Church of Saints Peter & Paul
by _People:Tan, Joanna Hwang Soo
The Church of Saints Peter & Paul is located at 225A Queen Street. Built in 1870, the church is historically associated with the growth of the Chinese Catholic community in Singapore. The church building was gazetted a national monument in 2003.1
In the 1830s, a small chapel was erected at Bras Basah Road, on the site of the former St Joseph’s Institution (currently the Singapore Art Museum) to serve the religious needs of the Chinese Catholic community. The chapel soon proved too small for the growing number of worshippers. When the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd opened nearby in 1847, the chapel’s Chinese congregation joined worshippers there.2
Subsequently, with the growing needs of various linguistic groups, Father Pierre Paris, then overseeing the Chinese and Indian Catholics, made plans to build a new church. The Church of Saints Peter & Paul was thus built and completed in 1870.3 The church was named after St Peter, the leading apostle of Christ, and St Paul of Tarsus, known for his conversion to Christianity while travelling to Damascus. A prominent Chinese Catholic, Pedro Tan Neo Keah, contributed significantly to the construction of the church and also encouraged people to donate to the cause. Father Paris died in 1883 and his remains, together with those of another church founder, Father Adolphe Issaly, were interred at the church.4
The Church of Saints Peter & Paul was built in the tropical Gothic style, a popular architectural style during the colonial period in Singapore. The façade features the statues of St Peter and St Paul. Within the square belfry are three bronze bells installed by Father Paris that are still in use today.5 The bells were cast in Mans, France, and their rims decorated with engravings of Christ and the Virgin Mary.6 Inside the church, there are five stained glass windows made in France and installed around 1870. The glass panels feature, among other figures, the patron saints Peter and Paul, and St Joseph.7
By the 1860s, the original church had become too small, and was enlarged between 1891 and 1892 by Father F. Vignol. The expansion included the construction of three marble altars, a new transept and a sacristy.8 Between 1901 and 1902, extensions to the choir loft, porch and façade were paid for by Low Gek Seng and a prominent Chinese Catholic, Joseph Chan Teck Hee. At the same time, the original wooden columns were replaced with steel ones.9
A further expansion between 1910 and 1911 saw the decoration of the entrance porch and choir loft. Chan bought the land adjoining the church and built 11 houses in 1897, at his own cost, to accommodate widows, catechists and the aged. This became St Joseph’s House. He and Low bore the cost of the 1910–11 expansion.10
In 1915, the existing gas lighting was replaced with electric lights.11
In 1969, to mark its centenary the following year, the church underwent major renovation at an estimated cost of S$65,000.12
In 2001, the church underwent redevelopment work and undertook a fund-raising drive to raise an estimated S$7 million. The redevelopment saw the addition of a new parish building, a columbarium and an Adoration chapel.13
People and events
In 1928, the church received large groups of Chinese Catholic immigrants from Swatow seeking refuge from Communist persecution in China. In the same year, Monseigneur Emile Joseph Mariette, the Vicar of the church, was killed by a falling plank at the building worksite of the Church of St Teresa, which was then under construction.14
In 1941, the statue of St Peter was damaged by a mentally unstable man claiming to be the reincarnation of Christ. He was jailed on the charge of defiling a place of worship.15
In 1961, two long-serving parishioners of the church, Francis Heng Im Hock and Augustine Seet Kiam Koo, each received the Papal Medal from Pope John XXIII, the highest award given to laymen in recognition of meritorious service to the Pope and the Church. Heng had been the church organist from the age of 18, retiring in 1960 at age 81. Seet had served as church sacristan from the age of 15 and was still carrying out his duties at age 81, when he received the medal.16
Augustine Seet was from a family of loyal parishioners who had served the church for several generations. His father, Seet Twa Tee, was a dedicated catechist for 42 years, from 1883 to 1925. Augustine’s brother was Father Michael Seet, who in 1911 became the first Straits-born Chinese to be ordained a priest. Augustine’s son, Francis, continued the family tradition of serving as church sacristan.17
In the 1980s, the church was the venue for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.18
Also known as the Queen Street Church, the church building was gazetted a national monument on 10 February 2003.19
Joanna HS Tan
1. “Centenary Joy of Church of St. Peter and Paul,” Straits Times, 23 June 1969, 7; “Queen Street church to Be Preserved,” Straits Times, 11 February 2003, 4. (From NewspaperSG); Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Centenary Souvenir Magazine (Singapore: Church of St. Peter and Paul, 1970). (Call no. RCLOS 282.5957 CHU); “History and Architecture,” Church of Sts Peter and Paul, accessed 2 December 2016.
2. Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Centenary Souvenir Magazine, 28.
3. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 247–48. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
4. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 272. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Eugene Wijeysingha and Rene Nicolas, Going Forth: The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004 (Singapore: Nicholas Chia, 2006), 108–09, 119. (Call no. RSING 282.5957 WIJ-[SRN]); Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Centenary Souvenir Magazine, 29.
5. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 247–48.
6. Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Centenary Souvenir Magazine, 62.
7. Church of Sts. Peter & Paul, “History & Architecture.”
8. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 247–48; Wijeysingha and Nicolas, Catholic Church in Singapore, 108–09.
9. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 247–48; “Death of Mr J. Chan Teck Hee,” (1930, September 10). Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 10 September 1930, 167. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Death of Mr J. Chan Teck Hee”; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 272; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 247–48.
11. “Untitled,” (1915, December 21). Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 21 December 1915, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Steven Lee, “Church of Saints Peter and Paul,” Straits Times, 11 February 2003, 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Church of Sts. Peter & Paul, “History & Architecture.”
14. “Death of the Rt. Rev Monseigneur E. J. Mariette’” Malayan Saturday Post, 17 March 1928. 20. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Damaged Statue in Catholic Church: Chinese Sent to Prison.” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 27 June 1941, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Four Singapore Men Honoured By Pope,” Straits Times, 23 January 1961, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Centenary Souvenir Magazine, 58, 61, 64.
18. Anita Manning, “AA’ers Stay off the Bottle a Day at a Time,” Straits Times, 8 September 1985, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Queen Street church to Be Preserved”; Church of Sts. Peter & Paul, “History & Architecture.”
Church of Sts Peter & Paul (Singapore), Rt Rev. Msgr Noel Goh sacerdotal golden jubilee, 1946–1996 (Singapore: Church of Sts Peter & Paul, 1996). (Call no. RCLOS 282.5957 RT)
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.