Header image courtesy of Amy Law (via Facebook)
Among the city’s most influential religions, Christianity first emerged on our shores in 1841 when the British settled in Hong Kong. Over the course of nearly two centuries, the religion has established itself as a vital part of the local cultural and religious landscape, with numerous picturesque churches and chapels dotted across the city to show for it. Whether you are curious about faith or interested in churches for their history and architectural merit, these beautiful worship houses in Hong Kong are well worth a pilgrimage.
Home to the Emmanuel Church—Pok Fu Lam congregation since December 2006, the George C. Tso Memorial Chapel is part of the majestic Béthanie, a French Gothic-style heritage complex originally built in 1875 as a sanatorium for sick missionaries. The magnificent edifice was on the brink of demolition in the 1970s after it was sold for redevelopment, but was fortunately saved from its demise in 1981 by the efforts of the community, and later recast as a multi-purpose heritage site.
Offering a thorough feast for the eyes, the outside of the chapel is stylishly composed of a domed roof, elegant flying buttresses, and Gothic arched windows decorated and etched with pictorial stained glass, while the inside features several terracotta statues of the apostles and a dramatically pointed main alter.
Although the chapel itself is not very large in size, the combination of the ribbed vault design, spindly columns, and high ceiling leads to a feeling of space and effortlessly draws the eyes upwards, complementing the spiritual dimension of the architecture.
George C. Tso Memorial Chapel, Béthanie, 139, Pok Fu Lam Road, Pok Fu Lam
Christian institutions are ubiquitous in Hong Kong, but have you ever seen one constructed in traditional Chinese architecture? Perched on the tranquil high hills of Sha Tin, Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre was founded in 1930 by Norwegian missionary Karl Ludvig Reichelt, a reverend who was inspired by the temples and monasteries he had visited whilst doing missionary work in China and wanted to create an inviting space where he could engage in dialogues and build friendships with Buddhist monks.
Chinese-style curved roofs, vibrant red pillars, and geometric patterns are prominent across all the worship structures at Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre, but these features are perhaps most strikingly embodied in the Christ Temple, the double-eave, octagonal chapel situated in the heart of the site.
Architectural draws aside, you’ll also find the area accompanied by other beautifying elements, such as a labyrinth, a lotus, pond, water well, gardens, and more. Visit on a Sunday to attend their worship service or during the week for a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre, 33 To Fung Shan Road, Sha Tin | (+852) 2694 4038
Nestled amidst a forest of looming skyscrapers in the heart of Central, St John’s Cathedral manages to claim its distinction, not on account of height, but its long history and alluring neo-Gothic appearance.
Dating back to 1849, St John’s Cathedral is the oldest Western ecclesiastical building in East Asia and has survived a turbulent history to emerge as one of the city’s most stunning churches. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the building was used as a club for the Japanese and many of the original fittings were lost, including the original stained-glass panelling, but restoration has brought the church back to its former glory.
Though not lavishly adorned, the beige-washed structure owes its beguiling old-world charm to the pointed arches, gables, and pilasters, which amalgamate to create a complex, multi-layered effect, making for a picturesque backdrop to weddings and photos. If ever you find yourself privy to a bird’s-eye view of the cathedral, you’ll also notice that the building is configured in the shape of a cross.
St John’s Cathedral, 4–8 Garden Road, Central | (+852) 2523 4157
As majestic as it is welcoming, this old English-speaking Anglican church in Kowloon has been a spiritual anchor for a vibrant multi-cultural Christian community since 1906. Despite having seen a multitude of changes over the past century, expanding and modifying—and even briefly turning into a Shinto shrine during the Second World War—the historic fabric of the original church building remains much as it did when it was first built.
A fine specimen of Victorian Gothic architecture, the building is defined by its eye-catching exposed red brick walls and lancet windows, with the original stained glass still intact. There used to be a tall, needle-like spire that extended from the bell tower, but it has unfortunately been claimed by the destructive forces of typhoons. The church interiors boast a classic cruciform layout with pleasing arches, a vaulted ceiling, and timber accents, which evoke a warm, peaceful atmosphere conducive to prayer and worship.
St Andrew’s Church Kowloon, 138 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2367 1478
Just a stone’s throw away from St Andrew’s Church is the Kowloon Union Church, another red-bricked masterpiece and a declared monument in Hong Kong. Established in 1931 by the London Missionary Society, the inter-denominal church is an intriguing sight to behold thanks to its unique East-meets-West composition, which seamlessly unites neo-Gothic and traditional Chinese features into one cohesive design.
A distinctly Chinese pitched tiled roof is featured alongside red brick walls, decorative grey granite elements, and trefoil tracery. The lofty battlement tower and granite steps indicate the entrance of the church, which leads into the spacious interiors awash in an earthy palette of beige and dark wood tones.
Kowloon Union Church, 4 Jordan Road, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2367 2585
Rising like a castle straight from the storybooks, the present-day Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was erected in 1888, after its previous incarnation was razed to the ground by a fire in 1859. Home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, the spell-binding structure is not only a central landmark for Catholics in the city, endowed with relics of the Martyr Saints of China, Pope John Paul II, and Franciscan friar Gabriele Allegra, it is also nothing short of an architectural marvel.
As if the Gothic arches, spiky towers, and exquisite carvings on the building’s pristine, white-stone façade weren’t enough to impress, the feeling of grandeur is further amplified when you step inside the building and are greeted by a magnificent, light-filled space matched with stately granite columns and marbled checkered floors. Oozing timeless elegance, it’s no wonder that the cathedral is of the most sought-after church wedding venues around!
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 16 Caine Road, Mid-Levels | (+852) 2522 8212
It’s hard to miss the dreamy, pink-dipped steeples of the Rosary Church, especially at dusk when the whole church gleams in glowing radiance courtesy of the special lighting effects. Laying claim as the oldest Catholic church on the Kowloon Peninsula, Rosary Church opened in 1905 to meet the needs of a burgeoning Catholic population in the area after some regiments of the British army were deployed to Kowloon.
Although numerous rounds of improvements have been made since its earliest days, the church has continued to provide a peaceful place of worship for the Catholic community. Unlike many of its brethren that suffered from Japanese invasion during the Second World War, Rosary Church was spared and carried on with its religious service throughout.
The small yet exceptionally designed building is archetypal Gothic, with pointed peaks and a clean, pink-and-ivory façade that imparts a lofty, ethereal feel. Together with the adjacent St Mary’s Canossian College and St Mary’s Canossian School, which don a matching colour scheme, the cluster of Catholic buildings form a strikingly harmonious spectacle.
Rosary Church, 125 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2368 0980