The LEWI International Conference on The Catholic Church in China from 1900 to the Present location:Hong Kong Baptist University date:6-7 June 2013
Building churches from the treaty ports to the deepest villages of Mainland China was the most concrete act of making Christianity visible in the public space. The central questions in this paper are why, when and how the Catholic Church decided to abandon the colonial-missionary paradigm of Gothic architecture and developed a new Christian-Chinese church design. Books on modern architecture in China at the time of the Republic ––a thriving theme in present research–– ignore the crucial issue of the evolution of religious architecture. A notable exception is an article by Jeffrey Cody on Protestant missionaries and Chinese-style buildings. This paper fits in ongoing research on Catholic architecture in China before 1949, an unexplored but fascinating field, and is based on both fieldwork and archives.
After the massive church destructions during the Boxer Rebellion (1900), reconstruction adopted a triumphant Gothic style that was considered the expression of ‘Christian Civilization’. Missionary-architect Alphonse De Moerloose C.I.C.M., the most prolific builder in North China and Inner Mongolia, designed churches and cathedrals conform to Pugin’s True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841). With the encyclical letters Maximum illud (1919) et Rerum Ecclesiae (1926) popes Benedict XV and Pius XI launched a new missionary policy based on indigenization. In 1922, archbishop Celso Costantini debarked in China and implemented this new policy, condemning Gothic and promoting Christian-Chinese (or Sino-Christian) art and architecture. He commissioned the monk-artist Adelbert Gresnigt O.S.B. to define the architectural canon and design prominent buildings such as Beijing Catholic University, the cathedral of Haimen, seminaries at Kaifeng, Xuanhua and Hong Kong, etc. Gresnigt’s short stay in China (1927-1932) and his collaboration with archbishop Costantini, Vincent Lebbe and others was intensively creative. The economical and political crisis, and the war with Japan would put an end to this architectural movement before 1940.