Malaysia's oldest Catholic church
The founding of St Peter's Church, the oldest functioning Catholic church in Malaysia, marked the beginning of a more religiously tolerant society in Melaka (for a short time at least).
After the Portuguese captured Melaka in 1511, until it fell to the Dutch in 1641, Melaka’s rule was assisted by the heavy hand of the Roman Catholic Church, but the tables turned with the Calvinist Dutch when Catholic churches were destroyed and practices were forbidden. Due to political changes in Europe and allegiances formed between the Dutch and Portuguese during the War of the Spanish Succession, religious freedom was proclaimed in Melaka. Not only were Catholics able to openly practice their faith, but it’s said that Melaka became a more tolerant place for all religions than it had ever been under the Portuguese.
The Church of St Peter was built on land donated by a Dutch convert, and completed in 1710. The simple mannerist-style church lacks excessive decoration, but is rather beautiful in its modesty with a triptych of doors and windows gracing the flat facade. Newly painted when we visited last in 2017 in bright white, with details are picked out in blue.
The bell tower has a small statue of the Virgin at its base and the bell itself is older than the church, cast in Goa in 1608. The interior is finished with a distinctive wooden vaulted ceiling and most interesting, a number of old gravestones embedded in the floor, including one inscribed in Armenian script. Similar can be seen in the Dutch Protestant (now Anglican) Christ Church in Dutch Square. Have a wander around the adjoining presbytery to admire similar architecture.
Mass is held Tuesday to Friday at 07:30, Saturday at 17:00 and Sunday at 10:15. The Feast of St Peter (Fiesta de San Pedro) is held on 29 June, although more festivities take place in the Portuguese settlement. A sign outside the church requests visitors to dress modestly and cover shoulders and knees (no shorts, tank tops or flip-flops).
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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