Address: 415 North Zhongshan Road, Hangzhou. 天主教堂 中山北路415号Bus #s: 11, 28, 38Tel #: 0571-85101503English Mass Schedule: Saturday 18.30 hrsChinese Mass Schedule: Sunday 06.30 hrs, 09.00 hrs, 19.00 hrs
History of the Hangzhou Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
It will be difficult to find anyone locally who knows much about its history. Here’s what I found out. Likely inspired by the baroque designed Chiesa del Gesu Jesuit church in Rome, which was the model for many Jesuit churches, the first Catholic Church of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception in Hangzhou was built in 1661 by Italian Jesuit pastor, missionary, cartographer, and historian, Martino Martini (Wei Kuang Guo / 卫匡国).
It had taken two years to construct and was hardly built when on June 6th Martino Martini died from cholera in Hangzhou. He is buried in the Dafangjing Jesuit Cemetery (大方井卫匡国等公墓) on the north side of Beigao Feng (北高峰). It seems that twenty years later Martino Martini’s body was discovered in a relatively unblemished state, whereupon it became a venerable object of cult-like worship, not only for Christians. In 1877, in a bid to put an end to what it perceived to be idolisation, the Catholic Church hierarchy had Martini’s body reburied.
As the leading China geographer of the 18th Century, Martino Martini is celebrated as the first to undertake the study of Chinese history and geography with meticulous scientific impartiality. Added acclaim in China and beyond alludes to Martino Martini’s unique awareness of Chinese culture and profound understanding of all things Chinese as being the bedrock from which modern sinology has developed. During the reign of the Qing Emperor Kangxi, in 1691 an anti-catholic drive coordinated by Zhang Penghe (张鹏翮), the Confucian governor of Zhejiang Province, resulted in the practice of Catholicism being outlawed throughout Zhejiang. The Italian Jesuit Prospero Intorcetta, who had already lived in Hangzhou for 13 years, was expelled for staying in Hangzhou without authorisation, publishing books, circulating pamphlets throughout Zhejiang, and baptising over 1,000 people. Governor Zhang subsequently took over the Church of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception ordering all its books to be burned and printing woodcuts destroyed.
The following year, under pressure from Jesuits and Manchu Prince Songgotu, Zhang Penghe in an apparent about turn commanded that the Church of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception be completely repaired. However, Zhang continued to arrest and persecute Catholics, while several churches in Hangzhou, Haining and Jiaxing which didn’t have residing priests were confiscated.
In late 1692 the Catholic Church of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception in Hangzhou was badly damaged by a fire, remaining in a state of disrepair until 1699 when Emperor Kangxi himself passed by the church. After one of his ministers had inspected the interior Kangxi granted 200 silver taels to complete the restoration. Two characters “敕建” (chi jian) – meaning “built by order of the emperor” – were inscribed on to the gate.
In 1730 Kangxi’s son Emperor Yongzheng proscribed Catholicism and Catholic Church of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception was converted into the Tao Buddhist temple of the Celestial Empress, Tian Hou Gong (天后宫). The characters “敕建” were chiseled off the gate. It was not until 1848 that it became a working Catholic church again when a group of Dutch, French and English Lazarists took it over.
Further disruption occurred during the Cultural Revolution when all religious activities ceased. For a period of 12 years the main church hall was divided into 10 small cells for imprisoning criminals, while the other church buildings were also divided up as residences. On December 12th 1982 Mass was once again celebrated at the re-opened church, while by 1986 all remaining families who had lived there during the Cultural Revolution had been relocated to new residences.
The Catholic Church of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception is now listed as an historic site under the protection of the Municipal Government of Hangzhou.
Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA)
Prior to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 the Catholic Church in China was under the control of foreign missionaries, and some Church organisations opposed communist rule. In 1957 the secular Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) was set up to organise the Catholic Church in China under government patronage. It no longer recognised the authoritative role of the Pope as the leader of Chinese Catholics, and in the appointment of new bishops. The Vatican immediately declared the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association incompatible with Catholic doctrine and since then there have been no formal diplomatic links between the Vatican and Beijing. An underground Catholic Church said to number millions of Chinese Catholics still remains faithful to the Bishop of Rome.
Today’s Mass at Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
The Catholic Church of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception in Hangzhou is always filled to capacity for the 9.00 a.m.. Clear evidence of the growing appetite for spiritual values among mainland China’s officially atheist population, the worshipers represent a broad spectrum of men and women, young and old, all in thoughtful concentration. This church has a genuine feel to it and, given the unremitting pressures of daily life that abound in rapidly changing China, it is wonderful to observe and experience the congregation’s deep sense of spiritualism and respect for each other. Streaming out of the church after the conclusion of Mass all appear at peace within, assured.
On the face of it, given that in spite of everything this is a Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association-operated church, this could be a Mass typical of any Catholic Church the world over. The choir sings the usual hymns (the acoustics are very good), while the benches at the foot of the left side-aisle hold a very energetic group of hearing impaired parishioners using sign language to communicate, their smiling facial expressions and fast-moving hands corresponding with every spoken word. There is holy water, a lively confessional, and communion, while the Our Father is prayed most fervently with hands raised high. When it comes to offering each other the sign of peace there is that spontaneous outpouring of goodness and togetherness which typifies Catholic Church communities everywhere. The genuine sincerity is palpable.
English Mass Saturday 18:30 hrs
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hangzhou / Hangchow
The archdiocese of Hangzhou, which at the time had less than 30,000 practising Catholics has not had a Vatican appointed bishop since 1956 following the death of Archbishop Jean Joseph Georges Deymier (梅占魁). In June 2000, The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association appointed (now 91 years old) Matthew Cao Xiang-de (曹緗德) (a.ka. Cao Yude) as bishop, an appointment that prompted the Vatican to invoke canon 1382: “Both the Bishop who, without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person a Bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur a ´latae sententiae´ excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”. Source: Latae sententiae