Exposing the Convent

6 07 2013

Work has begun on a facelift which will see another significant change occur to a place I will always see as the convent, a lifestyle complex we now know as CHIJMES. The convent was one which dates back to February 1854, when three nuns from the religious order of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus arrived to set it up, with a French Catholic missionary, Fr. Jean Marie Beurel, who is also credited with work to establish St. Joseph’s Institution two years before that, instrumental in bringing them here, having purchased Caldwell House for the purpose. The current work, expected to be completed next year, based on news reports, is aimed at turning it into an upmarket venue and will see part of a wall which has featured through much of the convent’s history, come down to provide an almost full frontal exposure of the former convent – in particularly two of its buildings, the gloriously designed French Gothic style former chapel and Caldwell House, both of which have been gazetted as a National Monument.

Caldwell House and the beautiful former chapel of the convent.

Caldwell House and the beautiful former chapel of the former convent – both buildings have since 1990 been gazetted as National Monuments.

Based on the same news reports, the top part of the wall will be replaced by a grille. While this does permit a fuller exposure of the monument from Victoria Street, it does also mean that what little has been left of the character of the former convent, already significantly altered by the redevelopment on the side along Stamford Road as the SMRT Headquarters, and the digging of a huge hole in the ground behind the chapel to create the sunken courtyard, will soon be lost.

A postcard showing the convent and its walls in the early 1900s.

A postcard showing the convent and its walls in the early 1900s.

While the attempts to restore and conserve many of the buildings of the old convent, once bound by walls along Victoria Street, Bras Basah Road, North Bridge Road and the side of Stamford Canal across from Stamford Road through its redevelopment as CHIJMES in 1996, should be commended, one of the unfortunate outcomes of it is that it does take much of the dignity as well as the soul of the place away – a dignity which will be eroded further with the lowering of its walls. The convent, which was forced out of it premises by land acquisition for urban redevelopment after some 130 years in 1983, had been one established to be of service to those in dire need – providing care and education for the numerous orphans, the unwanted, and the destitute. In its place today is a very different institution – one with which the aim is serve and reap profits for those already well off by the standards of the society.

The former convent seen along Victoria Street and the part of the walls which will come tumbling down.

The former convent seen along Victoria Street and the part of the walls which will come tumbling down.

An artist's impression of how the boundary wall with the wrought iron grille will look like.

An artist’s impression of how the boundary wall with the wrought iron grille will look like.

The alteration to the boundary wall will very much change the way we see CHIJMES. What is a shame is the way conservation in Singapore does seem to focus not on the buildings in their environment, but on the individual buildings as it is the case of CHIJMES. With it this way, there will be little that we will remember, not just of what may the buildings what they were, but what it was that put them there.

A view of the Gate of Hope - and the boundary wall further down which will come tumbling down.

A view of the Gate of Hope – and the boundary wall further down which will come tumbling down.

Unholy spirits being delivered to a former holy place.

Unholy spirits being delivered to a former holy place.

A view of the offending wall through the arches.

A view of the offending wall through the arches of its walkways.

Another view through the archways.

Another view through the archways.

The out-of-character staircase from the sunken courtyard.

The out-of-character staircase from the sunken courtyard.

A view along the walkway leading to the former chapel.

A view along the walkway leading to the former chapel.

A hole where there wasn't - the sunken courtyard over which a glass cover will be put up.

A hole where there wasn’t – the sunken courtyard over which a glass cover will be put up.

The beautiful interior of CHIJMES Hall with its stained glass.

The beautiful interior of CHIJMES Hall with its stained glass.


The upper part of the boundary wall being hacked away as seen on Saturday 6 July 2013.

The upper part of the boundary wall being hacked away as seen on Saturday 6 July 2013.






A picture postcard fishing port – Castro Urdiales

9 07 2012

Headed west on a road journey that started in the Basque city of Bilbao, my three travel companions and I would probably have not thought of making a detour to the Cantabrian fishing port of Castro Urdiales just 35 kilometres into the drive, if not for a sign which seemed to urge us to make that detour. What we would have missed out if we hadn’t was the picture postcard view we were treated to of the port’s harbour against the backdrop to its medieval monuments atop a high point on a promontory that forms one end of the harbour.

The picture postcard view of the harbour of Castro Urdiales and the Puebla Vieja with its medieval church and castle sitting on a promontory across the harbour.

The monuments, part of the Puebla Vieja, the old town, are the remnants of a medieval world that had once existed where a more modern world has taken over. The monuments inlcude the Gothic style Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción; the Castillo de Santa Ana, a castle; and the Puente de Castro Urdiales, a very high single span bridge with a pointed arch. All of these along with the harbour decorated with the colours of the boats it shelters and the houses that line the quayside paints a charming and very picturesque scene.

Another view across the harbour towards the promontory and the medieval church and castle.

The church a fine example of the Cantabrian Gothic style which shows French influence built from the 13th to 15th Centuries stands next to the ruins of a Romanesque church, the Iglesia de San Pedro. Among the artifacts that are housed in the church is a tall stone sculpture depicting Mary with the infant Jesus – Santa María con el Niño that dates to the thirteenth century.

The church, la Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, dates back to the 13th to 15th centuries.

The church is built in the Gothic style and show French Gothic influence.

Flying buttresses typical of Gothic style churches.

A polychrome stone sculpture of Santa María con el Niño (Mary with the infant Jesus) dating from the thirteenth century that is housed in the church.

A view of Santa María de la Asunción through the ruins of an 11th Century church, Iglesia de San Pedro.

The castle, Castillo de Santa Ana seen together with the ruins of Iglesia de San Pedro.

A view of the new part of town from the Puebla Vieja.

A view towards the breakwater from the promontory.

The medieval castle stands on the highest point of the promontory overlooking the sea.

The medieval bridge, the Puente de Castro-Urdiales. The lighthouse built on the castle can be seen atop the castle.

It is from the promontory where one gets a magnificent reverse view of the harbour – and the new town beyond it, a view that is no less beautiful than the view one gets of promontory from across the harbour and the four of us could have spent an entire day and not find the town short of views to photograph. Glad that we had made the detour, we probably spent a little more time than we had allowed ourselves, reluctantly leaving after spending a good three hours in all … three hours that were certainly very well spent.

The 18th century Neo Classical Town Hall, Casa Consistorial.

The cafe culture is very much alive in a fishing town that has become a tourist destination.

A house along the quayside.

A view of the harbour.

A close-up of a building along the quayside.