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The priest who built churches on hilltops

By Fred Kibor | Oct 2nd 2020 | 3 min read
Rev Fr Reinhardt Bottner famed for constructing churches on Elgeyo hills died Tuesday at Mater Hospital, Nairobi. [Fred Kibor, Standard]

Any visitor to Elgeyo escarpment will be left in awe by churches perched on the hills.

Rev Father Reinhardt Bottner, a German missionary who died on Tuesday, is credited for this unique concept. Bottner is also behind the improvement of infrastructure, education and peacebuilding in Elgeyo Marakwet.

Catholic Diocese of Eldoret Vicar General Rev Father William Kosgey, while announcing the priest’s death, said Bottner who served as parish priest at Kabechei, died at Nairobi’s Mater Hospital after a long illness.

“We express our condolence and pray for the congregation of the Benedictine missionaries, his family and friends during this time of mourning,” said Kosgey.

A mass in his honour was held on Wednesday at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Eldoret.

In 1975, Bottner, at the age of 30, arrived in Kenya from Landsberg, Germany’s southern region. He was sent to Catholic Diocese of Eldoret where he was posted to Chesoi in Elgeyo Marakwet.

He soon embarked on a mission to build churches and schools in the then remote area surrounding the majestic Kerio Valley. Through his work, he established churches along the escapements which are revered as architectural masterpieces.

He built St Raphael’s Catholic Church-Kapchebau, St Michael’s Catholic Church-Embobut, St Kizito Catholic Church-Wewo and St Paul’s Catholic Church-Kabechei.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, in his tribute, recalled how the priest who locals christened ‘Kiplaikong’ (a white man with burning eyes) advocated for development in the area through education.

Founded church

“I interacted personally with Father Reinhard. In 1977, he recruited my father to the Catholic Church and they together founded Koropkwen Katendwo Catholic Church. My dad was the local catechist,” Murkomen wrote in his Facebook tribute.

He added the priest was instrumental in the construction of roads in Embobut when none existed at all and established primary schools in the remote areas enabling many children to access education.

“Everything that’s towering in Embobut is courtesy of Father Reinhard. The St Michael’s establishment in Kakimiti that includes church, health centre, primary and secondary school is there courtesy of the soft-spoken cleric,” he said.

Murkomen added that the cleric was instrumental in the construction of towering churches in Kerio Valley escapement where he introduced the architectural designs and supervised their construction.

In the later 1990s, Reinhard left Embobut for Kamwosor in Keiyo South and later Kabechei.

For residents of Elgeyo Marakwet, death has robbed them of a cleric who dedicated his life to the well-being of the region wearied by decades of banditry and cattle rustling.

“Father Bottner was posted to Embobut Parish in 1975 and served until 1998 when he moved to Keiyo South and served until his retirement. While at Embobut, the cleric opened up roads, put up churches and schools,” said Embobut/Embolot MCA Paul Kipyatich.

Thomas Chemilil, a resident, said he came to know about the priest from the people who he had interacted with and touched. They spoke of his good deeds

“In 2012, I had the privilege to work in Embobut. My interaction with the people and my keen interest in their individual tales yielded the inspiring story of the priest,” said Chemilil.

“When he came to Embobut in 1975, the region had no infrastructure and through his efforts, the region was opened up,” said Edwin Maiyo.

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