Gleaming like a queen

146-year-old church, a national monument in Queen Street, to reopen on Sunday after $8 million year-long restoration

The bell of the 146-year-old Church of Saints Peter and Paul is ringing once again - filling the historic civic district with its rounded chime. 

It follows a year of silence after the once-crumbling Catholic church underwent an $8 million year-long restoration that has transformed it into a gleaming national monument. 

The effort involved fixing its corroded ceiling and termite-infested roof structure; restoring its 1900s teak pews and stained glass windows with the aid of Italian craftsmen and reinstating a high altar shipped in from a church in the United States.

The building at 225A Queen Street has also been equipped with air-conditioning.

It is slated to reopen for worship on Sunday, which falls on Palm Sunday. An official dedication ceremony will be conducted on June 29 by Archbishop William Goh. 

Parish priest John Chua, who consulted old photos of the structure for the recent restoration, said the project was timely as there had been safety concerns about the widespread damage that had developed over the years.

The issues included cracks in the walls and floors, a ceiling that leaked, beams that were full of termites, and doors that had shifted out of their frames. 

A major challenge was fixing the roof according to its original style, said Father John, adding: "Because no welding was allowed, about 1,000 holes were drilled into the wooden roof structure to secure it with bolts and nuts, as per the original design of the church."

Chemicals were also pumped into the perimeter of the church's walls, which will infuse into its bricks over time to address years of water seepage.

The church, which has been credited with the growth of the Chinese Catholic community in Singapore, was gazetted as a national monument in 2003.

The National Heritage Board's Preservation of Sites and Monuments division awarded the church a $1.2 million grant for the restoration project. The neo-French Gothic building features elements of Chinese architecture, such as lotus plasterwork on its exterior columns, as well as French floor tiles within the sanctuary. 

Father John said he is eager to welcome people back. He added: "The concept of restoration is both physical and spiritual. The church itself is a living entity which is restoring itself spiritually alongside its physical transformation." 

In the interim, its 1,700 parishioners have been attending weekend services under a tent at the church's open-air carpark.

Father John said: "A couple of people even fainted because of the unbearable heat. Surprisingly, attendance did not dwindle." 

The restored church, which can seat 450 people, will be holding five weekend masses each week.

Father John said the church is not just for Catholics. "We're right smack in the middle of an arts and cultural centre," he said. 

"Anyone who comes by will get to enjoy or appreciate its architecture - a unique combination of French, English colonial and Chinese stylings which also reflects the culturally rich and diverse history of Singapore."

For more photos of the church, go to http://str.sg/ZFbo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'GLEAMING LIKE A QUEEN'. Print Edition | Subscribe