CHIJMES

30 Victoria Street, Singapore 187996

Location : a block in the central business district, of which the boundaries are Victoria Street, Bras Basah Road, North Bridge Road and Stamford Road.

DEESCRIPTION

CHIJMES, an historic building complex in Singapore, originated in 1854 as a Catholic girls’ school run by the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and a convent quarters known as Caldwell House.

HISTORY

The CHIJ, referred to as Town Convent owing possibly to its centralised location but more likely because ‘Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus’ is such a mouthfull to say, was run under the auspices of Reverend Father Jean-Marie Beurel. Development began in 1854, and Father Beurel established a school for two classes of students with the help of French nuns, under the instruction of the Apostolic Vicar of Malaya, Bishop Jean-Baptiste Boucho. Mother Mathilde, Sister Gaetau, Sister Appolinaire and Sister Gregoire arrived in Singapore on 16th February and, within 10 days of arrival, they had started the school with 16 orphans, 9 boarders and 14 fee paying pupils. Using Caldwell House as a base, the Convent became prominent in the spread of Catholicism, and also prominent in their contribution to local education, especially for girls, in Singapore.

The convent also acquired an adjacent house and converted it into an orphanage the following year. The side gate of the orphanage along Victoria Street was known as “Baby Gate” or “Gate of Hope” after many abandoned babies were deposited there for the nuns to look after. In 1892, the boarding school was built as a result of contributions from wealthy benefactors and the government and the nuns were also able to open several other schools in the area.

Caldwell House was designed by George Drumgoole Coleman for a magistrate's clerk, H.C. Caldwell, and is the oldest building in the compound and the second-oldest building in Singapore. Covered with a prominent jack roof, the neo-Classical building, with a semi-circular projection, has numerous large French windows with louvres to ensure that the interior was well ventilated in Singapore’s tropical climate. Faithful to neoclassical style, the two-storey dormitory – turned orphanage is the second-oldest building in the complex, featuring a grand galleria with large Doric pillars supporting a domed timber roof.

The charming Anglo-French Gothic Chapel with its flanking linkways was the crowning glory of the Convent and undisputedly among the local grandest religious buildings. It still retains its fine detailed work, such as the wall frescoes, plasterworks, the spire flanked with flying buttresses and Belgian-manufactured stain glass windows framed by Belgian craftsman, Jules Dobbelaere. The glass collection depicts scenes from the Bible and the life journey of Jesus. The chapel is floored with colourful terrazzo tiles while all the columns in the Chapel and walkways are crowned by a capital that is uniquely covered with impressions of tropical birds and plants. The names of generous donors to its construction were carved on the stone plaques along entrance way.

The final extension took place in 1931, when four bungalows of the Hotel Van Wijk were acquired, demolished and made way for the Chinese-speaking girls’ school. The construction of the new classroom block was completed in 1933.

In February 1942 seven bombs were dropped by the Japanese in the central district of Singapore, four of them within very close proximity to CHIJMES. The orphanage was destroyed and all the beautiful stained glass windows in the chapel were blown out. Under Japanese occupation the school was renamed Victoria Girls’ School.

The complex included the English-language primary and secondary schools (now known as CHIJ Secondary Toa Payoh), a Chinese-medium school (now known as St Nicholas Girls’ School), an orphanage, the nun’s quarters (also known as Caldwall House) , and the chapel, until the relocation of the schools in 1983. The last religious service was held in the chapel on 3 November 1983 before the town convent was closed.

CHIJMES is unique in that it is an eclectic mix of various architectural styles of building constructed in different eras constituting a rich diversity in aesthetics. The compounds, with great courtyards and expansive spaces, were landscaped and walled off from its urban surroundings, providing an atmosphere of calm serenity within a bustling city.

That atmosphere is all-invasive and remains within the Chijmes complex to this day.

CURRENT

The remaining structures were returned to the government in 1989. Detailed and careful restoration was embarked on, while the compound was renamed as CHIJMES upon gazetting, in memory of its historical function as a chapel, schools and orphanage.

The site was reopened in 1996 and converted successfully into a commercial complex with 160 years of heritage. Beautiful and romantic, Chijmes is now a favourite place for Singaporeans and tourists alike to wine and dine in the evening, choosing from a multitude of restaurants and bars within the complex. 



References:

1. Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. (30 July, 2015). RESOURCES: CHIJMES (Former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Chapel and Caldwell House) . Retrieved from INTER-RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS CONFIDENCE CIRCLE: Link Here

2. National Heritage Board. (8 May, 2015). Places: Sites & Monuments. Retrieved from NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD: Link Here

3. National Library Board Singapore . (30 July, 2015). CHIJMES. Retrieved from SINGAPORE INFOPEDIA: Link Here

4. Singapore Tourism Board. (30 July, 2015). SEE & DO: CHIJMES. Retrieved from YOURSINGAPORE: Link Here

5. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (17 April , 2015). Article: CHIJMES. Retrieved from WIKIPEDIA THE FREE ENCYCLOPEDIA: Link Here

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