|Historical church in a sleepy hollow
Old churches are fascinating buildings.
Aside from the obvious role - houses of worship and community gathering
old churches are also famous for their architecture and rich history. While
the Western continent boasts of some of the finest and most famous churches
in the world the mind immediately recalls structures like the Early
Gothic-styled Notre Dame in Paris (1163), St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican
(349AD) and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City (19th century)
less famous ones like the Santa Maria Maggiore (430AD) and Santa Prassede
(780AD) in Rome, the Saxon Brixworth and Escombe churches in England (around
670AD) also command attention and make fascinating subjects for research.
Church of the
Holy Name of Jesus,
The sleepy hollow of Balik Pulau in Penang also
boasts a humble yet historical (by Penang standards) church called the Holy
Name of Jesus. Built in 1854, the architecture is reminiscent of the Anglo
Indian style, with fanlights above the tall wooden doors and louvers. The
inner sanctum of the church is adorned with imported stained glass which
when backlit, bathes the interior in jewel tones.
"It is like a grain of
mustard seed, which a man took, and put in his own garden. It grew, and became
a large tree, and the birds of the sky lodged in its branches."
This genesis of the church dates back to 1845 when
the first parish priest, Rev. Fr. Ducotey celebrated the inaugural Eucharist
in January in an attap house. From those very humble beginnings, the church
steadily grew as the Catholic population increased.
The permanent nave of the present church
was constructed between 1871 and 1881 during the service of three innovative
priests, Reverend Fathers J. Lo, Kremer and Galmel. This padre trio helped
found the St. George's and Sacred Heart parish schools, which first began
as religious classes for boys and girls under attap roofs.
In 1881, more changes were made to the church by
resident priest Rev. Fr. Page, who added the sanctuary and the two wings,
using granite from the nearby hills. He adorned this structure with an imposing
granite altar and nine priceless stained glass windows made in Bruges (Belgium)
according to the designs he submitted himself.
During the extension, Fr. Page took on
the roles of contractor, the bricklayer and carpenter. In 1917, a bell tower
was added to the church, and in it, a tenor bell cast in France by the famous
bell foundry La Savoyarde at Annecy was hung.
In 1930, Rev. Fr. Lee paved the aisles in the church,
the sanctuary and even the presbytery with tiles he had designed and made.
A grotto depicting the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette
was also later added in the church compound.
When Rev. Fr. Peter Shyu took over the parish of
the Holy Name of Jesus, in July 1999, he soon realised that this old church
needed extensive repairs and renovation. Planning began auspiciously on Christmas
2000 with the formation of various committees and groups for the purpose.
The physical condition of the entire
church was studied to determine the extent of damages and structural weaknesses.
It was founded that the foundation of its ceiling had to be replaced and
reinforced with additional pillars. The necessary repairs took place, including
fixing the cracks and broken stained glass window panels. Modern features
were added - an electronic clock and church bell. The renovation was completed
in March 2003, just in time to celebrate its 150th birthday.
In January 2004, the grand old church
celebrated its 150th anniversary in style with masses, and dinners.
An elaborate souvenir programme filled with anecdotes,
detailed stories and brief histories was put together to commemorate the
event and to preserve memories. I was honoured to be asked to help design
the book as well as to decorate the church interior. The story of how a small
band of priests in a foreign land helped shape a community will serve as
a timeless inspiration to all Catholics.
The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Balik Pulau
may not be of the same artistic quality of the grand churches in Europe,
but among churches in Malaysia, it occupies a prominent place in the country's