Tag Archives: chijmes

Plans to Repair Oldest Catholic Church in Singapore

One thing that has always impressed me about Singapore is seeing how architectural heritage, churches and colonial era buildings, are conserved and maintained. And they do so with efficiency and organization. The moment they see a problem is the time they get their act together. A friend told me that this is their collective attempt to encapsulate the past so they could look at their tangible heritage “like compass” and be reminded how their country started.


The Cathedral, February 2013

You’d hardly see an old house or building in disrepair here. I doubt if this has anything to do with them having more resources. The limited space here creates tremendous pressure to develop land. The island has some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

A few weeks ago, while I was visiting CHIJMES I noticed the extensive structural bracing around the Church of Good Shepherd (located just across the street). Later that day, I read an on line articles about “the urgency to repair the Church”. Structural cracks has appeared in its premises as the result of constructions around and beneath it.

According to Catholicnews.sg, “the construction of buildings nearby and infrastructure projects like the MRT Circle Line and Singapore Management University, have caused serious physical stress” to the first Catholic Church in Singapore.

The structural bracing supports the upper portion of the building, it prevents the widening of the cracks. I’ve seen this kind of bracing in the colonial era shop houses in the Little India district. Land is so scarce in this island that they make new rail lines underground.

Fr. Anthony, the Parish Priest, stated in 2009 that the “foundations (of the church) are stable but will need to be strengthened.” He stressed that  “restoration is much more costly than tearing down and building up.” There’s controversy on the amount the Cathedral was compensated for the damage it suffered. This is according to report from the popular alternative news site TR Emeritus. Whether true or not, the idea that there’s compensation for accidental damages is new to me because we don’t have such an arrangement back in our country.

The Catholic church is raising a huge sum to repair the Cathedral. The target, no small amount — 40 million Singaporean dollars.

Last year, I saw a similar situation with works on Sts. Peter and Paul in Queen Street. I thought that the visible deterioration was natural. I didn’t know that the on going constructions around the area (this church is about 500m away from the Cathedral) contributed to the visible interior damage.

But even with these challenges, one could see the lively response to conserve. I would rather have a situation where both private and government are engaged in discussions on ways to solve repair and restoration issues than having no discussions at all – which is what’s happening back home where private families and churches are left alone to fend for themselves.

Manila Connection

The Cathedral, locally known as the Church of Good Shepherd was built with funds from donations.

Manila’s Cathedral, with her parishioners contributed in building this pioneering church. They were the biggest donor to the cause.

During those days, the Spanish currency is the global tender.

And if you follow the places Rizal saw during his globe trotting days, this church is one of them.

Chijmes and or chimes

The CHIJMES with Swissotel as background.

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).

For a century, this door received hundreds of orphaned souls. The missionary nuns reared and educated those little angels. Where are they today? Those Sisters were unbelievably unselfish, dedicated human beings. Church people you would want others to know and members to be proud of.

The back side of the humble Gothic chapel. At a distant, the Good Shepherds bell tower.

Trees has begun to obscure the great architecture that has been preserved for the future generations of Singaporeans to witness.

The convent block as seen from Queen St.

Identity and Heritage: A Confession of a Culturally Insecure Filipino

Identity and Heritage: A Confession of a Culturally Insecure Filipino
By: Sebastian Cruz
London, United Kingdom
27 December 2011

Living in Europe, more so living in London, posed one significant challenge that I need to face with every single person I meet – describing the Philippines and explaining what a Filipino is.

It is not like French, Brazilian nor Chinese. It’s not like one of these “mega brands” that has a strong visual image and identity that one word can generate a rush of images in one’s mind. Moreover, it doesn’t even fit in to the visual image of the big umbrella word: “Asian”.

Growing up in Asia, I’ve always been confused and insecure about the Filipino identity.

Asia is comprised of three cultural ‘superpowers’: Confucian, Hindu, and Arab/Islamic. Three big clusters that have distinct languages, architecture, and even religion – cultural buckets that a “Malay Catholic Filipino like me with a Spanish Name but can’t speak Spanish” doesn’t fit in.

I’ve always felt this sense of cultural misfit ever since: from competing with Chinese Filipinos in Math competitions when I was young, participating in international conferences back in uni, and travelling/doing business around Asia while working for Procter. It’s as if the only Asian thing about us is that most of us look Malay and we eat loads of rice.

Living in London though allowed me to meet Latinos from Latin America and Españoles from Spain and I can’t help but be surprised. I felt that sense of sameness in culture that I never feel when I meet a Japanese, a Thai, or a Chinese.

We are mostly Catholics who do the novena and rosario, greet with kamusta(como esta), use the words kubyertos, mesa, kama, silya, etc., count/tell the time/petsa(fecha) in the same way,  and yes, celebrate the Nochebuena. Only and unfortunately, we can’t speak fluent Spanish.

La Lengua Castellano, Spain, and that Hispanic identity have long been demonized in our history –an oppressive part of our nationhood that should be forgotten; consistent with what the Americans pounded in our heads when they seized the country right after our forefathers fought for independence.

Our forefathers resisted this perspective. Look it up, American occupation of the Philippines was also the Golden Age of Spanish Literature in the Philippines. And that Filipinos who resisted this perspective were those who perished when the Americans and Japanese obliterated our cities during the Second World War. However today, a lot of Filipinos still embrace this mindset oblivious to the fact that the country was a Spanish colony for 333 years, longer than the entire history of the United States (235 years).

Further, being so far away from the Latin American world, Filipinos’ perception of Latinos today are mostly distorted by what the media of the United States project – taxi drivers/drug dealers/illegal immigrants with broken English. A pathetic generalization of a superpower that grew to believe that it’s the center of the universe.

We, however, should embrace the fact that our Hispanic identity defines a lot of who we are.

Filipinas after all was not just a colony of Spain for 333 years, but was the gateway of the Hispanic world to the great cultures of the Far East.

It is not by accident that Intramuros and the Old Hispanic Manila is situated side by side the oldest Chinatown in the world. Two worlds in one city separated only by a river and connected by the Bridge of Spain (Puente España) and is by the port of Manila – then port of the Manila Galleon, and the then only direct ship route between the Americas and Asia.

It is not by accident that our first constitution, Noli and El Fili were written in Spanish and that the original Spanish version of our national anthem – Himno Nacional Filipino was banned by the Americans and still banned to be sung publicly to this day. Our founding fathers like Rizal envisioned a free Hispanic Filipinas not the culturally basterdized and forcibly Anglicized Philippines that we have today.

The world is shifting to the East of Europe and South of the United States. It is the most opportune time to be true to who we are, true to what make us unique and be what we have always been – the Hispanics of the Orient and the bridge between the Hispanic World and the Far East.

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