St Joseph’s Church Victoria Street, marked the restoration of its 72 panels of stained glass on Nov 29. Guests who attended the occasion included Jesuit Msgr Philip Heng and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.
Parish priest, Fr Ignatius Yeo, in his speech, thanked the Singapore government and especially the Preservation of Sites and Monuments Board and the National Heritage Board, for helping to make the restoration project a reality.
According to Fr Ignatius, the church is home to “the largest collection of stained glass in Singapore”.
As part of the afternoon event, the 100-strong audience enjoyed a choral performance by two all-female choirs – Philomela, a Finnish chamber choir, and VOCO Singapore.
Dressed in red and white, the Philomela choir sang Finnish songs, which included songs centred on the theme of Christmas.
After their loudly applauded performance, VOCO Singapore, under the musical direction of Darius Lim, sang a few pieces, including a German piece called “Heilig Ist Der Her” or Holy is the Lord.
Dr James Boss, who headed the restoration committee, shared that the church, with its 190 over years of history, is home to the Portuguese Eurasian community.
He also spoke in Kristang, a creole language used by a community of people of mixed Portuguese and Asian ancestry.
Then, Msgr Philip Heng blessed the stained glass. Following the blessing, Mr Wong and Dr Boss unveiled the commemorative plaque.
Restoration works began in July 2012. When CatholicNews met up with Ms Koh Bee Liang on Nov 20, a Catholic stained glass consultant who was assigned to do the task, the frames holding the stained glass at the choir loft at the back of the church were still in the midst of being put in place.
She said she was grateful to God “for being with me throughout” the whole process.
Ms Koh shared that her team of about 15, had to “try and salvage each and every piece” of glass.
Surprisingly, the most challenging part of the task, Ms Koh shared, was not the centrepiece. It was the green-coloured panels on the left and right of the church which were the most difficult to restore.
“It was really challenging to restore all the green panels, as the old glass used in 1912 came in different textures and colours. It gave the glass character and life.”
Most of the stained glass panels came from Belgium, while those at the baptismal font came from Milan, Italy.
Ms Koh also shared that over the years, “Dutch repair” was done. This meant that to try to cover up the wear and tear over the years, some of the glass quarries, or pieces, were replaced with clear glass, or painted over with mismatched enamel paint. Newsprint was also used to fill the gaping holes between the frames holding the stained glass.
Before restoration works began on the damaged centrepiece above the main altar, Mary’s hand had a cobalt blue piece of mismatched glass. Her crown, which was also severely damaged, was painted over with enamel paint. The Sacred Heart of Jesus also looked more like a green diamond instead of a red heart.
Now, with with all the restoration completed, visitors and parishioners can marvel at this collection of stained glass in Singapore.
In a statement to CatholicNews, Fr Ignatius, in a reference to challenges that the restoration process faced, said, “We are happy that the project has been brought to its successful conclusion, notwithstanding the many challenges, both technical and administrative, along the way. We are relieved in particular, that the complaints lodged against the Church have been found to be without basis. CAD has written to inform us that they will not be pursuing further action on the matter. ”
CAD is an acronym for the Commercial Affairs Dept.
“Moving forward, it is our hope that more people will be drawn to visit the Church, not just to appreciate the artistry of the stained glass, but to draw inspiration from the pictures depicted in the stained glass, and to contemplate on how these have in turn inspired the faith of our forefathers as they came weekly to worship and give glory to God.”
By Lorna O’Hara