Beijing South Cathedral

Beijing South Cathedral
Beijing South Cathedral
Located near Xuanwumen Gate, at No. 141 West Qianmen Street in Beijing, Xuanwumen Catholic Church is known to the locals as the South Cathedral. As a huge painting of Virgin Mary hangs on the wall behind the pulpit, South Cathedral is also named 'the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception'. Besides being the main cathedral in Beijing parish, it is also the existing oldest Roman Catholic Church in China.

It was first built in 1601 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to house foreign Jesuits. The Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci lived there when he came to Beijing. Later, he bought the Shoushan Academy neighboring to the Jesuits' residence bestowed by the emperor. In 1605, Matteo Ricci reconstructed the academy into a chapel. Then in 1650, the seventh year of Emperor Shunzhi's reign in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the German Jesuit Johann Adam Schall von Bell expanded the chapel into a small church. However, the church was severely damaged by two earthquakes and a fire disaster afterwards. It was restored respectively under the order of the emperor then. When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in Beijing in 1900, the South Cathedral was razed to the ground again. The Baroque style structure we see today was built in 1904.

Unlike other churches, the South Cathedral adopts a gate in traditional Chinese style, making it more unique. As you step in, you see a full-length bronze statue of Matteo Ricci. Description about his life stories is inscribed at the base. On the right side of the statue sits a pool and a rockery, composing a shrine for the Holy Mother. A white statue of Virgin Mary is framed by the rockery. Two Chinese characters "Wan Fu", which literally mean "hail Mary", are carved on the rock below the statue. The Holy Mother Rockery serves as an important place for Catholic followers in their prayer.

Passing through the rockery and then a moon gate, you enter the east courtyard, where the church stands. In the southern part of the yard are two shops selling religious books and works of art. Continuing onward, you will be stopped by the church. With a giant cross erected on its roof, the South Cathedral takes on a grand look. Three adjoining lofty arch doors are ornately decorated with brick carvings. Dozens of ceiling lamps are suspended from the dome of the hall, creating an elegant and sacred atmosphere. The hall is supported by a row of pillars on both sides. On the two sidewalls behind the pillars are colored glass windows. Some of them are adorned with flowers and human patterns, while some are painted with pictures telling religious stories. The altar is set up at the northernmost part of the church. A portrait of Virgin Mary hangs above the altar and a crucifix is placed below the portrait. The icon of Jesus is placed on the west side of the altar, opposite to that of Joseph. Choir seats occupy the southern area of the hall where the choir sings sacred songs during masses.

Known as the priests' residence, the west yard of South Cathedral is quiet and secluded.

Apart from the general religious structures, the South Cathedral renovated by Adam Schall von Bell has many scientific facilities, such as the observatory, library and instrument room, which contribute greatly to the promotion of modern science in China.

At present, there are more than five thousand members of South Cathedral. Three masses are held on ordinary days and five on Sundays. In addition, a Vigil Mass is conducted every Saturday evening. Nowadays, the church not only hosts various religious events and activities for both local and foreign disciples, but also holds wedding ceremonies for secular people.


1. Take subway line 2 or line 4 and get off at Xuanwumen station.
2. Take bus line 83, 102, 105, 109, 603, or Special Line 13 and get off at Inner Xuanwumen station.
3. Take bus line 7, 15, 22, 44 Inner, 44 Outer, 67, 608, or Special Line 2, 4, or 7 and get off at Xuanwumen East station.
4. Take bus line 9, 673, or Special Line 14 and get off at Xuanwumen West station.
 Beijing Bus / Subway Search
Admission Fee Free
Mass Schedule Saturday Vigil Mass, 18:30 Chinese (youth mass); Sunday Mass, 06:00 (Latin), 07:00 & 08:30 (Chinese), 10:30 (English), 12:30 (Italian, Spanish Readings), 16:00 & 18:00(Chinese); Daily Mass: 06:00 (Latin), 06:30 & 07:15 (Chinese)

 Further Reading:
Churches in Beijing
Christianity in China

 Nearby Attractions:
Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square
Qianmen Street

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