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St Paul’s Church, Malacca, Malaysia

By on June 12, 2015 in Malaysia

Malacca is one of the few places I have been to in Malaysia that has such clear evidence of colonial history as it has a the ruins of a church, and a fort.

The church, St Paul’s, is now in ruins and started as a small Catholic chapel built in 1521 by a Portuguese sea captain, Duato Coelho, in thanks for having survived enemy attacks whilst sailing the South China Sea. The chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was named ‘Nossa Senhora’ (Our Lady of the Hill), which makes sense as it was built on a hill that really dominates the local landscape.

Father Francis Xavier (a notable Spanish Roman Catholic missionary that vsisited the area – later Saint Francis Xavier) stayed at the chapel when he visited the region between 1545 and 1553. When he died on the island of Sancian (also called Shangchuan Island) his body was transported back to the chapel, where he was laid to rest for nine months, before being moved to Goa in India.

In 1548, the chapel was taken over by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and an additional storey was added (1556). The chapel was then renamed the Church of Annunciation.

When the Dutch overran Malacca (1641), the church was renamed St Paul’s church and became Protestant. The church fell into disuse when Christ Church in the town in 1753.

The history of the church is linked with the colonial powers occupying the regions (Portuguese Empire 1511; Dutch Empire 1641; British Empire 1824; Straits Settlements 1826; Crown Colony 1867; Japanese occupation 15 January 1942; Malayan Union 1 April 1946; Federation of Malaya 31 January 1948; Malaysia 16 September 1963) as during the British rule it was used as an ammunition depot for Britishstrikes against Java. The British also constructed a massive flagpole to fly the Union Flag and changed the name of the hill to Flag Hill. The name did not stick and eventually the flagpole was taken down. The building was then allowed to fall into disrepair.

The church also served as a mausoleum for Dutch and Portuguese dignitaries. Commemorative plaques that are now on the walls were originally in the church’s floor. What is truly incredible about these plaques is their age and their state of preservation when you consider what the church has been through.

Overall a very interesting place, especially when you consider the history of the building and the number of times it has changed hands, and functions.

FourSquare: St Paul’s Church

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