Historic Cathedral of Good Shepherd restored for $40m

The Cathedral of Good Shepherd, located at the junction of Victoria and Queen Streets and built more than 130 years ago, and is being preserved as a national monument.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - For decades, the seat of the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Singapore and one of the oldest buildings on the island sat largely unnoticed in the civic district.

Coated in layers of dust from traffic and nearby construction work, the historic 1843 Cathedral of Good Shepherd on Queen Street drew barely a glance, its dull brown and beige exterior doing little to improve its drab appearance.

But now, after a three-year-long, $40 million restoration, it gleams like a jewel at last.

Ho Weng Hin of Studio Lapis, the cathedral's conservation specialist consultant, and his team dedicated months of research and laboratory work to identify the original colour scheme of the building.

They discovered unusual combinations such as rust red columns and pale green walls painted during the Roaring Twenties.

Eventually, the cathedral project team came to the overall consensus to revert it to its original neoclassical scheme of white and dark yellow, with gold highlights in its interior.

The public will be able to see it up close soon - the cathedral is likely to reopen in the coming days and its first mass will be presided over by Archbishop William Goh on Nov 20.

Mr Ho said: "One of the aims of the project was to give the cathedral back its civic presence and restore the sense of dignity as the main church of Singapore's Roman Catholics. We also wanted it to generate interest among the public."

Other highlights of the restoration work include a new floor. Old photos and records indicated that the cathedral featured black and white stone tiles in a checkerboard pattern. This was reintroduced using high-quality ceramic tiles.

A large part of the restoration work was also to build a new foundation for the national monument.

Underground works in the vicinity, such as the construction of the Circle Line and Singapore Management University, had caused its original underground boulders to shift.

This led to the uneven settlement of the building, with cracks forming across the cathedral.

It took more than a year to prop up the structure and "painstakingly" instate concrete micro piles underneath, said Mr Ho.

Another highlight was the restoration of the cathedral's 1912 Bevington and Sons organ, Singapore's oldest-working pipe organ.

Age had ravaged it and it suffered from metal fatigue.

Its keys were also unreliable.

Its missing parts were replaced by a team of 12 pipe organ builders.

Over the past four months, its 100,000 or so parts were reassembled.

Said the cathedral's leader, Monsignor Philip Heng: "We want to emphasise that the cathedral is the mother church which gave birth to all the other churches in the archdiocese. It is the church that belongs to everyone.

"So it should be a converging point, a place people will want to call it home, to come and worship and pray."

Read also: 173-year-old time capsule unearthed at Singapore's oldest Catholic church

melodyz@sph.com.sg


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