By Nicholas Yeo
This year marks the 160th anniversary of my church, The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1852). It is Singapore’s third oldest church and was gazetted as a National Monument back in 14 January 2005 as a testament to its contributions to society and architectural integrity. The two other oldest churches in Singapore are The Cathedral of the Good Shepard (1832) and St Joseph’s Church (1851).
I have many memories here that include my baptism, the marriage of my parents and having my Alma mater situated beside the church, and it is with these facts that I have decided to delve more into the history behind my church.
Located at 1259 Upper Serangoon Road within Hougang Avenue 7, the Church of the Nativity as it is better known as, started out in 1853 as an attap chapel led by Father Ambrose Maistre on a donation from a man named De Souza. The land was reserved partially to build a presbytery with the remainder given to build settlements amongst the largely teochew speaking Catholic community around the current Hougang, Serangoon and Punggol neighbourhoods.
As the congregation grew, the old attap chapel was replaced by a brick one and named St Mary’s (now located at Bukit Batok) before officially opening its current premises on 8 December 1901(led by Father Jean Casimir Saleilles) during the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, hence the given name of the church.
Design & infrastructure
The infrastructure and architecture of the building has remained relatively untouched even after the Second World War. It was designed by a priest named Charles Benedict Nain, with a Gothic-Style in the form of a Latin cross as seen from above. It also has a belfry tower capped with a spire and cross at the front end of the church. Arched windows and doors bely each entrance of the church, and on the outside sits a large marble statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary flanked by two angels.
Inside the church, there are many coloured stautes of the different saints such as St Joseph and St Rock in canopied niches on the side of the wall next to the marble altar, which in turn is flanked by an altar for Christ on the left and the Virgin Mary on the right. Beautiful stained glass windows also greet churchgoers upon entrance to the church, the centrepiece that depicts the Holy Family of St Joseph, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ himself being particularly eye-catching.
Back to society
Aside from its continued contributions to the teochew speaking community around the area, the Church has also taken care of educational, social and healthcare needs that were not provided by the Government at that time.
It founded the Tao Nan School (1892) now known as Holy Innocent’s High School, my Alma Mater Holy Innocents’ English School (1916) now known as Montfort Junior and Secondary School, Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (1957) now known as CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity and Hai Sing Girls’ High School(1959) now known as Hai Sing Catholic School.
It also started many Catholic related welfare groups, including the Young Christian Workers (YCW) that my dad was part of, and the St Vincent De Paul Society, with the aim of helping the poor and developing young people and working adults.
The following images detail my personal experiences within the church.
*Images courtesy of cherming04 taken from http://news.webshots.com/photo/2478054260054211931KKBJfA, B&W images courtesy of Tay Shuyun.
Information credited to Gillian Lim and the Preservations and Monuments Board http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1702_2010-09-16.html