Sunday, September 18, 2016

Celebrating a Century

The Archbishop of Bangkok prays in the sanctuary of Santa Cruz church during the church's 100th anniversary celebration. 

Santa Cruz Catholic Church, in Thonburi, is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Bangkok. Thailand has a small but active Catholic community. Portuguese soldiers of fortune came to Thailand in the 1600s and played an important role in helping the Kings of Ayutthaya, the ancient imperial capital of the Siamese empire, defend Siam (now Thailand) from Burmese invaders. 

When Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in the 1760s, the Portuguese, along with the Siamese survivors, fled downriver to Thonburi. King Taksin, the monarch who reestablished the Siamese empire, gave the Portuguese a land grant near his palace and in 1769 they established a church on the site. 
The Archbishop (right) in front of the sanctuary

The original sanctuary was destroyed in a fire and the church outgrew a second sanctuary on the site. In 1916, the church dedicated its third sanctuary. The Catholics of Bangkok gathered at the church earlier today to celebrate the sanctuary's centenary.
The anniversary mass in the Church. 

The area around Santa Cruz is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Bangkok. It's an amazingly diverse part of town. There are two large, and important, Buddhist temples in the neighborhood. Santa Cruz is the heart of the remaining Catholics in the area. And there are two mosques in the area. Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims live side by side and respect each others' faiths. 

Going over to Santa Cruz and walking through the community is like leaving Bangkok and visiting a village. Except you're just a kilometer or so from the heart of the city. 
Nuns pray during the anniversary mass. 

I've been going to the Santa Cruz area for at least three years now. I started going to work on stories about the Portuguese bakeries (there are bakeries there that make cakes based on a centuries old Portuguese recipe). Then I worked on stories about the Catholic community, the Buddhist community at Wat Kanalaya (north of the church) and a couple of stories from the Muslim communities west of the church. 

When I started going over there, I was frequently the only non Thai person in the community. Now it's changing. Now I run into tour groups every time I go over there. Especially around Santa Cruz Church. It's right across the river from the Flower Market and there's continuous ferry service from the Flower Market to Wat Kanalaya. Tour groups that explore the city on bicycle bring groups over to Santa Cruz on the ferries a couple of times a day. 
Alter servers wait for the Archbishop to arrive for the anniversary mass.

The community is changing but so far it's been positive change. There's a new museum with artifacts from the Portuguese times. The museum has a very nice cafe and dessert bar. One of the bakeries has a coffee stand and both bakeries sell their cakes. People still wave and smile and love to chat with visitors but I worry that the tourists will wear out their welcome. 
A man holds a rosary while he prays during the anniversary celebration. 

There are more photos of the Santa Cruz anniversary in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.