Saturday, March 19, 2016

St Joseph's Church - the Portuguese Mission at Victoria Street

St Joseph's Church
St Joseph's Church at Victoria Street has played a rather unique role in the history of the Catholic Church in Singapore.  For many years, it was known as the "Portuguese Mission", where the Portuguese missionaries (headquartered then in Macau) had their base.  It served the "Portuguese" community - or the Eurasians of Portuguese origin in Singapore.  My friend and her family, for example, used to go there every Sunday for mass.  Not me and mine, though.  Being more of Scots origin, we did not have this tradition and so, as good Katong-ites, we went to Holy Family.

This being the season of Lent, Catholics normally go for Confession and the various parishes in Singapore will hold Penitential services to facilitate individual confessions for those who seek it.  I managed to miss the two sessions in the two churches nearest my home.  So I checked up the dates for the other sessions and noticed that the St Joseph's session was rather conveniently timed.  So, I decided that it was about time I stopped being so parochial about going to my home parish and instead take a trip to Waterloo Street and go to one of Singapore's historical churches for a change.
The Roll of Missionaries

I'd been to the church most recently about a year previously, soon after the famed stained glass windows were restored, and spent a quiet hour there, praying and (ahem) taking photos.  The old high alter, the ornate carved lectern, the statues of the saints around the church, old wooden pews, the tiled floor, the high vaulted ceiling - it is truly a beautiful, historical church reminiscent of European Churches.  A plaque near the entrance lists all the priests who have served in this community church, starting from Fr Francisco Maia in 1825, just 6 years after Sir Stamford Raffles founded modern Singapore.

But the windows were truly breath-taking, with their beautiful jewel colours, the workmanship and artistry which just shone through, inspired a feeling of awe within me.  

But when I went there for the Penitential service, it was night and so there was no light streaming through the stained glass, the statues of the saints were all shrouded in purple cloth.  I had therefore no distractions as I examined my conscience and prepared for Confession.

St Joseph's Church was completed in 1912, replacing an older building on the site.  It has been gazetted as a National Monument and as such, the National Library website has a most informative page  on it.  But to really experience the beauty, and rich history of this church, only a visit will serve.  

Baptism of Jesus

Stained Glass Window above the Altar

It's almost Easter!  So to all Catholics, may you have a holy Holy Week ahead!  Happy Easter!

(Note: St Joseph's church is the only one in Singapore which has a Latin Mass, every Sunday at 3pm. It's on my to-do list, so maybe another post is in the wings. :-) )


  1. Hi KG.
    Indeed St. Joseph's church was/is very much revered by the Portuguese-Eurasian community. My mother was from the Kristang community and although she was a Katong girl and went to The Holy Family Church for Sunday morning mass (and a snack plus coffee at Chin Mee Chin café afterwards but that's another story) important events like Christenings, Holy Communions, weddings and funerals were almost always held at St. Joseph's. My mother grew up in Katong/Karikal Road which doesn't exist anymore as its now an extension of Still Road leading up to Marine Parade. She moved to St. Patrick's Road nearby. Anyway I recall she liked attending mass at other church's too. I was little but I remember well my parents would take us to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Siglap or The Queen of Peace church in Tanjong Katong. "For a change" as Mum would say. Well coming back to St. Joseph's its a beautiful church indeed a Kristang legend and your post stirred up pleasant memories in me. I haven't been back to S'pore in over 25 years and hope to accomplsih my bucketlist there one day soon. Thanks for the frequent updates here.

    1. HI Jean,
      As always, nice to hear from you. 25 years is a long time! Do come by and I'll buy you a cake in Chin Mee Chin (or chai tow kueh at the coffee shop at Jago Close). I'm probably down the road from your mother's house.



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