Snapshots

St. Mary’s Cathedral

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By Marie Starr , PHOTOS BY Phyo Thiha

St. Mary’s Cathedral, located on the corner of Bo Aung Kyaw Street and Bogyoke Aung San Street, is the biggest church in Myanmar. Construction began in 1895 and the doors were opened for the first service in 1899. The architect was a Dutch man named Jos Cuypers. The type of architecture is described as gothic revival. The construction of this Roman Catholic cathedral was initiated by Father Hendrick Janzen, whose remains are interred in the church today. The current Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yangon is Charles Maung Bo.

The church was originally designated a plot measuring fifteen acres. Now, that plot is much smaller in size but it remains a beautifully-kept, green space.

The church grounds are well landscaped and dotted with shrines and a chapel. There are a number of administration offices as well as a private residence.

The building has an exterior of neat red brick with the interior brick walls painted a bright array of colours in striking patterns. The experience of walking from the bright and sunny outdoors, through tall wooden doors into the silent and cool interior of the church is something to remember. Strikingly colourful stained glass windows tower down on visitors from all directions.

They depict scenes from the Bible. Statues of various saints stand around the cavernous building and the rows-upon-rows of bench seating add to the rhythm of the patterns inside the church.

The structure of the cathedral was little damaged during a large earthquake that struck the city in 1930. However, a bombing during the Japanese occupation of WWII blew out most of the stained glass windows.

Christianity is said to have come to Myanmar in around 1510 with some Portuguese missionaries. Now, it is said that 4% of the country’s population are Christian with a majority of those being from the Chin, Kachin and Karen ethnic minorities.

The building is good to visit on a walkabout tour of colonial architecture in the downtown area. It is usually open for visitors to wander around inside as well as in the gardens. Masses are held at the cathedral daily. The current schedule is as follows: daily masses: 6.00 am and 5.00 pm (both in English) and Sunday masses at 6.00 am (English), 8.00 am (English) and 5.00 pm (Myanmar).


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