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One of a few striking 200-plus year old churches in Bangkok, Assumption Cathedral is the centre of Catholicism in Thailand. The church is nestled in a historic area off Charoen Krung Road near the Chao Phraya River and is worth a visit whether worshipping or just sightseeing.
Named after the biblical name for the death and passage to heaven of the Virgin Mary, Assumption Cathedral is the lingering legacy of French missionaries who first arrived in Thailand in the mid-1600s. Following the moving of the Siamese capital to Bangkok from Ayutthaya in the late 1700s, a French architect designed the original Assumption Cathedral at the request of missionary leader, a certain Brother Pascal, in 1809. Most of the funding was provided by the Catholic Teochew-Chinese businessman and philanthropist, Low Khiok Chiang, or Brother Jacobe.
The initial structure was replaced in the early 1900s by Italian architects during a period when Italians added their artistic touch to a host of buildings and memorials in Bangkok. Assumption Cathedral sustained damage from allied bombing during World War II, after which it was restored to what, more or less, you see today. Aesthetically, the cathedral’s Romanesque twin towers and rectangular structure stray drastically from the styles of Bangkok’s other notable Catholic churches: Santa Cruz and Holy Rosary.
Assumption Cathedral has remained the most important Catholic church in Thailand ever since it was first built, a reputation that was solidified when Pope John Paul II visited in 1984. Bronze statues of both he and Saint Peter flank either side of the front entrance.
Inside, the cathedral has a sloped ceiling leading up to a classic sanctuary beneath frescoes reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. While certainly not as awe-inspiring as the great cathedrals of Europe, stepping inside Assumption will doubtless make many Catholics feel nostalgic for home. If you’ve grown tired of Bangkok’s countless wats, this is a worthy stop to add some architectural and religious diversity into your sightseeing.
In front of the cathedral is a large but plain courtyard, on the other side of which is Assumption Convent. Buildings containing the modern Bangkok Catholic Mission, Assumption Suksa School and the original branch of Assumption College all surround and to some extent overshadow the cathedral. The historic French embassy building, Mandarin Oriental Hotel and art galleries of OP Place are all around the corner. With so many of the original buildings still standing, it’s easy to imagine what the area was like when it was an enclave of the French and other foreigners long ago.Unlike Santa Cruz and Holy Rosary, the front doors of Assumption are typically open for visitors during daylight hours. Services are held in English on Sundays at 10:00, and in Thai at 06:00, 07:30, 08:30 and 17:00, as well as on weekdays at 16:00 and 17:15.
How to get there
To reach Assumption Cathedral from Charoen Krung Road (accessible from Saphan Taksin BTS station a half-kilometre away), walk down Charoen Krung Soi 40 (aka Oriental Avenue) and look for an easily missed brown sign on the left with brief info about the church in English. Pass through the gate immediately next to the sign, and then through another gate on the right that takes you along the cathedral's northern side before emerging onto the courtyard.
If coming from Oriental express boat pier, walk straight away from the river, take the first right and then a left, which will put you directly in front of the church.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 13th May, 2014.