Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Top 10 Most Beautiful Churches in Malaysia

If you look up the most beautiful churches in the world, most of them would be those in Europe, or maybe other parts of the Anglosphere. That could be true, since these were where Christianity flourished and continue to be practiced more widely than other denominations. But I do believe our own Malaysia has many beautiful churches, thanks to our long history of colonisation by three distinct European powers, and our small but strong Christian minority as well. Our churches not only reflect our diverse colonial past, but our religious diversity as well. So here is the countdown of the top ten most beautiful churches in Malaysia according to Poison Apple:

10) St. John’s Cathedral, Kuala Lumpur

As the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, this 1883 cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in the Malaysian capital. It was built by a group of wealthy Chinese converts alongside a few European and Eurasian communities. Apart from its Grecian-Spanish detalis,  the cathedral is mostly a whitewashed modern building with twin spires, located in the colonial heart of the city. It is the seat of the current Archbishop of the country. The interior of the cathedral has a Latin inscription in mosaic above the new altar which translated to "Behold the Lamb of God." The beautiful stained glass windows above the altar were ordered from Paris and depict three Gospel scenes which feature the cathedral's patron, St. John the Evangelist.

9) St. Francis Xavier Church, Melaka

This church is probably the first symbol of religious freedom of this country. Completed in 1856 on the site of an old Portuguese church by a French priest, this was the second Roman Catholic church to be built following the proclamation of religious freedom by the Dutch colonialists in 1702. Prior to that, the local Roman Catholics, who were mostly Eurasians descended from the former Portuguese colonials were forbidden from practicing their religion openly, and had to worship in secrecy. The  church was named after the famous Catholic missionary who visited Melaka several times between 1545 and 1552, during his journey to the Far East. The church is built in the Gothic ecclesiastical architecture. Since it was built by the Paris Foreign Missionary, the church was primarily modeled after the Basilica of St. Peter of Montpelier in Southern France. With its twin-spired Gothic towers, it closely resembles the iconic Notre Dame.

8) Cathedral of Assumption 

Originally a church, this cathedral was built in 1860 and derives its name from the Feast of the Assumption. This eve of the Feast coincided with the day Portuguese Eurasians from Kedah led by Sir Francis Light moved to Penang in 1786. In 1955, the Vatican decreed it become a cathedral. The local Eurasian community has dwindled over the years apart from a few families living in colonial bungalows behind the cathedral, including one Anglo-Indian mansion joined to the church's compound. The cathedral is built in a traditional Georgian style, like many other colonial buildings on the island.

7) St. Anthony's Church , Kuala Lumpur

Built by a French missionary for the small Tamil-speaking Catholic community in Kuala Lumpur in 1911. The  Gothic spires contrasts heavily with its simple white walls. The interior is simple but elegant as well, as it features many beautiful stained glass windows.

6) St. Aloysius Church, Mantin

It is sad that this church is not well known outside the town of Mantin. Its impressive Neo- Gothic architecture is a real treat to the eyes. Built in 1900, the church was once famous for its nunnery. However, the nuns today have all moved to the state's capital of Seremban. Not much is known about the church's colonial past. But one can assume it is mainly a Chinese church since it has Chinese wordings on its walls.

5) Holy Rosary Church, Kuala Lumpur

This is probably one of the most beautiful colonial buildings in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The main attraction of the church is its Neo-Gothic architecture. The fact that it has high windows, a pointed arch, a ribbed vault and a flying buttress makes it the most Gothic building in the city. The church was built by a French missionary in 1883 to serve the needs of the local Chinese-speaking Catholic community

4) St. George's Church, Penang

Build by the Penang Colonial Chaplain (who later founded Penang Free School) in 1818, this is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. In 2007, the government declared it one of the 50 National Treasures of Malaysia. It is built in the Georgian Palladian style, which is why it a strikingly tall steeple and many Grecian columns on the front. The pure white colour of the church is still maintained. The original roof was flat but was later modified to its present gable shape because a flat roof is unsuitable for the tropical weather. The structure on the lawn of the church is a memorial dedicated to Sir Francis Light, founder of modern day Penang.

3) Christ Church, Melaka

This 18th century prayer house is the oldest functioning Protestant church in the country. The church was built by the local Dutch Burgher community to commemorate the capture of Melaka from the Portuguese. When Melaka was handed over to the British East India Company, the church was re-consecrated with the rites of the Church of England, and was renamed Christ Church. Unknown to many, it was originally painted white, but was later painted red along with the neighbouring Stadthuys, making it the hallmark of Melaka's Dutch colonial history.

2) St. Michael's All Angels Church, Sandakan

This beautiful granite church was built in 1897. While most of Sandakan was destroyed following World War II, this church is one of the city's few surviving colonial buildings. It was recognized as a world heritage monument since 2005. The beautiful stained glass windows were donated by Australians to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. The brown, shiny benches are more than 100 years old but are still well preserved.

1) New St. Anne's Church, Penang

This is also one of the biggest churches in the country. It is especially unique for its clever mix between European and Malaysian architecture. This can be seen from the church's Minangkabau roofs, giving it a very Malaysian look. Statues depicting the stations of the cross can be found around the church's compound. A grotto dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary can also be found here. The church is most famous for its grand St. Anne's feast celebration. The real feast day is on 26 July, but here it is celebrated for up to ten days. Candlelight processions, a nine-day novena and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament are among the highlights of the celebration. Pilgrims from all around the world, even as far as Australia come in hundreds of thousands come for the blessings of St. Anne's.

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