Church of our Lady of Lourdes
The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes is located at 50 Ophir Road, near Serangoon Road.1 It was built between 1886 and 1888, founded by Father Joachim Alexander Marie Meneuvrier, and named after the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes located in Lourdes, France.2 Originally built to cater to Indian Catholics, in particular Tamil speakers, the church now provides services for everyone irrespective of race and language.3 One of Singapore’s oldest Catholic churches, the church was gazetted as a national monument on 14 January 2005.4
In the late 19th century, Father Joachim Alexander Marie Meneuvrier, a French priest, saw the need for a church with services in Tamil to serve the Indian population. In 1885, the government provided a piece of swamp land near Serangoon Road for the establishment of a church. The area was convenient for Indian Catholics, as it was an Indian enclave.5 The Indian community who came from Pondicherry, then a French colony in south India, collected the building funds,6 and Bishop Gasnier laid the corner stone of the building on 1 August 1886. Alexandre Izambert provided the foundation plan and the cast iron columns and metal frameworks, while local firm Swan & Maclaren supervised the construction of the building, which was completed in May 1888.7
In that month, Father Meneuvrier officially opened the church, along with Our Lady of Lourdes School in the church compound.8 He had managed to obtain an extra piece of land from Governor Sir Frederick Weld, on which a two-storey building was erected. The top floor housed a presbytery, while Our Lady of Lourdes School, one of the earliest schools in Singapore, occupied the ground floor. It started off as an Anglo-Tamil School and was opened by Father Meneuvrier at the same time as the church’s official opening in May 1888. In 1927, a single-storey wooden school building for Indian girls was erected during Father Louis Burghoffer’s term in office, after he succeeded Father Meneuvrier, and in 1936, it was run by the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus.9
Unfortunately, during World War II, the city was heavily bombed, and the church was not spared. The presbytery was demolished, while the church itself did not sustain any structural damage other than shattered windows and glass stains. The building remained a single-storey structure after the war and was later demolished for reasons relating to structural safety.10
In 1962, this single-storey wooden school building was replaced with a three-storey concrete structure during Father Albert Fortier’s term in office.11
In 1974, church authorities gave up the church’s Indian Roman Catholic status, choosing instead to serve Catholics of all ethnicities and languages. The Indian influence on the church, however, was apparent, as religious services were still conducted in Tamil and English.12
With a large proportion of its parish being migrant workers and expatriates from South India, the church has incorporated the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Vailankannni and the Tamil harvest festival of Ponggal into its services. More than a religious place of worship, the church holds deeply rooted ancestral significance for many families.13
In 2000, a centre was set up on the church’s premises to help the less fortunate pick up a new skill. Domestic helpers of different nationalities were trained by self-help groups at the centre in a range of skills from cooking to secretarial duties.14
The church was built in the mould of the Basilica at Lourdes, France.15 Its architecture, complete with fine trimmings and grand arches, was gothic with cornices and pilasters, tracery parapels, louvered wooden French windows and unglazed natural coloured tile roof.16
The altar of Our Lady of Lourdes is a replica of the grotto of Lourdes with the Virgin Mary standing in it. Near the altar, a crucifix hangs on the wall, and the choir stalls and the organ are at the back of the church.17
Two brass tablets were set up in the church in remembrance of the services of two priests, Father Meneuvrier and Father Burghoffer. Meneuvrier was the first missionary to Singapore who was put in charge of the Indian Catholics here, while his successor, Burghoffer, served the church for 34 years.18
Renovation and restoration
The building underwent several rounds of renovation works. Between 1958 and 1959, the original 15 stained glass windows at the clerestory, broken during World War II, were restored when Father Fortier was in office. These windows depicted the 15 mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Fortier also oversaw the installation of a set of electronic bells, and the construction of a second loft to accommodate a growing congregation.19 The windows are believed to be one of the best specimens of stained glass in Singapore.20
The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes was gazetted as a national monument on 14 January 2005.21 In 2009, the church was awarded S$449,000 under the National Monuments Fund for repairs to its belfry and roof.22 The church raised the rest of the funds to carry out restoration works amounting to S$1.75 million, to preserve the church as a monument.23 In 2016, the church was among the eight national monuments to receive grants from the National Monuments Fund for more restoration works.24
Thulaja Naidu, Joanna HS Tan and Faridah Ibrahim
1. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 264. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
2. “Laying the Foundation Stone of the New Tamil Church,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 5 August 1886, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Tracy Sua, “Four New Heritage Sites,” Straits Times, 14 January 2005, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Clement Michael et al., The Dance of Faith: Church of Our Lady of Lourdes 1888–2011 (Singapore: Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, 2012), 194. (Call no. RSING 282.5957 MIC)
4. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 194; Places: Church of our Lady of Lourdes,” National Heritage Board, accessed 13 September 2021.
5. “Catholic Progress in Singapore – Opening of a New Church Dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes,” Singapore Weekly Herald, 4 August 1888, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Sua, “Four New Heritage Sites”.
6. Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture (Singapore: Graham Brash (Pte) Ltd., 1989), 67. (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BEA)
7. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 95; Betty L. Khoo, “This Church Is a Replica of One at Lourdes,” New Nation, 14 April 1972, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 95; Khoo, “This Church Is a Replica of One at Lourdes.”
9. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 95–96.
10. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 95–96, 162.
11. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 372.
12. Khoo, “This Church Is a Replica of One at Lourdes”; Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 193.
13. Lee Si Xuan, “129-year-old Neo-Gothic Church Still a Special Place for Tamil Catholics, Straits Times, 7 September 2017, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Pauline Leong, “Maids Learn Skills with Eye to Future,” Straits Times, 2 December 2000, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 264.
16. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 95–96.
17. Beamish and Ferguson, History of Singapore Architecture, 67; Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, “About Our Parish: Architecture.”
18. Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Church of Our Lady of Lourdes Singapore Centenary Souvenir 1888–1988 (Singapore: Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, 1988), 20. (Call no. RCLOS 282.5957 CHU)
19. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 99, 108.
20. Irene Pates, “Seeing the Light in Stained Glass,” Straits Times, 27 February 1984, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Sua, “Four New Heritage Sites.”
22. “National Monuments Get $600,000 Lift,” Today, 14 March 2009, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Michael et al., Dance of Faith, 112; Yen Feng, "Church Restoration: Striking A Balance," Straits Times, 15 August 2010, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Kelly Ng, "8 National Monuments to Get S$2.22m in Grants for Facelifts," Today, 20 May 2016, 10, (From NewspaperSG)
Urban Redevelopment Authority and Preservation of Monuments Board, Church of Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Guidelines, 2 vols. (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority for Preservation of Monuments Board, 2005). (From PublicationSG)
The information in this article is valid as of September 2021 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.