The Malaysian Insight
14 Jan. 2018
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.
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.
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.
Watch the re-dedication service on youtube here.
3 Jan. 2018
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.
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).