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Penang’s Catholic museum documents history of church in the northern peninsula

The Malaysian Insight
14 Jan. 2018

Penang’s Catholic museum documents history of church in the northern peninsula.

PENANG has a new Roman Catholic museum which church authorities do not intend to turn into a tourist attraction but to let future generations know how the Church began in northern Peninsular Malaysia.

The two-storey museum is housed in the old Penang Bishop’s office on the grounds of the Church of the Assumption on Lebuh Farquhar – which in itself is a landmark in the Unesco World Heritage City and the Street of Harmony.

Although located in the heritage site that is popular with tourists, the intention is not to turn the museum into a tourist attraction.

Penang Diocese Vicar-General Monsignor Michael Cheah said purpose was education and to preserve history.

Educational exhibits

As the Diocese of Penang, which was created in 1955, covers Penang, Kedah, Perak, Perlis and Kelantan; exhibits on display come from the five states.

Visitors can read detailed write-ups on how the church began in the northern region and vew old photos displayed on its timeline exhibit mounted along the walls.

Cheah said the materials had been a challenge to find.

“It took us one-and-a-half years to get everything ready,” he said, adding that RM800,000 was spent on the museum.

There are also descriptions on the present and past bishops of Penang, and the churches across the five states under the Diocese of Penang.

Also among the exhibits are a mock confessional (a stall in which a priest sits to hear the confessions of penitents), crosses, a portable altar, monstrances (the

vessel used in Roman Catholic, Old Catholic and Anglican churches for the exhibition of objects of piety), religious books, the bishop’s croziers (pastoral staff) and mitres (headpiece), chasubles worn over the alb and stole as the proper vestment of a priest celebrating Mass, and other items used in the Catholic religion.

Cheah said as some of the Catholic churches were very old, some of the exhibits that come from there could easily be over a century old, or more.

“We are also trying to trace their history and date them. The exhibits are at least 10 years to over a hundred years old.”

He also said the museum will also help the Diocese of Penang better preserve the church’s history, preventing items of value from getting lost over the years.

Some exhibits had come from the old College-General on Persiaran Gurney that closed in 1984 and relocated to Tanjung Bungah. Other exhibits were contributed by nuns and brothers, and even churches outside Penang.

“Some may not be of great monetary value, but they are valuable and meaningful in other ways to the Church,” he said.

One such exhibit is a high altar that originally came from the Convent Light Street Chapel, which could be over 150 years old, Cheah said.

“The top of the altar can be detached. Years ago, the altar was broken into two. Each part ended up in different places.

“This is the first time in some 20 years that both pieces have been reunited,” he said of the exhibit on the top floor of the museum.

The top level also features several old pianos that came from convent schools, and an old desk used by the reverend mother of a now closed convent in Ipoh.

Professionally curated

The curator behind the museum is Khoo Boo Chia, who also curated the Penang state museum and art gallery.

He was also the curator of the iconic heritage clan house Khoo Kongsi’s museum, and was involved in the restoration of Suffolk House – Malaysia’s only surviving Georgian mansion built in the early 1800s that once served as the residence of early British governors.

Khoo said the Roman Catholic Museum was the second of its kind in the country.

There was one in Kuching, but he believes the Penang museum is more comprehensive in its displays and exhibits.

“Penang has a rich Catholic history. So, the exhibits present a lot of information.

“This museum is the place to visit to learn more about this history,” he said.

Khoo said he also considered how to make the museum appeal to the younger generation.

“I want to give it a modern look and feel so the younger visitors may find it interesting. You can see we feature many photographs in our exhibits.

The museum opens daily from 10am to 6pm daily, except for Mondays. Admission is by donation.

Reopening of the church

The opening of the museum on New Year’s Day also coincided with the re-dedication of the Church of the Assumption, Penang’s oldest church.

The crucifix-shaped colonial-styled church was under extensive renovation and had to be temporarily closed.

The major facelift took more than a year and cost RM2.5 million. The funds were partly raised from public donations and state government contributions.

The church, which has a history dating back to over 230 years, is the first Roman Catholic church in northern Peninsula Malaysia and the third oldest in Malaysia.

The heritage church was first set up as the Cathedral of the Assumption in

August 1786 by Captain Francis Light, who opened Penang island as a British trading post.

Light’s landing in Penang had coincided with the feast of the Assumption of The Blessed Mary on August 15 that year. He and his companions built the church and named it as such to mark the occasion.

Over the years, the church needed expansion and the present building was completed in 1861. The church’s last refurbishment was in 1928. – January 14, 2018.

Speech by the Penang CM on the re-dedication and museum
Press Statement by the Penang CM on handing over of donation

Watch the re-dedication service on youtube here.


History and heritage meets at Farquhar Street

The Star
3 Jan. 2018

History and heritage meets at Farquhar Street

GEORGE TOWN: History and heritage will meet at the newly completed RM700,000 Penang Diocesan Museum and the recently reopened Church of the Assumption at Lebuh Farquhar.

The double-storey museum is the first in the country to be built by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Penang. It is located next to the church which underwent a 16-month restoration.

Both were launched by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and several state executive councillors after an evening mass on New Year’s Day, accompanied by Penang Diocese Right Rev Datuk Sebastian Francis DD.

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Restored Catholic Church comes with a museum

THE 157-year-old Church of the Assumption located along the heritage enclave at Farquhar Street is expected to reopen its doors to parishioners and tourists in October once renovation works have been completed with a soft opening scheduled to be on Christmas Eve this year.

This was revealed by its fund raising committee chairman John Lau when he and the Bishop of Penang Rev. Sebastian Francis welcomed state exco members Chow Kon Yeow (Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation) and Jagdeep Singh (Town & Country Planning and Housing) to the church premises on July 24 to receive RM50,000 from the state government’s Non-Islamic Places of Worship Fund (RIBI).

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Assumption Heritage Fest

The Assumption Church is proud to be host of two events under the Georgetown Festival 2016. Yesterday was the ‘Love, Joy, Peace’ Sacred Music concert by The Messengers, and on this Friday (12 Aug) and Saturday (13 Aug), will be the Assumption Heritage Fest, an annual affair organised by the Penang Eurasian Association. Below, you will find the full programme.

Click on the picture to view a bigger size.



Penang’s oldest church gets facelift

New Straits Times

Penang’s oldest church gets facelift
3 JULY 2016 @ 1:21 PM

PENANG 28 JUNE 2016. From left, Chairman Fund Rising Sub-Committee Assumption Church Restoration Committee, John Lau; Bishop of Assumption Church Restoration Committee, Sebastian Francis; Consultant Architect Assumption Church Restoration Committee, Ar Edmond Khoo; and Chairman Assumption Church Restoration Committee, Gerard Theraviam review around the church after a press conference on announce the details of the Assumption Church Restoration project at Assumption Church, Lebuh Farquhar here. NSTP/DANIAL SAAD

From left, Chairman Fund Rising Sub-Committee Assumption Church Restoration Committee, John Lau; Bishop of Assumption Church Restoration Committee, Sebastian Francis; Consultant Architect Assumption Church Restoration Committee, Ar Edmond Khoo; and Chairman Assumption Church Restoration Committee, Gerard Theraviam review around the church after a press conference on announce the details of the Assumption Church Restoration project at Assumption Church, Lebuh Farquhar here. NSTP/DANIAL SAAD

When he was a child, he went to the church with his family to worship on Sundays. Today, Reverend Gerard Steve Theraviam is chairing a committee that oversees the restoration of the 156-year-old Church of the Assumption in Farquhar Street, George Town, Penang.

“I have a personal connection to this house of God wherein saints and sinners have worshipped together and it is certainly an awesome building.

“Each day we welcome many tourists and pilgrims who come to view this historical gem and, at the weekends, many people come and join our services and to savour the beautiful sounds of our recently-restored pipe organ,” he adds as he takes media representatives on a tour of the glorious edifice.

The church will close its doors for 14 months from Sept 1 for a RM2.5 million restoration job. It is obvious for all to see that the building needs a face-lift.

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Malaysia’s third oldest Catholic Church to get RM2.5m facelift

New Straits Times
28 June 2016
by Marina Emmanuel

Malaysia’s third oldest Catholic Church to get RM2.5m facelift

123GEORGE TOWN: Malaysia’s third oldest Catholic Church – the Assumption Church – is set to get a facelift via a RM2.5 million restoration project.

The 156-year-old church, which is located within the Unesco core zone here, is set to temporarily close its doors for 14 months beginning Sept 1.

It also houses one of Southeast Asia’s oldest pipe organs which was assembled in Penang in 1916 and is Malaysia’s largest church pipe organ.

The church was first built in 1860 and in 1928, underwent its first extension when two wings were added.

“The Assumption Church is already a monumental landmark in the George Town Heritage Site situated almost next door to many other notable buildings such as St George’s Church, the High Courts, the Logan Memorial, as well as Convent Light Street and St Xavier’s Institution. “

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Heritage Cemetery launched in Penang

29 November 2015
By Lucia Lai

The oldest Catholic cemetery in Penang Island (226 years old), located off Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, is in the UNESCO World Heritage Zone. It is adjacent to the bigger, and more well-known old Protestant cemetery where Penang’s founder, Capt. Francis Light was buried.

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Pipe organ sent to England for repair

pipe_organPENANG (Herald Malaysia): The century-old pipe organ in the Church of the Assumption is now in England for major restoration and repairs.

The pipe organ was built in 1914 by Morton & Moody of Oakham, England, and brought to the Assumption Church, Penang, in 1916. It was built of the wood of oak, pine and mahogany. It has 640 pipes made of lead and zinc.

However, as time went by, the pipe organ began to fall into disrepair. The wood had been infested with termites and rats, and had to be replaced. The pipes had to be cleaned and the tuners atop each pipe had to be replaced.

It was noted that restoration, which could only be done in England, would cost RM251,589. In April 2011, a ‘Save the Pipe Organ’ committee was set-up to collect funds for the restoration. Donations slowly poured in from parishioners including corporate companies like, Air Asia Expedia, Star Publications and Think City, which contributed a hefty amount.

The restoration is being carried out by Peter Wood & Son, a British company specialising in pipe organ building, repairs, restorations, and tuning. Its managing director, Mark Wood and fellow organ builder Nigel Crossley, made a visit to the Assumption Church on Jan 15 to assess the situation. A service agreement between Mark Wood and the parish priest, Fr Dominic Santhiyagu was signed on Jan 19.

It took about ten days to dismantle the parts before shipping them to England on Jan 30.

The restoration would take about six months and the organ is expected to be brought back to the Assumption Church in September. Then the task of fixing back the organ will take about 30 days. — By Lucia Lai
(taken from Herald)

For more photos, please visit the Facebook album of the organist, Leonard.
Restoration of Pipe Organ 1
Resoration of Pipe Organ 2
Restoration of Pipe Organ 3

Activities in conjunction with the Feast of the Assumption

Mass on 14 Aug. L to R: Fr Julien, Bishop Sebastian, Bishop Emeritus Antony, Archbishop Emeritus Soter, Fr Thoo

In conjunction with the Feast of the Assumption this year, the Church of the Assumption in Penang, organized several activities in the month of August.

First off, was a ‘Faith Walkathon’, organized by the Altar Servers Group. It was held on 4 Aug, which see about 70 people, of all ages, joining in. The walk covers all the 4 churches of City Parish, with stop-over at the churches for reflection and prayers.

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