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Christian Churches in Beijing

Although Christianity came to China for the first lime through Nestorian Christian priests as early as the ninth century, it did not really take root until the thirteenth century under the Yuan. The Franciscan and Jesuit missions from Rome were the first to establish themselves with any degree of permanence in Beijing. Over the centuries that followed, the Christian-religion was subject to widely differing attitudes by the reigning sovereign. During some periods it was encouraged, during others treated with suspicion, and from time to time it was driven out.

The Eastern Church, or Dung Tang, located in Wang Fu Jing, was built on the site of the house occupied by the wed-known Jesuit Father Adam Schall and after he died in 1666 part of the house was converted into a small church, and after the Jesuits were suppressed the Lazarists of Portugal used it. They were expelled under the reign of Jia Qing ( 1796-1821 ), but the site was returned to them after the French military conquest in 1860. The second Dung Tang was then built but was in turn destroyed during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The present budding is used as a primary school during the week, but is open for church services on Sunday morning.

The next longest-established church sill in existence is the Northern Cathedral, or Bei Tang, located a few blocks west of Bei Hai. The edifice is still standing but the two spires are gone. It is now being used as a school. You can get a good glimpse of this old church through the gateway leading into the grounds. This is the third Bei Tang; it was consecrated in 1889 and restored after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The first Bei Tang was built at the end of the seventeenth century but destroyed in 1827. The second was built on the ruins of the first after 1860 and destroyed in 1911. The third is located on a different site from the first two, having been moved by imperial edict that it cast an “unlucky shadow” over the palaces in the Zhongnanhai.

The Southern Cathedral, or Nan Tang, erected in 1703, was built on the site of the house where the well-known missionary Marten Ricci lived The building standing today is the fourth Nan Tang, the other three having been destroyed during the various rebellions that took place over two and a half centuries that latinized its consecration.

The Catholic Bishop of Beijing, Michael Fu Tieshan, who was ordained in 1979, celebrates mass at the Nan Tang. This church has become the main place of worship for Catholics in Beijing. The mass is said in Latin, a rarity in the world. On special religious occasions such as Christmas and Easter an exceptionally good Chinese choir sings the choral portion of the mass Religious services are attended by Chinese, as well as foreigners, following the relaxation of controls by the authorities after the Cultural Revolution ended. The Southern Cathedral is located on Xuan Wu Men Strut, a few blocks south of West Chang An Jie.

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