Cathedral undergoing $4.6m face-lift

Updated: 2015-12-12 07:10


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Cathedral undergoing $4.6m face-lift

St. Ignatius Cathedral of Shanghai, in the city's Xujiahui area, is undergoing a lengthy renovation. The inside of the church (below) features stone columns and Gothic ceilings. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY

St. Ignatius Cathedral of Shanghai, once known as the grandest church in the Far East, is undergoing a major face-lift, displacing its parishioners during the upcoming celebration of Christmas.

Also called Xujiahui Cathedral, the landmark has a century-old history and is showing its age. It has literally been falling apart in recent years, even as it played host to thousands of worshiping Catholics and tourists.

The restoration, which will cost 30 million yuan ($4.65 million), is viewed as a form of respect and dedication to religion, while ensuring the safety of the congregation.

"After the opening-up and implementation of reform policies by former leader Deng Xiaoping (in 1978), religious freedom has been improving," said Shen Baozhi, 90, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Shanghai. "My feeling is that we have a very positive environment for religions and the future is very bright."

Shanghai has about 150,000 Catholics, and there are other Catholic churches around the city to celebrate Christmas Mass. But Xujiahui, where the cathedral is located, is one of the city's most bustling areas.

Designed by English architect William Doyle, the cathedral was built by French Jesuits at the beginning of the 20th century. As a missionary center, the grounds once included a library, an orphanage, a college, a publishing house and a weather station.

The interior-with its altars, stone columns, Gothic ceilings, stained glass windows, and paintings of the Last Supper and Stations of the Cross-represents the city's living history of European architecture.

The condition of the building has been deteriorating for many years, and the problems include a leaking roof, worn-out drywall and a termite infestation.

Minor repairs in the past never completely fixed the problems. During a Mass in August, worshipers narrowly escaped being hit by crumbling ceiling segments.

The restoration will seek to retain the building's original character and feature the principle of "repairing the old as old", said Qiu Yun, technical director at Xufang Construction.

The roof will be dismantled in order to repair the leaks, and the large cross on the bell tower will be reinforced and repainted to ensure that it is resistant to decay and termites. Tiles will be replaced with shale slate, and the cathedral's interior facilities will be improved.

Before the work begins, the church will protect its historical relics.

"The church's valuable structures will be protected to preserve its original beauty," said Gu Zhangjun, a diocese priest. "The parts covered by wooden slate are important structures, and we will pay special attention to protecting them."

The cathedral, which attracts visitors from home and abroad, will be unavailable to worshipers and visitors until the final quarter of next year. Tourists are likely to miss the opportunity to walk its aisles.

"I have seen many churches, but there is something special about this one," said Andres Cuevas, 19, from Mexico.

Yan Hongji, 60, a nearby resident, said the square in front of the church has become a popular place for newlyweds to take wedding photos. In addition to being a religious site, "young people regard it as a sacred place to celebrate their love", he said.

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