Bras Basah Bugis – Places of Worship

As mentioned in my previous post, the Bras Basah – Bugis area was one of the earliest spots that were developed after Singapore was founded. In this last of the series of 3 posts on this district, I’ll be sharing photos of the places of worship that have been established over the years.

St Joseph’s Church
Designed by Swan & MacLaren
Constructed: 1906 to 1912
Status: Found
Preserved: Since 2005

St Joseph's Church 01
St Joseph’s Church

St Joseph’s Church is a Roman Catholic Church along Victoria Street, founded by the Portuguese Mission. The Portuguese were amongst the first Catholics to arrive in Singapore after its founding. Prior to the construction of the church, the Mission built another small church at the same site, known as Church of São José, in 1853. It was torn down in 1906 and the current church building was completed 6 years later.

St Joseph's Church 02
The central octagonal tower

This classical-style building was designed in the form of a Latin cross on plan. It’s most recognisable feature is the central octagonal tower with a cupola dome.

St Joseph's Church 03
St Joseph’s Church
St Joseph's Church - Priest House 01
The Priest House

Next to the main building, along Victoria Street stands the Priest House, built in 1912. Its ground floor corridor forms part of the common walkway along the street.

St Joseph's Church - Priest House 03St Joseph's Church - Priest House 04
The Priest House

Behind the Priest House is a 4 storey building that used to house the St Anthony’s Boys School (now St Anthony’s Primary School, located at Bukit Batok). On the other side of the church, along Middle Road, stands the former site of St Anthony’s Girls School (later renamed St Anthony’s Convent in 1906; now St Anthony’s Canossian Primary School and St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School located at Bedok North). Both schools started off as St Anna’s School, founded by the Catholic Portuguese Mission in 1879. It was renamed St Anthony’s Boys’ and Girls’ School in 1886, and were split into the two schools one year later, under pressure from the government.

St Joseph's Church - Priest House 02
The Priest House façade along Victoria Street

All the buildings were gazetted for conservation in 1993, within the Queen Street Conservation Area demarcated by URA. The church building was gazetted a national monument in 2005.

Church of St Peter & St Paul
Constructed: 1869 to 1870
Status: Found
Preserved: Since 2003

Church of St Peter & St Paul 01
Church of St Peter & St Paul
Church of St Peter & St Paul 02
Church of St Peter & St Paul

This Roman Catholic Church between Queen Street and Waterloo Street was built in 1870 for the Chinese and Indian Catholic community who used to congregate at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. It was built in the tropical Gothic style, and its façade features the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It was gazetted a national monument in 2003.

Church of St Peter & St Paul 03
Church of St Peter & St Paul
Church of St Peter & St Paul 04
Small statue of an angel, located at a corner of the church compound

Maghain Aboth Synagogue
Constructed: 1878
Status: Found
Preserved: Since 1998

Maghain Aboth Synagogue 01
Maghain Aboth Synagogue

On the other side of Waterloo Street stands the Maghain Aboth Synagogue, a symmetrical neo-classical building built in 1878. Prior to this, the Jewish community congregated at Singapore’s first synagogue at Synagogue Street.

The synagogue was originally a single-storey building, but a balcony was later added on the second storey for female members of the community during the prayer service. It also has a sunk-in well for use as a mikvah (מקווה; ritual bath). The ritual hall is oriented towards Jerusalem.

In 1998, the synagogue was gazetted a national monument.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
Designed by Denis Lesley McSwiney
Constructed: 1843 to 1847
Status: Found
Preserved: Since 1973

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd 01
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd 04Cathedral of the Good Shepherd 05
Statues of the Good Shepherd & Pope John Paul II

The Church of the Good Shepherd was constructed from 1843 to 1847 to replace Singapore’s first Roman Catholic house of worship at the former site of St Joseph’s Institution. The design was said to be inspired by G. D. Coleman’s St Andrew’s Cathedral (Denis McSwiney had worked for Coleman as a clerk prior to this). It was designed in a restrained Renaissance style, and its plan is also in the form of a Latin cross, similar to St Joseph’s Church.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd 07
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd 02
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

In 1888, the church was elevated to the status of cathedral.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd 03
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd 06
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

The cathedral was gazetted a national monument as early as 1973. It was closed for renovation in October 2013, and will be reopened in two years’ time.

Designed by George Drumgoole Coleman (Caldwell House) & Father Charles Benedict Nain (Chapel)
Constructed: 1840 to 1841 (Caldwell House) & 1902 to 1904 (Chapel)
Status: Found
Preserved: Since 1990

Chijmes 01

CHIJMES is a retail and F&B complex that consists of various buildings constructed in different times. The oldest building is the Caldwell House, constructed in 1841 for magistrate’s clerk H. C. Caldwell. In 1854, 4 French nuns, led by Mother Raclot, bought over the building and conducted lessons in it. The school was known as the “Town Convent”.

The convent acquired adjacent plots of land in subsequent years, including land that belonged to Raffles Institution. In the late 1800s, Father Nain, who served as a priest in the Church of St Peter & St Paul and architect of the St Joseph Institution extension wings, was engaged to design a new chapel. The chapel was completed in 1904.

A new block of classrooms were built in 1931, and was known as the Victoria Girls’ School, and then the St Nicholas Girls’ School.

In 1983, the government acquired the land from the convent. The chapel served as a religious place of worship for the last time, and the school were relocated to Toa Payoh. The classroom building was demolished for the MRTC (now SMRT) headquarters. The Caldwell House and chapel were gazetted as national monuments in 1990, and together with the orphanage building, reopened as CHIJMES in 1996.

Armenian Church
Սուրբ Գրիգոր Լուսաւորիչի Եկեղեցի

Designed by George Drumgoole Coleman
Constructed: 1835 to 1836
Status: Found
Preserved: Since 1973

Armenian Church 01
Armenian Church

The Armenian Church is the oldest surviving church in Singapore. It was built in 1835 with funds from the small local Armenian community. It is considered one of the best works of G. D. Coleman. Its design is inspired from St Gregory in Etchmiadzin, Vagarshapat in Armenia, and the symmetrical Palladian architecture is blended with vernacular climatic features such as wide verandahs and louvred windows. It featured an octagonal cone supporting a bell turret. However, the bell turret was deemed structurally unsafe, and was replaced by the spire that we see today.

Armenian Church 02
The year of construction is indicated on its façade

Armenian Street was so named due to the church that situated along it. The street was also known as seng poh sin chu au (behind Seng Poh’s new building) among the Chinese.

Notable Armenians in Singapore include the Sarkies family who opened the Raffles Hotel, and Agnes Joaquim, whom Singapore’s national flower was named after.

The church was gazetted a national monument in 1973.

Sri Krishnan Temple
Constructed: 1904 (main shrine & Vimanam), 1959 (Mandapam), 1987 (gopuram & Vasantha Mandapam) & 2002 (ancillary block)
Status: Found
Conserved: Since 2014

Sri Krishnan Temple 03
Sri Krishnan Temple

Sri Krishnan Temple is one of the more interesting places of worship in this area, in my opinion. Dedicated to the Hindu deity Sri Krishna, its location next to the Kwan Im Thong Hod Cho Temple resulted in a sight that is seldom seen elsewhere. Many Chinese devotees who visit the Kwan Im temple would also light joss sticks at Sri Krishnan Temple. Eventually, the management decided to build an altar dedicated to Kwan Im within the temple grounds. The resulting co-existence of Hindu and Buddhist deities within the same religious venue is a reflection of the harmonious multi-religious society in Singapore.

Sri Krishnan Temple 01
Chinese devotees lighting joss sticks at this Hindu temple

The history of the temple can be traced back to 1870, when a man named Hanuman Beem Singh placed an idol of Sri Krishna under a banyan tree at the exact location where the temple now stands. The tree shrine catered to the Hindu population around Bras Basah. 10 years later, he passed the management to his son, Humna Somapah, who built a fence around the tree to demarcate the shrine area. In 1904, Humna Somapah’s niece, Joognee Ammal, took over. She funded the construction of the main shrine of the temple. In 1935, Pakirisamy Pillay took over the management, and oversaw further developments of the temple. Pakirisamy Pillay is the son of Tamil businessman Koona Vayloo Pillay, who was buried in Bidadari Cemetery.

Sri Krishnan Temple 02
The four-storey ancillary block, built in 2002, can be seen at the back

The temple was gazetted for conservation under the Master Plan 2014.

Other places of worships in the Bras Basah Bugis district include the Kwan Im Thong Hod Cho Temple, Bencoolen Mosque and Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.

File Last Updated: July 31, 2014

4 responses to “Bras Basah Bugis – Places of Worship

  1. Hello, I would like to get your permission to use one of the photos of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. May have your email so I can speak to you about this please?

  2. Just a clarification. Is there a mistake in the following sentence, ” In 1904, Humna Somapah’s niece, Humna Somapah, took over. She funded the construction of the main shrine of the temple. ” Both the names are the same.

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