Catholic churches

Beijing

Beitang (St Saviour’s)

The site of the Beitang was given to the Jesuits by the Kangxi Emperor, who also marked the opening of the church in 1703 by presenting two ceremonial scrolls containing inscriptions in the emperor’s own calligraphy. Named the ‘Church of the Holy Saviour’, the church grounds also contained an astronomical observatory and a library. The church was confiscated by the Daoguang emperor in 1827, and the property sold to a Chinese official. The site was forcibly returned to foreign control in 1860, and a new church constructed. The church became the seat of the Catholic bishop of Beijing. In 1867 the court extended the boundaries of the Forbidden City, meaning the church had to move to its present location in Xishiku. The new, even larger church was damaged during a two-month siege by ‘Boxers’, during which 3000 Catholics sought refuge from the destruction in the rest of the city. The church was restored and is the largest Catholic church in Beijing. The first Chinese cardinal, Thomas Tian Gengxin was made archbishop of Beijing in 1946, and had his seat at the Beitang. After confiscation by the Communist authorities, the church was given over to a school. However, in 1985 the church was returned to the Catholic Patriotic Association and now holds masses in Latin and Chinese. It has been largely renovated over the years, and in October 2007 was the scene of the ordination of five new priests from Beijing Seminary by Bishop Giuseppe Li Shan.

Nantang

The Nantang (south church) is the oldest Catholic site in Beijing. Matteo Ricci had a small chapel constructed there in 1605. The church was rebuilt twice over the years, until the German Jesuit Adam Schall erected a large church there in 1640. He dedicated the new church to the Immaculate Conception. In 1690, Beijing was created a diocese under bishop Bernardino della Chiesa, and the ‘south church’ was redesignated a cathedral. The church was destroyed in 1775, but rebuilt with funds donated by the Qianlong emperor. The church fell into disuse after foreign missionaries were confined to the court, but reopened in 1860 after a complete renovation. The Episcopal seat was moved to the ‘north church’. The church was again destroyed in 1900 by the Boxer Uprising, and the current building was constructed in 1904. The giant iron crucifix on the west wall is over three hundred years old. The south church became the bishop’s seat again in 1959, under bishop Yao Guangyu. The church was closed during the Cultural Revolution. In 1971 foreigners were allowed to use the church to hold religious services, and the cathedral church was formally reopened in 1979. [Jean Charbonnier, ed., Guide to the Catholic Church, 2004]

Dongtang (St. Joseph’s)

The Dongtang (east church) is dedicated to St. Joseph. Established by two prominent Jesuits during the early Qing dynasty to house their congregation of converts, the first church was decorated by paintings by the Jesuit artist Castiglione. The church was destroyed by the 1720 earthquake. Congregations continued to meet at the rebuilt church until 1807, when the priests were told to move to the Nantang. In 1860 all that remained of the church was the front gate. The church was rebuilt by bishop Louis Gabriel Delaplace in 1885 in a prominent Romanesque style. However the church was destroyed soon after by the Boxers. The current church was built in 1904. [Jean Charbonnier, ed., Guide to the Catholic Church, 2004]

Beijing Major Seminary

Founded in 1981, the seminary was initially located in an orchard belonging to the China Christian Council. In 1989 the seminary moved to a site by the Beitang, where six seminarians received the tonsure in 1983, the first for twenty years. The seminary has moved again since, and is now located in the northern suburbs of Beijing at Houbajia. [Jean Charbonnier, ed., Guide to the Catholic Church, 2004]

China Catholic Institute of Philosophy and Theology

Opened in 1983, the National Catholic Seminary was located in a former residence of Furen University. The new buildings were inaugurated in May 1992 in northwest Beijing. Its superior was bishop of Hanyang, Msgr. Tu Shihua. In 2000 the National Seminary began moving to an even larger site in southern Beijing. [Jean Charbonnier, ed., Guide to the Catholic Church, 2004]

Beijing church
Beitang church was named the ‘Church of the Holy Saviour’
© Churches Together in Britain and Ireland 2010