Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 9 – St Joseph’s Church (By Peter Chan)

There’s plenty of history behind this church. For one, I used to worship and serve at this church when I lived in the Upper Bukit Timah area. It has a unique architecture; something like the ancient Chinese watch-tower of the Great Wall of China.

The two concrete pillars (painted in 2 tone colors)at the entrance to the church are the oldest remains from the old church built in 1848.

The 1963 church building which has remained till today is not the original building. I saw the original church building (see photo on right). It resembles very closely in design to the Church of the Good Shepherd at Victoria Street. It was built in 1846 around the same time when Bukit Timah Road went northwards. There are many uniqueness of this church

1) The parish priests who served in the church were all buried in the aisles of the old church building. When the present church was built, their remains were transferred to the cemetery behind the church.

2) The church ran a Chinese school (now the St Joseph Kindergarten) called the Sino-English School.

3) Father Teng was quite a character and rode a Hardley-Davison motor cycle when he was on his rounds visiting his parishers.

4) During WW2, church members served as Red Cross aides to care for the injured villagers and farmers who lived in the Chestnut Avenue area because the Japanese fired shells from Johore Bahru at British military targets in the Bukit Panjang area. I even saw a Japanese WW2 shell kept by Father Teng in his quarters as we loved to play with the shell after school hours.

Picture 1: A typical tomb inside the original church aisle. Source: Church document

Picture 2: The rebuilt church as it was then and now. The late Father Teng is standing in front of the church.


peter said...

Photo 1:

The two concrete pillars (painted in 2 tone colors)at the entrance to the church are the oldest remains from the old church builtin 1848.

The church developed a unique way of saving on building cost during the building the 1963 church. It re-cycled the bricks from the 1848 church. If you imagine the church to be shaped like an arrow from an aerial view, the bricks formed the main building and not the side buildings.

The church was built on a ridge and the front of the 1848 church with its concrete steps is the retaining wall and two side staircases.

zen said...

I must say I do not know much about churches though I visited a few during my younger days. My father used to tell me that the Roman Catholic church in Singapore is very rich. They own land in various parts of Singapore, particularly in the Bt Timah and Ponggol areas. I believe the church which Peter mentioned is a RC one. One famous management guru even described RC church as not only well established world-wide, but in term of organisation very effective, elaborating that there are only five levels of management from the lowest to the Pope.

Lam Chun See said...

I have been to St Josepht's Church once before more than 20 years ago as best man at friend's wedding.

zen said...

My wife best friend since childhood days is married to a German. One day during a dinner gathering, we sat beside a German couple (expatriates) who just arrived in Singapore and we were pleasantly surprised by their knowledge of local places of worship. They even visited a small temple somewhere in Toa Payoh which we did not know of its existence. The message is clear. When people are interested and passionate of certain thing, they would pursue them relentlessly.

household name said...

In more recent times, St Joseph's acquired these huge stations of the cross along the driveway. I'm not sure about this, but it may be the only Catholic church in Singapore with outdoor stations. Not sure if any of the newer/rebuilt churches have them.

About the stations of the cross:

(sorry, I don't know how to do the link!)

Tom said...

Tom said ...
Iam just Looking at the
photograph of the church building,
the one big cross,Iam begining to
thing I have seen it before, it
keeps joging mind every time I
look at the photo, I have not
seen another like it. its very
unusual, the Architecture is very good, I get the impression its very

professor said...

Household Name:
In the good old days, the "Station of the Cross ceremony" for Easter was held inside the church building; moving from pew to pew. By the time they built the outdoor station, I left my "hometown" already
From the photo of the old church of 1848, the church's fruit garden is on the right side of the photo. It was here the cows were kept for their milk.

I remember a church warden named "Ah Choon" (who should not be in in his late 60s) looked after the cows. Ah Choon usually shared the fruits like rambutans and mangosteens with us (of course making sure that Father Teng would not be watching from his balcony)

One day one of the cows went to the old church during Sunday worship and left a trail of shit on the aisle. I am not sure what happened to the cows.

I am looking for one Chestnut Drive Infant Jesus girl during my time. We lost touch. Her name is Ann Neo (her cousin was Neo Boon Swee my classmate) who lived in Lim Chu Kang Road. Her mother was a nurse For many decades I wonder where she went. If anybody knows where she is, I like to meet her again. She is sure to remember me.

noelbynature said...

i visited St Anne's Church in Bukit Martajam, near Penang last week, and the grounds reminds me very much of St Joseph - a lot of land, set in a hill, and surrounded by life-sized stations of the cross. The first parish priest at St Anne's is also buried in the nave of the church.

I believe in the old days, St Joseph's used to be known as the railway church, because it stood in front of the railway line. On the first weekend on May, St Joseph attracts huge crowds as pilgrims from Malaysia and Singapore come to celebrate the feast day of St Joseph, which is on May 1.

Sivasothi said...

We were told as students that Alfred Russel Wallace stayed in this church. He was the famous biogeographer and co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection; Darwin was first author.

In The Malay Archipelago (1869), he writes:

"In the interior of the island the Chinese cut down forest trees in the jungle, and saw them up into planks; they cultivate vegetables, which they bring to market; and they grow pepper and gambir, which form important articles of export. The French Jesuits have established missions among these inland Chinese, which seem very successful. I lived for several weeks at a time with the missionary at Bukit-tima, about the centre of the island, where a pretty church has been built and there are about 300 converts. While there, I met a missionary who had just arrived from Tonquin, where he had been living for many years. ...

[deleted part talks about the Jesuits and the conduct of the priest at Bt Timah]

The island of Singapore consists of a multitude of small hills, three or four hundred feet high, the summits of many of which are still covered with virgin forest. The mission-house at Bukit-tima was surrounded by several of these wood-topped hills, which were much frequented by woodcutters and sawyers, and offered me an excellent collecting ground for insects. Here and there, too, were tiger pits, carefully covered over with sticks and leaves, and so well concealed, that in several cases I had a narrow escape from falling into them. They are shaped like an iron furnace, wider at the bottom than the top, and are perhaps fifteen or twenty feet deep so that it would be almost impossible for a person unassisted to get out of one. Formerly a sharp stake was stuck erect in the bottom; but after an unfortunate traveller had been killed by falling on one, its use was forbidden. There are always a few tigers roaming about Singapore, and they kill on an average a Chinaman every day, principally those who work in the gambir plantations, which are always made in newly-cleared jungle. We heard a tiger roar once or twice in the evening, and it was rather nervous work hunting for insects among the fallen trunks and old sawpits when one of these savage animals might be lurking close by, awaiting an opportunity to spring upon us."

The entire book is online and the first chapter is about Singapore.

Anonymous said...

BTW Fr Joachim Teng did not ride a Harley Davidson (Not Hardley Davison). What he had was a Matchless!