Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

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Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
Facade CGS-Singapore.jpg
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is located in Singapore
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
1°17′45″N 103°51′05″E / 1.29596°N 103.85131°E / 1.29596; 103.85131Coordinates: 1°17′45″N 103°51′05″E / 1.29596°N 103.85131°E / 1.29596; 103.85131
Location'A' Queen Street
DenominationRoman Catholic
Founded1832 (parish)
Founder(s)Paris Foreign Missions Society
DedicationThe Good Shepherd
Consecrated6 June 1847
Relics heldSaint Laurent Imbert and Saint Francis Xavier
Functional statusActive
Architect(s)Denis Lesley McSwiney
StyleRestrained Renaissance Revival
Years built1844-1847
2013-2016 (restoration)
Completed6 June 1847
Number of spires1
ArchbishopMost Rev William Goh Seng Chye
RectorRev Msgr Philip Heng, SJ
Designated28 Jun 1973[1]

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Singapore.[2] It is located in the Museum Planning Area within the Civic District.

Bounded by the parallel Queen and Victoria Streets, and Bras Basah Road, the Cathedral sits within shaded grounds. Much of its architecture is reminiscent of two famous London churches namely St Paul's, Covent Garden and St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore and the seat of its archbishop. It is the final resting place of Bishop Edouard Gasnier, the first bishop of the revived Diocese of Malacca and aptly houses the relics of Saint Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert, to whom the Cathedral owes its name.



In the beginning, the Roman Catholic community in Singapore attended Mass at the house of Denis Lesley McSwiney.

In 1832, construction began on the first permanent Roman Catholic house of worship in Singapore. Financed through public subscriptions, the chapel, completed by 1833, was a small wood and attap structure measuring 60 feet long by 30 feet wide that had cost about 700 Spanish dollars to build. The chapel, with neither tower nor spire, was on the site of the former Saint Joseph's Institution buildings, now occupied by the Singapore Art Museum, and allotted by the Resident Councillor, George Bonham to Father Jean-Baptiste Boucho, a French missionary who had come from Penang. It was located in European Town, an area marked out in Sir Stamford Raffles' 1822 town plan as a residential area for Europeans, Eurasians and wealthy Asians.

Church of the Good Shepherd[edit]

By the end of the 1830s, the chapel had become too small. Bishop Jean-Paul-Hilaire-Michel Courvezy, Vicar Apostolic of Siam, considered extending the chapel but was persuaded by the newly arrived Parish Priest, Father Jean-Marie Beurel, to keep the site for a school and to build a church elsewhere. The Governor, George Bonham, offered a site on the slopes of Government Hill, now Fort Canning, but this was turned down by the Bishop. The second offer of land was a site bounded by Victoria Street, Bras Basah Road and Queen Street and was conveniently located near the proposed school, later to be Saint Joseph's Institution. This site was accepted.

In 1840, a subscription drive was started whereby Queen Marie-Amélie Thérèse of France and the Archbishop of Manila contributed 4,000 francs and about 3,000 Spanish dollars respectively. The Government Surveyor, John Turnbull Thomson, had prepared the first design for the church, but it was considered too expensive to build and difficult to maintain. The design that was accepted was that by Denis Lesley McSwiney, a design that was said to owe much to George Drumgoole Coleman's original Saint Andrew's Church. On 18 June 1843, the cornerstone for the church was blessed by Bishop Jean-Paul-Hilaire-Michel Courvezy, Vicar Apostolic of Malacca-Singapore, and was laid by John Connolly, a merchant. In 1847, a steeple was added. It was designed by Charles Andrew Dyce who modelled it on John Turnbull Thomson's design for the steeple added to the Saint Andrew's Church.

On 6 June 1847, the completed church was blessed and opened by Father Jean-Marie Beurel. The total payments amounted to 18,355.22 Spanish dollars.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd[edit]

In 1888, the church was elevated to the status of cathedral when the Diocese of Malacca was revived. Bishop Edouard Gasnier, the first bishop of the revived Diocese of Malacca died in 1896 and is interred in the cathedral. His successor, Bishop René-Michel-Marie Fée, was the first bishop consecrated in the cathedral in 1896. Although the church was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1888, the consecration ceremony was performed only on 14 February 1897 when the cathedral had finally repaid its debts incurred from the extension of the nave in 1888. Improvements were gradually made to the cathedral. The dwarf wall, gate pillars, and ornamental cast iron gates and railings around the grounds were completed in 1908. The Gallery Organ was in place by 1912, while electric lighting came in 1913 and electric fans in 1914.

During the invasion of Singapore during World War II, the Cathedral was used as an emergency hospital.

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was gazetted a national monument on 28 June 1973.

The Cathedral went for a major structural restoration from 2013 to 2016 to address structural defects that resulted from new developments nearby. A new annexe building and basement to support the various functions of the cathedral were built. The restoration cost amounted to $42 million Singapore dollars.

View of the nave after the 2016 restoration. The altar is remodelled, the cathedra was put back to pre-1960 sanctuary remodelling and a new altar rail to match the new style of the sanctuary is installed.
Saint Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert.

Rationale for name[edit]

Saint Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert, who died a martyr in Korea, was probably the first priest to visit Singapore.

The dedication of the church to the Good Shepherd stems from the note written by Saint Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert to his fellow missionaries, Saints Pierre-Philibert Maubant and Jacques-Honoré Chastan, asking them to surrender to the Korean authorities to save their flocks from extermination during a period of Christian persecution in Korea. He had written, In desperate circumstances, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. They did and the three of them were beheaded on 21 September 1839. News of this and their martyrdom reached Singapore at the time when an appropriate name was being considered for the church. The choice was made at the suggestion of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Boucho.

Significant dates[edit]

  • 1833 – First permanent Roman Catholic house of worship in Singapore blessed and opened.
  • 1843 – Foundation stone laid by John Connolly on the Feast of Corpus Christi.
  • 1847 – Church of the Good Shepherd blessed and opened by Father Jean-Marie Beurel.
  • 1859 – Original Parochial House (now Archbishop's House) completed.
  • 1888 – Elevated to the status of cathedral when the Diocese of Malacca was revived.
  • 1888 – Extension of the nave at the west end completed.
  • 1897 – Consecration of the Cathedral by Bishop René-Michel-Marie Fée.
  • 1909 – Dwarf wall, gate pillars, and ornamental cast iron gates and railings around the grounds completed.
  • 1911 – Second Parochial House (now Cathedral Rectory) designed by Father Charles-Benedict Nain completed.
  • 1912 – Gallery Organ dedicated by Bishop Marie-Luc-Alphonse-Emile Barillon.
  • 1913–1914 – Electric lights and fans introduced.
  • 1942 – Used as an emergency hospital during the invasion of Singapore.
  • 1973 – Gazetted a national monument.
  • 1983 – Sanctuary remodelled.
  • 1992 – Widening of Victoria Street causing the boundary of the grounds to be moved back.
  • 1994 – Choir Organ built by Robert Navaratnam.
  • 1997–1999 – Major restoration.
  • 2013–2016 – Second major restoration.[3]
  • 2017 – Rededicated on 14 February, 120 years after the original consecration in 1897.

Time capsule[edit]

In early 2016, beneath the cathedral's foundation stone, a shoebox-sized time capsule from June 18, 1843 was discovered and was found to include a prayer booklet and newspapers, and international coins.[4] The capsule is thought to have been buried by French Catholic missionary priests and other founding communities of Singapore.[4]


The steeple of the Cathedral designed by Charles Andrew Dyce.

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is built in a restrained Renaissance style. Its porticos are in the Palladian manner, which was established here by George Drumgoole Coleman. Its plan is in the form of a Latin cross and like all traditional churches, it is orientated east. Its high timber ceiling and its sensitive and harmonious use of round arches lend the building much grace and charm.


The steeple, surmounted by a cross, consists of two sections. The first section is a square with each corner of the square marked by three engaged columns in the Ionic order. On each façade is an arched window. The four façades are topped with pediments ornamented with a circle. The cathedral's three bells are located inside this section and are decorated with religious motifs. Cast by the Crouzet-Hildebrand Foundry in Paris, the bells were originally hung for swing chiming, but electric tolling hammers have since replaced the long ropes for stationary chiming. During the most recent restoration, following the stabilization and reinforcing of the tower's structure, the bells were re-hung for swing chiming with an electric motor. On the second section of the steeple is an octagon with each corner of the octagon marked by an engaged column in the Tuscan order. On each façade is a narrow rectangular window. The eight façades are topped with pediments.


There are six entrances into the cathedral with the one fronting Victoria Street closed to public access. The entrances are porticoed and have heavily moulded pediments. All pediments are ornamented with a moulded circle at the centre and, except for the ones at the ends of the transept and the one fronting Victoria Street, all are surmounted with a cross. The main entrance at the west end of the cathedral serves as the porte-cochère. The two side entrances at the nave are in the form of diminutive porticos and are smaller and less imposing then the entrances at the ends of the transept.

At the main entrance are three doors. Apart from the main entrance, all other entrances, except for the one fronting Victoria Street, have only one door. The entrance fronting Victoria Street had three doors initially until the walling up of the centre door. All doors are double-leaf, of timber construct and, except for the two fronting Victoria Street, all are panelled. While the doors of the two side entrances at the nave are double the height of the doors found at the ends of the transept, these four doors have each a stained-glass window over them.

Over the centre door is a statue of the Good Shepherd in a niche, with an inscription over it that reads I am the Good Shepherd. Over each of the two doors flanking the centre door is an arched window.

The cathedral's interior showing the nave, timber ceiling and Gallery Organ.
The Cathedral in its new colour scheme
View of the church from the rectory


The nave is a simple hall without aisles, and lacks the spatial relationships that arise thereof. There are two transepts, also without aisles, and these are screened off by two doric columns on each side.

Upon entering the cathedral through the centre door at the main entrance, one will see the statues of Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Francis Xavier, the four cast iron Composite columns supporting the gallery, and the two cast iron spiral staircases leading to the gallery. Nearby to the left sits a statue of the Pietà and a statue of Saint Joseph stands at the other end.

The eight large windows at the nave together with the other six at the transept and two at the sacristy are arched. There were originally eight large windows at the transept until the walling up of the two fronting Victoria Street. The original timber louvred casements of the windows were replaced by glass shutters with green glass in 1937. The stained glass windows in the lunettes of the nave and transept windows were presented to the cathedral by Bishop Charles Arsène Bourdon.

The timber ceiling is in a concave form and is made up of three rows of six rectangular panels. All eighteen panels are rather simply ornamented, with a simple rectangular border and a ceiling rose at their centres. The ceiling roses in the centre row are larger and more elaborate than those in the side rows. From the centre of each circle hangs a lamp. The ceiling edge ends in deeply mouled plaster cornice that runs along the length of the cathedral. As the height of the east end has been raised at different times, the dimensions of the entablature no longer relate to the columns properly, as their bases have been raised. The Cathedral was once lit with victorian crystal chandeliers, but these have since been replaced with the simpler lamps one sees today.

There are two confessionals to the left and right side of the nave and they are topped with pediments ornamented with a circle and cross at the centre. The set of fourteen oil paintings on the walls of the nave depict the Way of the Cross. At the crossing is the final resting place of Bishop Edouard Gasnier, the first bishop of the revived Diocese of Malacca.


The gallery, which is closed to public access, houses the Gallery Organ and the Audio Visual control room.


On the wall of the sanctuary is a crucifix, It is framed by a pediment and four pilasters – two pilasters on a pedestal on either side of it. This reredos is not original, and was installed some time in the 1960s, and is typical of the period, using standard glass mosaic tiles to create a 'starburst' background to the crucifix, as a replacement for the original high altar arrangement that was removed following the Second Vatican Council. At one point, the cathedra was moved to this spot where the high altar once stood, with the altar being moved forward as a free-standing 'communion table' style altar to allow versus populum celebration of the Mass. Following the most recent restoration, the traditional placement of the cathedra, to one side of the altar, has been reinstated. However, the decision was made to retain the 1960s reredos instead of reinstating the original high altar. However, the tabernacle was returned to its rightful place at the centre of the church, and a new retable was built for it. On either side of the main altar are doors that lead to the sacristy. A new altar table was also installed, of white marble and a more sympathetic design than the previous one, with a roundel containing a depiction of the Agnus Dei at its centre. There were once niches over the doors (which were also round-headed to match the windows) on either side and in the centre that held statues, but they were filled in and plastered over at the time the reredos was replaced. Today the doors are of a more conventional rectangular shape, and where the niches once were is now blank wall that serves as projector screen. The four crosses engraved on marble slabs in the sanctuary together with the other eight in the nave make up the twelve consecration crosses put in place on the interior walls around the cathedral for its consecration in 1897. They may never be removed and are proof, in the absence of documents, that a church has been consecrated.

North Transept[edit]

In the north transept stands a statue of Our Mother of Good Counsel in a niche topped by a pediment and flanked by two pilasters – each pilaster on a pedestal on either side of it. The north transept is where the Baptistery is located. The statue of Our Mother of Good Counsel and the stained-glass window over the door hints to its previous designation as the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the walls are memorial plaques to early personalities of the church, notably, John Connolly and Bishop Michel-Esther Le Turdu. The relics of Saint Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert can be found enshrined in the wall at the right side of the door.

South Transept[edit]

In the south transept stood the Tabernacle in a niche topped by a pediment and flanked by two pilasters – each pilaster on a pedestal on either side of it. This was the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It takes the place of what was originally the Chapel of Saint Joseph. On the wall to the left of the Tabernacle is a memorial plaque to Father Jean-Marie Beurel.

The 2016 restoration saw the return of the Chapel of Saint Joseph to the cathedral main building. A statue of Saint Joseph, a match of the Our Mother of Good Counsel statue at the Lady Chapel was returned to the mentioned chapel. A new Tabernacle was installed at the centre of the sanctuary.


Outside on the grounds of the cathedral near the main entrance was a bronze life-size statue of Pope John Paul II, the Glorious Cross of 7.38 meters and a statue of the Virgin Mary. A statue of the Good Shepherd stands opposite the entrance at the south transept.

After the 2016 restoration, the statue of the Virgin Mary and Saint John Paul II statues were reinstalled in their original place. A new, contemporary crucifix is installed at the north transept entrance. A statue of the Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmaltz is installed at the west end of the compound. The Good Shepherd statue has been moved to the crypt at the new basement.

Other buildings[edit]

Apart from the cathedral itself, there are five other buildings within the grounds of the cathedral:

  • Archbishop's House is a simple, unadorned nineteenth-century two-storey bungalow with a projecting portico. Its verandahs were previously unenclosed.
  • The Resident's Quarters is a U-shaped single-storey building with handsome Tuscan columns rising from the ground.
  • The Cathedral Rectory is an ornate early twentieth century two-storey rusticated bungalow with decorative plasterwork. There is a covered linkway to a rectangular single-storey building at its rear.
  • The Jean-Marie Beurel Centre is a newly built 4-storeys building to support the ministries works of the Cathedral. The building is connected to the new basement with a covered linkway.
  • A newly constructed basement that houses a function hall, crypt and a perpetual Adoration Chapel.


Weekday Masses:

  • 1.15pm
  • 6.30pm
  • 7.30pm (First Friday of the month) with holy hour, observing the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Anticipation Mass:

  • 6pm

Sunday Masses:

  • 8.30am
  • 10.30am
  • 5.30pm


  • Weekdays: 11.30am-1.30pm (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) by Opus Dei priests
  • Weekends: 15 minutes before all Masses (subject to the availability of priests)



The Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ sings at the Sunday Solemn Mass and at all important liturgies and functions. It is a mixed voice choir of around 75 members comprising both students and working professionals.

Founded in 1970, the choir served at the Church of the Risen Christ for 32 years before being installed at the Cathedral on 14 April 2002.

The motto of the Choir is Pro Pontifice et Patria, which is Latin for For Pope and Country.


The Gallery Organ is the oldest playable organ in Singapore.

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd houses two pipe organs – the Gallery Organ in the second floor gallery and the Choir Organ in an elevated box in the north transept. It is notable that the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is the only church in Singapore to have two organs that can sound within the same space.

Dedicated on 20 October 1912 by Bishop Emile Barillon, the Gallery Organ is a two-manual and pedal Bevington & Sons instrument which cost 5894.61 sterling pounds to build, ship and install. To date, it has 28 working stops, the result of various additions and alterations made to the original organ by Singapore's sole organ builder, Robert Navaratnam.

Ranks such as the retrofitted 8' Trumpet are used on more than one stop, and the organ also incorporates pipework from various now-defunct organs, notably the Bombarde 16' from the former St. Clair Organ that once resided in the Victoria Concert Hall. Recently, even this rank has had a number of pipes replaced yet again.

The Gallery Organ is easily recognised from its unusual asymmetric façade – only the central organ case is original, the left and right wings added by Navaratnam. The action, once electropneumatic, was converted to direct-electric. This caused occasional problems with non-sounding notes and ciphers, resulting from the ingress of dirt into an open building and the general humidity. In the latest rebuilding of the organ, a new tracker action was built to replace the electric action. It is to date, the oldest playable organ in Singapore and is still regularly used for Masses.

The 9-rank Choir Organ was built in 1994 by Robert Navaratnam, utilising old pipework from various other organs. This is also a two-manual-and-pedal instrument, the pipework housed in an enclosed chamber supported by steel square beams over the choir stalls. There is no pipework for the pedal division and no expression shoe for the pipework. This organ was removed during the renovation in the 2013-16 restoration and renovation.

At the end of 2005, the old Conn console shell was replaced with an old Allen electronic console. This replacement included working Allen electronic stops which can be used to add colour to the nine ranks of pipes and also supplies the otherwise non-existent pedal division to balance the chorus. The expression shoe supplies expression for the electronic stops only.

There is little literature available on the organs. In 2005, Lin Yangchen published an article titled Singapore's Answer to Notre Dame de Paris in The Organ describing both instruments in detail (The Organ 334:8–10). He describes the unique situation presented by having separate organs in the same building, which makes possible a dialogue between the Gallery and Choir Organs. In fact, this does happen during solemn occasions and when two organists are present. The choir and congregation are then accompanied separately, although this is no longer possible now that there is only one organ in the Cathedral. Sketches of information on the older organ are available mostly through personal accounts. An elderly parishioner recounted helping out on Sundays as a young boy by operating the manual air pump of the organ. By the 1960s, the Gallery Organ became so dilapidated that it remained silent for nearly two decades.

Hugo Loos, a Belgian engineer then based in Singapore, volunteered his services as both organist and repairman. Driven by his passion and love for pipe organs, he was able to render minor repairs but much work was still required. Towards the end of 1983, the then rector of the cathedral, Father Robert Balhetchet, was introduced to Navaratnam, who had been trained as a pipe organ builder in Germany. The organ has since been in the care of Navaratnam, who also plays for services at the cathedral.

On 16 December 1984, a concert was organised in conjunction with the rededication of the Gallery Organ. Dr Margaret Chen, curator of the Klais Organ at the Victoria Concert Hall and a well-known Singaporean organist, was one of the performers.

Organ recitals at the Cathedral are now few and far between, the last two having been played on the Gallery Organ by Markus Grohmann, a visiting German organist in August 2005, and Arthur Lamirande of New York in 2007.

During the 2013-16 restoration and renovation of the Cathedral, the gallery organ was completely dismantled and rebuilt by the organ builders Diego Cera of the Philippines. The organ was dismantled and shipped to the Philippines and revoiced and repaired while the cathedral was closed. The organ was provided with a new console and a new tracker action, while the original organ case was restored and extended. One no longer sees the asymmetrical facade, as all the pipe work was re-organized into the new case. The organ is also playable from a remote console located in the south transept, where the choir is now located. The cherubs and Saint Caecilia statue were not reinstalled after the restoration.

Ecclesiastical status[edit]

Over the centre door at the main entrance of the Cathedral is the coat of arms of Archbishop Nicholas Chia Yeck Joo. It includes the motto Omnia Omnibus, which is Latin for All Things to All Men (1 Corinthians 9:22). Above the coat of arms is a statue of the Good Shepherd in a niche, with an inscription over it that reads I am the Good Shepherd.

The Roman Catholic Church in Singapore was initially under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Malacca erected in 1558. She was transferred to the Vicariate Apostolic of Ava and Pegu in 1838 and then the Vicariate Apostolic of Siam in 1840. In 1841, the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore was placed under the jurisdiction of the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Siam that was erected from the Vicariate Apostolic of Siam. Initially called the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Siam, the name was changed to the Vicariate Apostolic of the Malay Peninsula and finally the Vicariate Apostolic of Malacca-Singapore.

  • Vicariate Apostolic of Malacca-Singapore
    • (1841–1844) Bishop Jean-Paul-Hilaire-Michel Courvezy (Vicar Apostolic of Siam from 1834–1841)
    • (1845–1871) Bishop Jean-Baptiste Boucho
    • (1871–1877) Bishop Michel-Esther Le Turdu
    • (1878–1888) Bishop Edouard Gasnier
  • Diocese of Malacca
    • (1888–1896) Bishop Edouard Gasnier
    • (1896–1904) Bishop René-Michel-Marie Fée
    • (1904–1933) Bishop Marie-Luc-Alphonse-Emile Barillon
    • (1934–1945) Bishop Adrien Pierre Devals
    • (1947–1953) Bishop Michel Olçomendy
  • Archdiocese of Malacca
    • (1953–1955) Archbishop Michel Olçomendy
  • Archdiocese of Malacca-Singapore (Metropolitan See)
    • (1955–1972) Archbishop Michel Olçomendy
  • Archdiocese of Singapore


The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is currently under the administration of 3 priests of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore :

  • Rev Msgr Philip Heng SJ (Rector)
  • Rt Rev Msgr Francis Lau (Assistant to Rector)
  • Rev Fr Alex Chua (Assistant to Rector)

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd currently also has these following organisations :


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "List of Singapore's National Monuments" (PDF). Urban Redevelopment Authority. 2011.
  2. ^ History of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
  3. ^ "Restored Cathedral of the Good Shepherd a feast for the eyes". The Straits Times. 10 November 2016.
  4. ^ a b Zaccheus, Melody (July 3, 2016). "Message in a bottle". The Statesman (India). Archived from the original on 20 July 2016.
  5. ^ Vatican News Service[permanent dead link]
  • Norman Edwards, Peter Keys (1988), Singapore – A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, Times Books International, ISBN 9971-65-231-5
  • Gretchen Liu (1996), In Granite and Chunam – The National Monuments of Singapore, Landmark Books, ISBN 981-3065-03-6
  • Lee Geok Boi (2002), Faiths of Our Forefathers – The Religious Monuments of Singapore, Landmark Books, ISBN 981-3065-62-1
  • Eugene Wijeysingha (2006), Going Forth... – The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, ISBN 981-05-5703-5

External links[edit]