Singaporeans could get really creative with how to make use of their remaining heritage buildings. There’s not a lot around so collective effort are directed towards salvaging what’s left of their historical and cultural sites.
I was in the Victoria St. area earlier to take photos of CHIJMES. I marveled at the gracious and innovative transformation the historic convent underwent. One of the best example of architectural reuse I’ve ever seen.
You usually hear old churches and convents located in prime development areas giving way to new development. CHIJMES’ a unique exception. All the significant architectural features of the church and convent was retained. Then the entire area was leased to businesses. Ensuring its continuous utilization and survival for years to come.
The former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus was established in 1840. Subsequent improvements in the property includes the eerily beautiful Gothic chapel. The entire complex is now a site for events, restaurants and shopping.
The new convent is located somewhere near the East Coast area of the island. I accidentally stumbled upon it when I took a new route on my way home (wanting to cut time). Someone, spirits from the old convent, wanted to show me where they’ve relocated?
With modern skyscrapers dwarfing the CHIJMES, the scene in Victoria St. is a fascinating contrast of new and old. A kind of visible historical strata that livens up not only the town but anyone with an imagination for the past.
Two gazetted structures can be found in the CHIJMES area: the Gothic Chapel and the neoclassical Caldwell house, designed by the British architect Coleman. It now houses contemporary art exhibits.
Near the gate of the chapel is a wooden door called “The Gate of Hope”. Here babies were dropped inside baskets for the Nuns to pick up in the past. According to a marker inside, “for over 100 years the orphanage was born to children from poor and broken families as well as unwanted babies.”
The orphanage and the mission here continued until 1983.
Father Jean Marie Beurel, who’s said to had bought the Caldwell House for the nuns of CHIJ with his own money, would be proud of the lasting legacy the mission left behind.
The curious globe trotting Jose Rizal wandered around this same area during his first visit. Singapore holds the distinction as the country the national hero visited the most, a total of five times.
The area’s a great destination for those looking for religious and historical connection. The churches that Rizal saw in his time are still here. Victoria St. is where CHIJMES and the church of Good Shepherd are located. Not far, in Queen St., the church of Sts. Peter and Paul. There’s the Singapore Art Museum, a former La Sallian school established in the 1800’s. Then there’s the Portuguese founded St. Joseph church near Bugis, right in front of the towering National Library. Walk pass Middle St., and you’ll come across Manila St., (which is more of a back alley actually).