Church of the Assumption, Farquhar Street, Penang (11 February, 2013)
The Church of the Assumption (GPS: 5.42056, 100.33782) at 3, Farquhar Street, George Town, was built by the Eurasians who followed Captain Francis Light to Penang when he established it as a British trading post. It is the oldest still functioning Catholic church in Penang and the third oldest in Malaysia after the St Peter's Church and St Francis Xavier's Church in Malacca. The Eurasians originally living in Ligor (now known as Nakhon Si Thammarat) and Phuket were facing religious persecution. In 1781, they fled to Kuala Kedah, led by Bishop Arnaud-Antoine Garnault of Siam. In Kuala Kedah, they were joined by another 80 Catholics of Portuguese descent who had made Kuala Kedah their home. Some had come from southern Siam, while others had left Malacca after the Dutch conquest.
Before founding Penang, Francis Light and his business partner James Scott had a trading business all along the coast of Kedah. This, I believe, was how Light came into contact with the Eurasians of Kuala Kedah. He spoke the local languages and was familiar with the Sultan of Kedah, so he could well commiserate with the plight of the Eurasians. Moreover, he had a common law wife by the name of Martina Rozells who was a Eurasian of Thai-Portuguese descent.
Church of the Assumption (14 March 2004)
When Francis Light got the Sultan of Kedah's approval to open a trading post on Penang, Bishop Garnault sought his help to relocate his Catholic mission there. Light agreed to help, and sent his ship Speedwell to assist in the exodus. The first group of Catholics landed in Penang landed on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, in 1786, and celebrated their deliverance from persecution by so naming their church as the Church of the Assumption. Its original location was on Church Street. Bishop Garnault's presbytery was located on the adjacent road, which became known as Bishop Street.
In 1857, the Church of the Assumption moved to its present site on Farquhar Street which was previously occupied by the Convent Orphanage. (In some records that I studied, it stated that the church moved to Farquhar Street in 1802 - it could be that the congregation moved to Farquhar Street, but the church building was only erected from 1857.) The present building was erected in 1860, under the leadership of Father Manissol. When it was completed in 1861, it could hold 1200 worshippers. The building underwent an extension in 1928, when two wings were added to it.
Church of the Assumption (29 January 2005)
In 1955, the Church of the Assumption was elevated by a Decreee of the Vatican, to the status of the Cathedral of the
Diocese of Penang. The sanctuary was renovated for the setting up of the seat for the first Bishop of Penang, the Right Reverend Monsignor Francis Chan. From the 1970's onwards, a gradual shift in the population of Penang Island away from and into the suburban areas, resulting in a marked decreased in the size of the church congregation within the city area. In 1988, a decision was made to amalgamate the four parishes in George Town into one, bringing the Cathedral of the Assumption, the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, St Francis Xavier Church and St John Britto Church, until then individual parishes, into the same umbrella of "City Parish". The status of Cathedral Church held by the Cathedral of the Assumption was transferred in 2003 to the Church of the Holy Spirit in Island Park, and the Farquhar Street Cathedral became once more Church of the Assumption.
Today, the Catholic community linked to the Church of the Assumption has been reduced to just a few homes lucked away on Argus Lane, before the cathedral.
Church of the Assumption, George Town (29 August, 2012)
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