Church of St Teresa
When traveling through Europe, the majestic Roman Catholic church buildings and cathedrals are often one of the main attractions on our list. Whether Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or Florence Cathedral in Italy, we’re on a mission to tick it all off. After all, each church has centuries of history to tell.
What if we told you that you don’t have to go far to visit a European church? Nestled on top of a hill in Bukit Purmei, you’ll find the Church of St Teresa.
The Church of Saint Teresa has been standing in its current location since 1929; originally built to serve the Hokkien-speaking Catholics in the area. If you think the architecture looks rather European, that’s because it is. Its design was inspired by a church in Paris, the Sacré-Cœur, also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Both the Sacré-Cœur and its Singaporean doppelganger feature the Romano-Byzantine style, characterized by grand domes, cupolas, and arches. The Church of St Teresa is the only Catholic church in Singapore to sport this architectural style.
Father Emile Joseph Mariette, the parish priest of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul at the time, suggested its construction to meet the growing needs of the Catholic community then.
The architecture may already be impressive. But step inside, and you’ll find something seemingly similar to something you would find in a Disney fairytale. It’s no wonder that the church is famous for weddings and pre-wedding shoots.
The all-white interior makes way for the church’s most iconic feature: an airy, light-filled canopy surrounded by tall columns, with three beautiful stained glass windows behind the altar said to depict critical events from the life of Saint Teresa of Lisieux.
Image credit: @sharonreginak via Instagram
There are also elements that were shipped in from France, namely five bronze bells made in 1927 at a bell foundry in Villedieu-les-Poeles, Normandy. Each of them has been tuned to a different tone, so you’ll hear a sweet harmony when they’re struck, especially during Mass times.
Intriguing history from your SS textbook
Alright, by now, you may be thinking, “what exactly is the story behind the church?” Well, the walls of the Church of St Teresa have survived various historical events – so much so that it was gazetted as a national monument by the National Heritage Board in 2009.
The building project was started in 1927 by Father Mariette, and subsequently led by Father Stephen Lee. It was completed ans was officially opened on 7 April 1929 with a ceremony performed by the Bishop of Malacca. As the land where the church was established on was acquired through the intercession of St Teresa of the Child Jesus, church members then decided on naming the church after St Teresa.
During World War II, the surrounding Bukit Teresa then served as the British military’s anti-aircraft post and was subsequently so damaged from the bombings that it had to be rebuilt.
Over the decades, the church has also contributed to the community, and over some historical events you would have probably heard about during Social Studies lessons. During the 1950 Maria Hertogh riots, for instance, the church sheltered many stranded Caucasians then. It also gave relief and shelter to people affected by the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961.
The Church is also closely linked to the current CHIJ St Theresa’s Convent. Back then, , both buildings, as well as St Teresa’s Sino-English Primary School, were housed on a Catholic settlement in the Kampong Bahru area with the land purchased by Father Lee.
Throughout the years, St Theresa’s Convent and the past St Teresa’s High School provided educational opportunities for those living in the Bukit Purmei area.
Head down to the Church of St Teresa
Today, the Church of St Teresa is not only one of the many Catholic churches in Singapore, but also a national monument of Singapore.
If you happen to be exploring the ‘hood or want to visit religious monuments in Singapore for a change, we highly recommend seeing the Church of St Teresa with your own eyes. After all, it’s surrounded by lots of nature parks, so you’ll truly feel like you’re out of Singapore.
Address: 510 Kampong Bahru Road, Singapore 099446
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9am-6pm (Closed on Saturdays & Sundays)
Contact: 6271 1184
More places where you can get history lessons:
- St James Power Station’s wholesome revamp
- Jurong Island, Singapore’s only petroleum & chemical powerhouse
- Bukit Timah Railway Station is now open to the public
- 10 Beautiful Religious Buildings in Singapore
Photography by Huiwen Chen.
Cover image adapted from: @crazieecarlee via Instagram
Original article published on 19th July 2022. Last updated by Raewyn Koh on 25th April 2023.
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