Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd stands at the junction of Queen Street and Bras Basah Road. Built between 1843 and 1847,1 it is the oldest surviving Catholic church in Singapore.2 The Cathedral was gazetted as a national monument on 28 June 1973.3

In as early as 1822, Stamford Raffles gave the Catholic Church land at Bras Basah.However, it was only with the arrival of Father J. B. Boucho in 1832 that the first Catholic chapel was built there. The wood-and-attap construction was built at a cost of 700 Spanish dollars, with the money raised through public subscription.5 The old site was later converted into a school that became St Joseph’s Institution (now the Singapore Art Museum).6  

In February 1843, a French priest, Father Jean-Marie Beurel, managed to convince the government to provide the Catholic mission with a plot of land at the corner of Queen Street and Bras Basah Road. The plot became the location for the Church of the Good Shepherd. The foundation stone was laid on 18 June 1843 by John Conolly, a merchant resident in Singapore.7  

The architect Denis Lesley McSwiney’s design for the church was said to have been selected over John Turnbull Thomson’s due to its lower cost. It was built at a cost of over 18,000 Spanish dollarsin the Renaissance style with the traditional cruciform plan and Roman Doric pillars. Shortly after its completion, the church was blessed by Father Beurel on 6 June 1847.9 The dedication of the church to the Good Shepherd was in memory of St Laurent Imbert, the first priest to visit Singapore and who was martyred in Korea in 1836. The relics of St Laurent Imbert can be found at the Cathedral’s baptistery.10

In 1847, the distinguished water colourist, Charles Alexander Dyce,11 added a tower and spire that were modelled after the spire of nearby St Andrew’s Church. Antwerp marble paving was added in 1860 and the nave extended in 1888. The Archbishop’s Residence was designed by Father Charles Nain.12  

In 1888, with the growing Catholic population in Singapore, the church was raised to the status of a cathedral. On 14 February 1897, the Bishop of Melaka, Reverend René Fée, consecrated the church.13  

In 2006, it was reported that cracks had been found on the building of the church since around 2003. Though the church building was certified safe, it had started to tilt and the cracks had also widened with time.14 In 2009, the bell tower started to tilt and support beams were attached to the pillars. The following year, it was reported that the church planned to undergo a S$40 million renovation to rectify the building’s structural problems, renovate the rectory and build a new annexe.15 That same year, two stained-glass panels, thought to be painted around 1888, were de-installed as the panels had begun to buckle. The panels would be restored and returned to the church after the renovation was completed.16

The renovation began in 2013 following a three-year delay and despite raising only a fraction of the funds required.17 The church reopened in November 2016 .18 The restoration works included identifying and reverting the building to its original colour scheme of white and dark yellow, cleaning and repairing the floor tiles at the rector’s two-storey residence and strengthening the building foundation.19

In 2017, the project won the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Award for Restoration.20

Bonny Tan

1. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 274. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW)
2. Wan Meng Hao, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 50‒51. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN)
3. Preservation of Monuments Order 1973, Sp. S 228/1973, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 1973, 377. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS); National Heritage Board, “Preservation of Monuments Boards Merges with the National Heritage Board,” press release, 8 July 2009. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 20090715004)
4. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then and Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 175. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE)
5. Eugene Wijeysingha and Rene Nicolas, Going Forth: The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819‒2004 (Singapore: Nicholas Chia, 2006), 74‒75. (Call no. RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
6. Lee Geok Boi, The Religious Monuments of Singapore: Faiths of Our Forefathers (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2002), 46‒47. (Call no. RSING 726.095957 LEE)
7. Gretchen Liu, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1996), 166‒71. (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore: 1819‒1867 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 248‒50. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC); “Consecration of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 15 February 1897, 2. (From NewspaperSG); Wijeysingha and Nicolas, Going Forth, 85‒92.
8. Wijeysingha and Nicolas, Going Forth, 98.
9. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 274; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 46–47; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 166‒71. (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
10. Wijeysingha and Nicolas, Going Forth, 101; “History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: St Laurent Marie Joseph Imbert (1796‒1839),” Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, n.d.
11. Irene Lim, Sketches in the Straits: Nineteenth-Century Watercolours and Manuscripts of Singapore, Malacca, Penang and Batavia by Charles Dyce (Singapore: NUS Museums, National University of Singapore, 2003), 8, 14. (Call no. RSING 759.2911 LIM)
12. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 46–47; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 166‒71; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers' Singapore, 175.
13. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 274; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 46–47.
14. Theresa Tan, “Widening Cracks Found in Historic Cathedral,” Straits Times, 8 September 2006, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Yen Feng, “$40M Rescue for Historic Cathedral,” Straits Times, 23 December 2010, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Yen Feng, “Stained Glass Saved,” Straits Times, 23 December 2001, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Melody Zaccheus, “Good Shepherd Cathedral to Close for Revamp,” Straits Times, 15 October 2013, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Melody Zaccheus, “Mass to Celebrate Restoration of Cathedral of the Good Shepherd,” Straits Times, 21 November 2016, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Kelly Ng, “Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Marks New Era after Three-Year Restoration,” Today, 15 February 2017, 6; Lin Yangchen, “Precious Old Tiles Given a New Life,” Straits Times, 23 July 2017, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), “Recognising Quality Restoration Projects and Celebrating Our Built Heritage,” press release, 31 October 2017.  

Further resources
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd,” New Nation, 15 October 1971, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

Preservation of Monuments Board Singapore and Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Preservation Guidelines (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1992). (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 CAT)

Preservation of Monuments Board Singapore, Report (Singapore:  Preservation of Monuments Board, 1972–1973), 11. (Call no. RCLOS 722.4095957 PMBSR)

The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Catholic church buildings--Singapore
Historic buildings--Singapore
Schools (Buildings)
Religious buildings