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News > ODU Office News > Flowers on the graves of well-known power couple, Robert and Sophia Gray

Flowers on the graves of well-known power couple, Robert and Sophia Gray

The Anglican Church in South Africa commemorates two very important persons. One is Robert Gray, founder of Bishops school, and the other is his accomplished wife, Sophia Gray, known to most as Sophy.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Gray (1 September 1872) who was only 62 when he died.    Sophia, his wife passed away the year before aged only 57 on 27 April 1871. Yesterday, 31 August, the Anglican Church commemorated her life.

Robert and Sophia are buried next to each other at St Saviour's Claremont. Sophia (better known as Sophy) was an impactful woman in her own right.  Dr Paul Murray visited the graves where flowers were placed to honour the lives of this dynamic couple who lived to serve.

As we commemorate them, we reflect on their lives and some of their great achievements:

Robert and Sophie Gray came to South Africa from England and arrived in Cape Town on 20 February 1848.  They were from well-established English families but chose to serve rather than follow their own desires.  
Bishop Gray was a quiet, reserved person, well versed in the history of the church.  Sophy was keenly interested in all that went on around her; her mind was of a very high order, and great was her firmness and decision.  This husband-and-wife team made a formidable pair and their service to Cape Town is still felt today.

 Judge Farlam the Father of Mr Peter Farlam explains this as:

‘A suitable husband and wife team in Cape Town in the 19C’ … ‘While Robert from the beginning received praise and credit for his work as the founder and builder of an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion (in South Africa), Sophy’s great achievements, which were so essential to his success, tended to be obscured until she was rescued from semi-oblivion as a result of Dr Thelma Gutsche’s outstanding and fascinating biography, The Bishop’s Lady’. 

 For instance, how many know that whilst Bishop Robert Gray is the Founder of our school Bishops, he was away on an official visitation to the island of St Helena when Sophy and staff opened the school on 15 March 1849?  Not only did Sophy help to found Bishops, but also another school, which she with Robert started, today called Zonnebloem NEST (the New Era School’s Trust).  

As  already mentioned, it was clearly a calling that brought the couple Sophy and Robert to South Africa.  Both came from gentrified families and could have followed other paths.  Whilst it can be argued that Bishop Gray’s response was to the church, to spread the gospel in a far-away place such as Cape Town, it was also his burning desire to establish schools.  This undertaking was strongly supported by his wife Sophy who had received training early on at her father’s estate in Durham, in the management of the estate.  She and her husband were well-read in church literature that prepared them from what was to come, as in coming to a far-off place, Cape Town.  

In this sense, Sophy Gray can be called a modern woman not bound by the role of a woman of the strict Victorian era.  The Gothic revival in architecture and building at the time of Sophy’s upbringing, greatly influenced her, and she is responsible for having a hand in the design of 40 churches in the Western Cape and environs.  

Her greatest achievement in this area, is the design of St Saviour’s Claremont which has a strong connection with Bishops, where, today, both lie buried in the grounds.  The belltower of the St Saviour’s commemorates Sophie and inside the church there are plaques commemorating Bishops Gray and Sophia Gray.  

A.E.M Anderson Morshead writing about the life of Sophie Gray said: ‘In her whole life she had never thought of herself or spared herself, and to the end she thought of all around her … she died peacefully on 27 April 1871.  In her honour, the following words are inscribed in St Saviour’s Church: 

‘To the Glory of God and in Memory of Sophia Wharton Gray. A woman in all ways fitted to be the wife of that great Bishop whose life was spent in the service of Christ and of His Church.  Simple, true, devout, endued with understanding of many things, her price was far above rubies …’
 It is undeniable that the Robert-and-Sophy-Gray team contributed significantly to the cultural and religious life at the Cape from when they arrived in 1848 until their passing in 1871/2 respectively.  They founded our school as well as St George’s Grammar School, and St Cyprian’s and Zonnebloem College.  

Whilst Bishop Gray built the Anglican Church in Southern Africa which today has a membership of around five million members, Sophy, as we already saw, was responsible for building forty churches, which are mostly all still in use today.  

These monuments and the untiring work they did in the Diocese of Cape Town and further, make them a glowing example of a total dedication and service, from which Bishops has directly benefited.  

Today we remember them, their work and devout service and are thankful that God chose them to be our Founder husband-and-wife team!
To The Greater Glory of God!


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