Tuesday, April 19, 2011

History: The Ruin of St. Paul's Church & Lighthouse

The ruin of St.Paul′s Church is located on top of St.Paul′s Hill and was one of five churches in the fortress complex A Famosa on the hill that was built by the Portuguese in 1521.

This famous tourist attraction was built by a Portuguese captain by the name of Duarte Coelho who wanted to make this place a leading Catholic church. The chapel was turned by the Dutch into a burial ground for their noble dead and renamed 'St. Paul's Church' from the Portuguese 'Our Lady Of The Hill'. St. Francis Xavier was briefly enshrined in the open grave in 1553 before being shipped to Goa, India while this church remained one of Melaka's most recognizable landmark.

To get to this place of interest in Melaka, the ruins of St. Paul's church can be seen standing here as you walk along the steps that lead up to the top of St. Paul's Hill, from the Stadthuys. When the Christ Church was built later, St. Paul's Church was abandoned eventhough some renovations was being carried out earlier. Under the British, this church was used to store gunpowder.

One of the main attraction here is the marble statue of Francis Xavier which was built to commemorate his internment here over four hundred year ago. Besides the Dutch tombstones seen here, the view from this hill is remarkable.

St. Francis used to climb up this hill to pray in this church in his 11 years of missionary in Asia. He was credited with many miracles including raising the dead right in this church. One story tells of St. Francis Xavier, greeting the locals upon his arrival in Melaka, and began calling out names of children who surrounded him.

There was also an account that he was in a boat in the Malaccan sea when a storm broke. The saint took out his crucifix and dipped it into the sea and the storm immediately died down. However, the crucifix slipped out of his hand and fell into the sea. The next day, when they arrived safely at the shore, a crab came out of the sea, ran towards the saint carrying his crucifix upright between its claws. The saint fell on his knees in prayer before the cross bearing crustacean ran back into the sea.

People will notice that the statue’s right arm is missing. Built very recently in 1952, the statue was to be consecrated one morning, but a tree fell on the arm and broke it off. Until today, it stands there in front of St. Paul’s Church without its right arm.

In 1548, the chapel was passed on to the Society of Jesus by the archbishop of Goa, Don Albuquerque. Francis Xavier received the title deeds on behalf of the Society. In 1556, the Portuguese enlarged the chapel, adding a second storey to it. Further renovation was carried out in 1590 with the addition of a tower.

When the Dutch wrestled Melaka from the Portuguese in 1641, they destroyed all the Portuguese buildings except for the fortress, on which they placed the Dutch emblem. The Dutch also took over the chapel, repaired and reconsecrated it into a Dutch Reformed Church, calling it St. Paul's Church, a name which remains today. The Dutch used it for their worship for the next 112 years, until they built their own church at the foot of the hill, Christ Church. St. Paul's Church was then abandoned.

When the British took over Melaka in 1824, St. Paul's Church had lost its tower. However, the British added a lighthouse in front of it and instead of using it as a place of worship, the Church became a convenient storehouse for British gun powder. Old Dutch and Portuguese tombstones can be found inside.