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St. Ignatius Cathedral

Written by CindyUpdated Nov. 29, 2021

St. Ignatius Cathedral or Xujiahui Cathedral is the largest Roman Catholic cathedral with a history of over 90 years. It is located in the Xujiahui district to the north of  Shanghai Stadium.

The cathedral was originally built in 1906, but was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution; it has just recently been restored to its original beauty. As a missionary center, the cathedral grounds once included a library, an orphanage, a college, a publishing house, and its own weather station. Today only the church, part of the school, and the recently reopened library remain. Its vast interior of altars, stone columns, Gothic ceilings, stained glass windows, and paintings of the Last Supper and Stations of the Cross are yet another chapter in Shanghai's living history of European architecture. Services are available every Sunday morning. 

Architectural Style

St. Ignatius Cathedral

Xujiahui Cathedral is a church modeled after a Western architectural style. With a total length of 83.3 meters, it sits west and faces east. Two wings at the widest point of the church measure 34 meters. Its hall ridge is 26 meters high, and the tower building is 56 meters high. Xujiahui Cathedral can hold about 3,000 people with seats for activities while it can accommodate over 4,000 people in its fullest capacity. Its outside shape is like a long cross, modeled after French medieval Gothic architecture. With red brick walls, white stone pillars and a gray slate roof, the two bell towers in front of the church are 60 meters high (the spire is 31 meters high). The magnificent and solemn bell towers have a north-south confrontation and are towering structures. Xujiahui Cathedral was honored as the best building in Shanghai at that time because of its huge size, attractive architectural style and exquisite workmanship. It was once the highest building in Shanghai, before the 1920s.

Historical Development

Xujiahui Cathedral was the first Catholic Church in Shanghai after the Opium War. At the beginning of the 17th century, Western missionaries started their religious activities in Shanghai. In 1640, the first official Catholic Church was built; however, the church was of a Chinese temple-styled architecture. It was changed into the Temple of Guan Yu when Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty gave orders to ban missionary activities.

In the past, Xujiahui was a small village which was sparsely populated. Xu Guangqi, an outstanding patriotic scientist and Catholic of the Ming Dynasty, was buried there. After the First Opium War (in 1841), the Catholic Jesuits came to Shanghai. Five years later, their church club was built in Xujiahui District, Shanghai. The combination of this church club and the church built in 1851 made the first church with a Western architectural style in China, which was the old Xujiahui Cathedral. Later the monastery, the museum, the library, the observatory, the Notre Dame and the foundling home were established, which became the Xujiahui Cathedral parish and the central missionary area in regions south of the Yangtze River. In 1896, the Jesuits decided to build a new cathedral and the new church was put into use in 1904. When the new church was completed, the patron saint of the parish was still St. Ignatius. Thus it was named St. Ignatius Cathedral.

The First National Bishop Conference of Catholicism in China was held there in 1924. At the beginning of the Anti-Japanese War, Xuhui Lobby and College St. Ignatius set up refuges to accept tens of thousands of refugees.

During the Cultural Revolution, the church was damaged. The pinnacle of its bell towers was demolished while the stained glass window of the church was smashed to pieces. The church became the warehouse of the Shanghai Fruit and Grocery Company, which wasn’t restored until 1978.

Nowadays, there are tens of thousands of church members in the Catholic community and a lot of Mass is held every morning. Numerous church members gather together every Sunday and at every significant festival of Catholicism.

The church is open to ordinary visitors between 13:00 and 16:00 on Saturdays and between 14:00 and 16:00 on Sundays when volunteers will take them to visit the church every 30 minutes. 

Times for visiting the church:

13:00-16:00 on Saturdays

14:00-16:00 on Sundays

Mass times:

Children’s Mass: 16:30 on Saturdays; Mass: 18:00; Bishop’s Mass: 07:00 on Sundays; Sunday Mass: 10:00

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