Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd (Chinese: 善牧主教座堂) is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Singapore. It is located in the Museum Planning Area within the Civic District and affords a welcome respite from the city.

Bounded by the parallel Queen and Victoria Streets, and Bras Basah Road, the Cathedral sits within well-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 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 feet long by thirty 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 building, 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

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. Charles Andrew Dyce designed the steeple which was modelled on John Turnbull Thomson's design for the second 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.

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

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 1889. 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 6 July 1973.

Rationale for name

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.

ignificant dates

*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.
*1889 — Extension of the nave at the west end completed.
*1897 — Consecration of the Cathedral by Bishop René-Michel-Marie Fée.
*1908 — 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 remodeled.
*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.


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 Auguste 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. 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 at the main entrance is the coat of arms of Archbishop Nicholas Chia. 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". Over each of the two doors flanking the centre door is an arched window.


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 louvered casements of the windows were replaced by glass shutters after World War II. The stained glasses in the nave and transept 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 ornamented with each having a rectangular border and a circle in their centres. The circles in the centre row are larger and more elaborate then those in the side rows. From the centre of each circle hangs a lamp. The ceiling edge ends in a border of heavily moulded plaster that runs along the length of the cathedral.

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, a grand piano, a statue of Saint Cecilia and a trumpeting angel.


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. At the foot of the crucifix is the cathedra of Archbishop Nicholas Chia Yeck Joo. Just in front of it is the main altar on which the priest performs the Sacrifice of the Mass. On either side of the main altar are doors that lead to the sacristy. 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

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.

outh Transept

In the south transept stands 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 is 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.


Outside on the grounds of the cathedral near the main entrance is a bronze life-size statue of the late 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.

Other buildings

Apart from the cathedral itself, there are four 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 enclosed verandahs were previously open-aired.

*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 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 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, is now fully direct-electric. This causes occasional problems with non-sounding notes and ciphers, resulting from the ingress of dirt into an open building and the general humidity. 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.

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 in order 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.

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 today are 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.

Ecclesiastical status

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
** (1972-1976) Archbishop Michel Olçomendy
** (1977-2000) Archbishop Gregory Yong Sooi Ngean
** (2001-present) Archbishop Nicholas Chia Yeck Joo

Times of services

*Public Services
**The Cathedral opens shortly before the first Mass of the day.
**Doors close at 6.00pm, Monday to Friday, and after evening Mass, Saturday and Sunday, with occasional exceptions.

*Masses in English
**Saturday: 7.00am; and 6.30pm (Mass of Anticipation)
**Sunday: 8.00am; 10.00am (Solemn Mass); and 6.00pm
**Monday to Friday: 7.00am; and 1.15pm (except on Public Holidays)

*Masses in Korean
**Wednesday: 10.00am
**Saturday: 3.00pm (Children’s Mass)
**1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Sunday: 12.00noon

*Mass in Tagalog
**4th Sunday: 11.30am

*Sacrament of Reconciliation
**Confessions in English are heard 30 minutes before Masses in English.
**Confessions to be heard in Korean or Tagalog are by appointment only.

Address and contact information

*Address: Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, ‘A’ Queen Street, Singapore 188533
*Telephone: +65-63372036
*Fax: +65-63376870


ee also

*Saint Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert
*Father Jean-Marie Beurel
*Denis Lesley McSwiney
*Charles Andrew Dyce
*Archbishop Emeritus Gregory Yong Sooi Ngean
*Archbishop Nicholas Chia Yeck Joo
*Archdiocese of Singapore
*Roman Catholicism in Singapore


*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

* [ Singapore Catholic Church Directory]

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