The cathedral is the oldest church in Peking. Originally built by the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci as a small chapel at his residence, in 1650 under the supervision of the German Jesuit missionary Adam Schall von Bell who was serving at the time as Director of the Imperial Bureau of Astronomy and the Calendar, this little site was expanded to become the first large church of Peking. On the church grounds, in addition to the cathedral, there was originally also an astronomical observatory and a library.
Peking was raised to the level of a Diocese in 1690. The first Bishop, Bernardin della Chiesa, chose the South Church as his cathedral.
In 1703 the church was completely renovated in the European style, but soon afterwards it was destroyed by two earthquakes (1720 and 1730) and by a disastrous fire (1775). Each time the cathedral was destroyed, the then reigning Emperorors (Kangxi, Yongzhen and Qianlong) provided funds for its reconstruction.
After the church was closed in 1838 by the Emperor Daoguang, it was reopened after the Second Opiuim War in 1860, although the See of the Bishop was moved to the North Church.
- Matteo Ricci 1552-1610
On June 14, 1900 the Boxers burned the church down to the ground. Once again it was rebuilt in the same style in 1904. This last reconstruction is the existing church which we can admire today.
Once more the church became the Bishop’s See when Bishop Yao Guangyu became the first independently selected and consecrated Bishop of the Diocese.
During the cultural revolution (1966-1976) the church was closed, but in 1979 it was officially reopened once again, although as far back as 1971 the celebration of Masses had been resumed for foreign diplomats, visitors and Overseas Chinese.
The new Bishop of the Diocese of Beijing, Li Shan, plans to transfer the See of the Bishop once more to the North Church.
Qianmen Xi Dajie 141, Xicheng District
Subway station: Xuanwumen
Sundays: 6:00 (Latin), 7:00 and 8:30 (Chinese),
10:30 and 16:00 (English), 18:00 (French)
Weekdays: 6:00 (Latin), 6:30 and 7:15 (Chinese)
Saturdays: 6:00 (Latin), 6:30, 7:15 and 18:30 (Chinese)
The so-called East Church, the second oldest church of Peking, was built by the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries Louis Buglio and Gabriel de Magalhães.
In 1720 the church was destroyed by an earthquake, but was rebuilt the following year. Unfortunately, however, the paintings of the famous Jesuit Castiglione were too badly damaged to be restored.
A fire destroyed the church in 1807. The missionaries had decided to transport their valuable books to a more secure location. In order to avoid unwanted attention, they carried out the work at night. When someone accidentally knocked over a lit oil lamp, the residence burned down to the foundations, and the church was destroyed as well. In the hope that the Emperor would contribute to the rebuilding of the church, the priests turned to the Imperial Court. But rather than help, the Emperor Jiaging ordered that the church compound and all of the buildings standing on it be confiscated. The church was altogether destroyed and finally given up as lost for good.
When in 1860, at the conclusion of the Second Opium War, church property was finally handed back again, the only thing that remained standing of the East Church was the entrance gate of the wall which once had enclosed the compound.
Temporary buildings were put up to serve as chapel and residence until 1884, when Bishop Louis Gabriel Delaplace had a new church built in the Romanesque style.
However, after only ten years the newly built church was once again burned to the ground, this time by the “Boxers” during the course of their uprising. In 1904 the present church was built to replace the one that had been destroyed.
The church was closed on Aug. 21, 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, and it was only reopened for religious activity in 1980. During the intervening years it had been transformed into an elementary school.
As a part of the beautification and the transformation of Wangfujing Street into a pedestrian zone in 2000, the church was completely renovated and since that time has once again been resplendent in renewed beauty.
Wangfujing Dajie 74, Dongcheng District
Sundays: 6:15, 7:00 and 8:00 (Chinese), 16:00 (English)
Weekdays: 6:30 and 7:00 (Chinese)
The North Church is one of the largest and oldest churches of Peking and was for a time the Bishop’s See in the capital.
Originally the church stood on the West bank of the Canchikou Lake. The terrain was given to the Jesuits in 1693 by Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) as a sign of gratitude after the Jesuit Jean-Francois Gerbillion, had cured him of malaria, among other things. As a sign of thanks, the Emperor presented to the Jesuits a ceremonial scroll with the inscription: “The True Source of all Things”. The building of the church took four years. It was consecrated on Dec. 9, 1703. After the Society of Jesus had been dissolved by the Pope in 1773, the Vincentians (Lazarists) took over the running of the so-called “French Mission”.
In 1827 the North Church was confiscated by a decree of the Emperor Daoguang, and the plot of land on which the church stood was sold to a Court official by the name of Yu, who had the church torn down. Emperor Xianfeng returned the property to the Church once again in 1860, and six years later a new and bigger church was standing on the site.
When the Imperial Palace was enlarged in 1887, the North Church found itself inside the perimeters of the “Forbidden City”. Because of this, the church was moved to its present location of Xishiku. In the same year the new church was built there.
During the Boxer Uprising in 1900, the bell tower of the church was damaged, but was later repaired and even enlarged. Two months later, the Boxers laid siege to the church, where more than 3,000 Catholics had sought refuge within its walls.
In 1860 the North Church replaced the South Church as the Bishop’s See and was made the cathedral. Joseph Mouly, CM, was the first Bishop who had his residence here. After the Second World War, the North Church became the residence of Thomas Tian Gangxin, SVD. the first Chinese Cardinal and Archbishop of Peking.
In 1958 the land of the North Church was once again confiscated by the regime and for many years the church was used as a school. It was only in 1985 that the North Church, after its return by the Chinese regime, could once again be opened to the faithful. From 1989 until 1992 the seminary of the Diocese of Peking was also housed there.
Xishiku Dajie 33, Xicheng District
Sundays: 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 10:00 and 18:00 (Chinese)
Workdays: 6:00 and 7:00 (Chinese)
The West Church, built at the Southern end of Xizhimennei Street, was to became the most recent and the smallest of the four principal churches of Beijing.
Archbishop Carlo Tommaso Maillard de Tournon arrived in Peking in 1705 as Papal Legate, with the task of improving the relationships with the Emperor and of implementing the Holy Fathers decision with regard to the “Rites Controversy”.
One of the members of his delegation was Fr. Pedrini who, however, only arrived in Peking in 1711. Fr. Pedrini had been engaged to give lessons in the Western sciences to the young, future Emperor Yongzhen. In 1723 Pedrini acquired the plot of land in Xizhimen and built a number of houses on it as well as a church. Pedrini was a Vincentian, but he offered both the church and the houses to the priests of a number of different congregations who were active in China in the field of missionary activity.
In 1811 the Imperial administration decided that only persons who were directly connected with the Imperial Court could live within the confines of the city. Following this, the West Church was torn down completely. It was only in 1860 that the Church succeeded in getting the property back, and Bishop Martial Mouly had the West Church built anew. The new church was dedicated in 1867.
On June 15, 1900, during the Boxer Uprising, the church and all of the houses in the compound were destroyed once again, this time by fire. Twelve years later, the church was rebuilt yet one more time.
During the Cultural Revolution the bell tower was torn down and the church was used as a warehouse and as a factory. It was only in 1994 that it could once again be officially reopened to the faithful.
Xizhimen Nei Dajie 130, Xicheng District
Sundays: 8:00 and 18:30 (Chinese)
Weekdays and Saturdays: 7:30 (Chinese)
The church in the Dongjiaomin Lane was built in 1901, in the 27th year of the reign of the Emperor Guangxu. With its double church towers, it is built in the typical neo-gothic style.
Dongjiaomin Lane 13, Dongcheng District
Workdays: 6:30, 7:00
Sundays: 7:00, 8:00, 18:30
This church is dedicated to Saint Therese of Lisieux. It was built 1910 as a part of the Universal Charity Convent. In 1958 it was severely damaged and 1986 returned to the diocese of Beijing.
Yongsheng Lane 6, Xingfu Street, Chongwen District
The church was built in 1916 in the Chaoyang district and was consecrated in 1922. In 1991 it was returned to the diocese and 1996 reopened for the faithful. In 1999 it officially became a parish church.
Quellen: Jean Charbonnier, MEP, Guide to the Catholic Church in China. Zhongguo tianzhujiao zhinan 中国天主教指南, Singapore 2008; Tianzhujiao Shanghai jiaoqu 天主教上海教区. Diocese of Beijing, Beijing 2012; www.catholic-bj.org.