Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Taiwan's magnificent churches (Taiwan Business Topics)

Organized Christianity has been present in Taiwan since at least May 1626, when six Spanish Dominicans set up base on a small island near what is now the entrance to Keelung Harbor.

Efforts to convert Taiwan’s aboriginal inhabitants, and later Han Chinese settlers and their descendants, have had mixed success. Christianity is certainly accepted as part of the country’s religious landscape, yet no more than one in 20 Taiwanese is Protestant or Catholic.

Observers of religious life in Taiwan often contrast the situation here with that of South Korea, where it is estimated that Christians make up at least 26% of the population (some estimates put it as high as 49%). But Taiwan, it can be argued, is far richer when it comes to interesting, attractive, and historical church buildings.

It is easy to overlook these chapels, basilicas, and mission houses. Folk temples are so numerous, so colorful, and so noisy they tend to grab one’s attention. Yet among Taiwan’s churches are buildings designed by world-famous architects, naves rich in local art, and even some intriguing examples of stained glass.

From the late nineteenth century onward, Western missionaries in Taiwan such as George L. Mackay, James L. Maxwell, and Thomas Barclay were financially backed by co-religionists in their home countries. Some missionaries used this funding to purchase plots of land in locations that today would be unimaginably expensive, or reserved for government use. Taipei’s Chi-nan Presbyterian Church, which faces Zhongshan South Road right beside the Legislative Yuan, is a prime example. Designed by Moli Yamasi of Japan and completed in 1916 for the use of students and faculty at nearby Taihoku University (now National Taiwan University’s Medical College), this building is something of a pastiche – inspired by English country churches, but built of red brick rather than stone.

If you step inside, you’ll see a surprising amount of wood, much of which was torn out and replaced this spring. Renovation work should be finished and the church opened again by mid-summer...

The full article is here. The photo above shows a Catholic chapel in Shanhua, Tainan.

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