The Arthur Shearly Cripps Shrine, Maronda Mashanu

‘St Francis of Assisi of the African countryside’

ascribesArthur Shearly Cripps - priest, poet, writer and missionary - was born in Tunbridge Wells UK, educated at Oxford and Cuddeston and ordained priest in the Church of England in 1893. In about 1897 he offered himself to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) for service in Mashonaland, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) where he went in 1901 spending most of the next half century there. Critical of church policy but still more critical of government and settler attitudes, he fought a lifelong battle for African rights. Acquiring 7,700 acres of farmland, he built a thatched church near Chivhu at Maronda Mashanu (Five Wounds) and a round hut in which he lived. His tenants paid no rent and farmed as they liked. After 1930 he formally cut his Anglican links, becoming simply ‘a Christian missionary in Mashonaland’. His poetry, novels and a play entitled The Black Christ challenged at a fundamental level the assumptions of colonialism. He battled against government policies like the hut tax and befriended black political leaders. But his greatest significance lay simply in that he was a ‘Francis of Assisi of the African countryside’, enduring the greatest poverty, sharing his food and clothes with the poor. He was blind for the last decade of his life, but unconquerable in his hope. He died on August 1, 1952 at the age of 83 years. His shrine is a place of pilgrimage, still lovingly tended by some of those who knew him and others who acknowledge his holiness and his legacy to the African people whom he loved so faithfully.

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