In Singapore, the familiar becomes unfamiliar in the blink of an eye. The end of September brought with it more than a fair share of goodbyes to places some of us have grown attached to. One that was especially hard to say goodbye to was a place I have grown especially fond of through my interactions with it over a period of almost half a century, the Church of St. Alphonsus, which closed at the end of September for redevelopment.
In the case of St. Alphonsus, popularly known as Novena Church, it isn’t of course a complete goodbye. The building that housed the church, very recognisable through its distinctive triple-arc pediment – a landmark along Thomson Road, will not be torn down as it has been gazetted for conservation in 2011. It will however, be dominated by a much larger structure once the redevelopment is complete – that being a new and much larger church building that will come up in place of the site occupied by St. Clement’s Pastoral Centre and another very recognisable structure, the church’s bell tower.
Better known perhaps for the devotional services it holds through the course of the day every Saturday that brings a crowd to the area – the Novena sessions that gives the church and the area (including an MRT station) their names, the church came into being on its current site in May 1950, when it was consecrated as the new Redemptorist chapel – the order having moved from a site down the road currently occupied by Thomson Medical Centre at which it started the Novena services after the war in 1945.
The building as we know it today, took on its current form in the latter half of the 1950s. A bell tower and the Redemptorist Residence was added in 1956 and the pediment and a circular stained glass panel of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was added in 1959.
The weekly services is what gives the area its flavour, when huge crowds descend on the area every Saturday, crowds that will certainly be missed during the two-year redevelopment period when Novena services are held instead in the Church of Risen Christ in Toa Payoh. I remember it being particularly lively at the end of the 1960s and perhaps the early 1970s – when crowds thronged the sidewalks down the slope from the church where many food vendors would be found.
Also missed will be the burst of colour that the area sees once a year over the first weekend in September, when the church’s façade is very brightly decorated with a flowers for the annual Novena procession, although the scale of the decorations have become more modest in its latter years. The procession, the 61st of which was held in September, sees crowds in excess of 10,000 spilling into the open car park space that is arrange on two terraces – a space that will be largely altered due to the construction of an underground car park.
The church held its last services over the weekend of the 27th and 28th September and its grilled gates were closed following the last service. Besides hosting Novena services, the Church of the Risen Christ will also host weekday masses. Sunday masses will during the period of closure be held at St. Joseph’s Institution Junior in Essex Road. More information can be found at the Novena Church website.
Parting glances …
The morning after
The Bell Tower
The Redemptorist Residence and St. Clement’s Pastoral Centre
The last Novena
The last procession and processions past