Eastern and Central Asian Churches to Visit

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*Part of this post was previously live on my other site TheWingedFork.com

Eastern Asia and Central Asia has a rich history of Christianity. The region has seen the establishment of Christian communities throughout the centuries, be it by the Church of the East, the Nestorians, European missionaries, or others. The spread of Christianity through missionary work, and the discovery of Christian manuscript fragments and gravestone inscriptions reveal how far back some of the Asian churches and cathedrals actually go. Today, there are Christian churches in many countries in Central Asia, playing an important role in the lives of local communities. Here are some of the chapels and churches in Eastern and Central Asian that you absolutely must add to your must-visit list!

1. Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral aka Polish Church, Tashkent

By Ryan of TourCentralAsia

Sacred Heart Cathedral of Jesus in Tashkent.
Sacred Heart Cathedral of Jesus in Tashkent

The Sacred Heart Cathedral of Jesus, commonly known as the ‘Polish
Church,’ is a Roman Catholic church in the center of Tashkent, just
opposite Eco Park.According to the church, Christians have been
present in the territory of modern-day Uzbekistan since the 3rd century
due to the exchange of goods and ideas along the Silk Road. Catholics
began to appear in larger numbers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many
of them, including Poles, were prisoners of war or had been forcibly
deported to Uzbekistan from their home countries.

The church itself is beautiful, and the grounds are particularly pleasant,
featuring a courtyard of roses, a children’s play area, apple trees, and
grapevines. It’s not uncommon to see the friendly nuns of the church on
the grounds or across the street in the park.

2. Myeongdong Cathedral, Seoul, South Korea

By Marie from Be Marie Korea

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Myeong-dong Cathedral is located in the middle of the touristic center of Seoul. The Gothic Cathedral, built in 1892, is the main church for the Archdiocese of Seoul and it was the birthplace of the Roman Catholic Community in South Korea. The Cathedral was constructed under the rule of Emperor Gojong but was funded by the Paris Foreign Missions Society and costed $60,000 USD.

Christianity was only introduced to Korea in the 17th century and the Christians had a very difficult time until the Joseon Dynasty as Buddhism was Korea’s main religion at that time. Many Catholics and foreign missionaries were killed. Now 25% of the country is Christian, compared to 15% being Buddhist.

Now the magnificent church is surrounded by department stores, street food vendors and themed coffee shops in Seoul’s most popular shopping district.

3. Ruins of St. Paul’s, Macau, PRC

By Emily from Wander-Lush

Ruins of St. Paul’s, Macau - By Emily Lush from Wander-Lush
Ruins of St. Paul’s, Macau

An autonomous enclave on China’s southern coast famous for its casinos and nightlife might be the last place you’d expect to find one of the world’s great churches. But the Ruins of St. Paul’s is emblematic of modern-day Macau and its Portuguese heritage.

When it was completed in 1640, the Church of St. Paul was one of the largest Catholic churches in Asia. The adjoining St. Paul’s College, a Jesuit training center, was the first Western university in the region. The complex was a project of the Portuguese, who colonized Macau in the mid-16 th century and remained there right up until 1999. After serving as a house of worship for almost 200 years, the church was gutted by a fire in 1835 and left to weather away.

All that remains of St. Paul’s is a single façade. The looming silhouette retains its original stonework and sculptural elements. Interestingly, it was Japanese Christians in exile who were responsible for the carvings, which blend Jesuit and Eastern imagery. It’s also possible to visit the church’s crypt, which houses a small collection of relics and religious artworks.

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Today, the Ruins of St. Paul’s doesn’t really attract the pious—but rather zealous Instagrammers who jostle for photos on the vast stone steps.

4. Dali Trinity Church in Yunnan, China

By De Wet & Jin from Museum of Wander

Dali Trinity Church in Yunnan China - By DeWet & Jin
Dali Trinity Church in Yunnan, China

The Dali Trinity Catholic Church in China’s Yunnan province is a flying dragon that swallowed a church. Ignore the cross on the roof and you’ll think it’s a Chinese temple. It surely is one of the most unique churches you’ll ever visit. 

French and Swiss missionaries built this church in 1927 and the result is a combination of extravagant local Bai architecture on the outside and a plain but colorful interior. The church is completely constructed from wood. 

Look carefully at the decorations on the exterior. Here you’ll find folklore depictions of the Bai minority group mixed with scenes from the bible and traditional Chinese legends. It is recognized by the Chinese government as a heritage monument for its integration of minority styles. 

The beautiful old town of Dali on the shore of Lake Erhai has been a popular stop for travelers in Yunnan province for decades. The catholic church is located inside the city wall of old town Dali. Signs saying “Catholic Church” around the old town will point you in the right direction. The church sits at the back of a traditional Chinese courtyard which you enter through a small entryway. It’s easy to miss, so look out for the cross on the gate of the entryway, or the Chinese characters 天主堂.

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5. Oura Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan

By Krysti from Wanderful Horizons

Oura Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan.
Oura Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan
By Kristi of Wanderful Horizons

Believed to be the oldest surviving Christian church in Japan, Ōura Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church famous for its European-inspired architecture. Also known as the “Church of the 26 Japanese Martyrs,” the cathedral was built in memory of those who were executed in Nagasaki during Japan’s ban on Christianity. This ban, which lasted for more than 250 years, led to the persecution of thousands. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the ban was lifted and the Ōura Cathedral was constructed as a symbol of peace and remembrance.
Today, the church is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Treasure of Japan. Given its historical past and unique architecture, Ōura Cathedral has become a popular attraction and makes for a great addition to any Nagaski itinerary.

This is a work in progress list of the must-visit cathedrals and churches in Central Asia and Eastern Asia. There are many that still need to be added. If you would like to contribute, ping abby@abbyshearth.com

Other Posts About Churches You Might Like:

Central and Eastern Asian churches.
Pinterest images of ruins of St. Paul’s in Macau and Sacred Heart Cathedral of Jesus in Tashkent.

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