Designate Penang church as heritage, says NGO

24 Dec 2015 / 19:36 H.

BUKIT MERTAJAM: Not many know that in the small town of Machang Bubok stands an abandoned Catholic church ruins that dates back to the 19th century.
Located at Pagar Tras, Sungai Lembu, some 10 minutes drive from Kulim, Kedah, it was once a beautiful church named Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was designed after the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Built in 1882 by a group of French missionaries, the church incorporated features of the famous church in Paris after the whole village converted to Catholicism.
Despite the heavy French Gothic influence, Chinese culture can be seen in some of the engravings and wordings in the church building.
According to local historian Yeoh Keng Chuan, Pagar Tras was inhabited by a Hakka population who were the early settlers of the area.
"During its heyday, Catholics from villages as far as Berapit and Junjong will also come to the church to attend Sunday Mass," he told reporters.
"The whole Hakka population converted to Catholicism after witnessing the willingness and hard work of the priests in their effort to enhance the economic state of the people.
"They even integrated into the Hakka community by learning and speaking the dialect," he said.
However, during the communist insurgency during the 50's and 60's, the people around the area were resettled by the British to new villages in Machang Bubok,Sungai Lembu and Kulim.
After Pagar Tras was designated a "black area" by the British military in the first year of the Malayan Emergency, the church was eventually abandoned, left in ruins and waiting for nature to swallow it.
Today, the Penang Tourism and Malay Heritage Society (Sahabat) and Penang Legacy brought members of the media to see the potential of the site to be promoted as a tourist attraction in Penang especially in mainland Seberang Prai.
Sahabat president Syed Kamalrul Syed Kadiron Mustafa said the abandoned church site should be preserved and gazetted as a heritage area although Seberang Prai is not under the Unesco listing.
"Seberang Prai has so many potential areas that can be highlighted as tourism destinations, with this church being one good example.
"This abandoned church is Penang's heritage too," he said.

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