted by only one labourer, completed the St. Norbert’s Church after four years of hard work. Every brick, every stone and tile, was put in place by his two hands.
The church was solemnly blessed by the Superior General of the Norbertine Order on 6 January 1991.
An interesting Snippet from David Sligsby:
My father knew [Joseph Rubbi] him and told me the secret of his success was to bring young Italian boys in as Tradesmen, they could not speak English and boarded with him, his wife made their food and they boarded in a basement at his house I think in Oranjezicht.
It goes without saying the boarding fees were quite close to the wages paid.