St George Church
Penang Beautiful Heritage Landmarks
St George Church Penang – South East Asia oldest Anglican Church

The popularity of Christendom's St. George is far-reaching, touching the religious as well as the secular. Churches named after him are found in many parts of the world, including the historic city of George Town, Penang.
St. George has also served as a fountain of inspiration to writers (like Shakespeare), artists and musicians.

The most famous depiction of St George church was his battle with a ferocious dragon (such as the one shown here from The Catholic Community Forum) and it is this mortal combat with which the Saint has most often been captured by artists – on canvases, medals and tapestries.

The one located here, on the corner of Lebuh Farquhar and Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is historically significant in this part of the world because it is the oldest Anglican Church in Southeast Asia.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game's afoot: Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge Cry God for Harry, England and St. George

From its early days
With the help of The East India Company, the church was built in 1816 using convict labor during Colonel J. A. Bannerman's term as British Governor of Penang.

The inspiration behind the formation of St George church, however, was credited to Rev. Robert Sparke Hutchings, a well known educationist and Robert Smith, an engineer and landscape artist.

Rev. Hutchings contributions towards the development of Penang from an educational perspective are significant. He founded the Penang Free School and compiled and wrote what were considered the first books on Malay grammar, in addition to several elementary text-books and a dictionary mainly for school use. He founded the Auxiliary Bible Society and translated the New Testament into Malay.

The cost of building the church was 60,000 Spanish Dollars. To give you a rough idea on the significance of that amount, Singapore was sold to the British sometime in 1819 for the same price! On 11 May 1819, the church was consecrated by The Rt. Rev. Thomas Middleton, Bishop of Calcutta.

The first significant event which took place in the church soon after its completion was the
wedding of a W. E. Philips to Janet, the daughter of Governor Col. Bannerman in 1818.

Under the guidance of Rev. Hutchings, the church grew in popularity first among the
members of the British colonialists, and then slowly among the locals.

During the Japanese occupation of WWII, services were somewhat interrupted until church
leaders temporarily transferred them first to the Mission House and then to the Wesley Church in
Burmah Road.

After the fall of the Japanese Empire, church services at the St George church were resumed, much to the relief of everyone.

Two events brought about the emancipation of the church – an act of Parliament in 1971 which created a new and independent Diocese of West Malaysia, and the formation of the Province of Churches in South East Asia in 1996 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since then, the church has been run by local clergymen.

Today, services in English are held twice every Sunday, the first at 8.30am and second at 10.30am.

The church's architecture
The Georgian Palladium architecture of the church was designed by Captain Robert N. Smith of Madras Engineers, whose considerable talents also extended to etchings and oil paintings. His work consisting of an impressive series of oil-painted landscapes of Penang are now permanent exhibits at the Penang State Museum.

His career in Penang in 1814-15 when he assumed the post of Superintending Engineer. He illustrated the church in a hybrid architectural style described as 'Georgian Palladium'- which is a combination of. 'Georgian', a style of architecture characteristic of Kings George I and IV (1714-1830) and 'Palladium', named after the Grecian-styled architectural works of a Roman named Palladius.

The most striking feature of the church's architecture are without a doubt the huge Grecian columns lined outside the front entrance. They immediately remind one of classical Greek structures such as The Parthenon, The Propylaia, the Temple to Athene and The Erechtheion. The pavilion which sits in the lawn also lends a Grecian air to the ambience.

The brick structure has a solid plastered stone base. When the occupants realised that the original Madras-style flat roof was unsuitable for the climate in Penang, a gable shaped roof was built in its place, in 1864. The octagonal-shaped steeple, visible from afar, forms the apex of the roof.

The aforementioned pavilion was actually erected in 1886 to commemorate Sir Francis Light. Underneath the dome is found a marble plaque framed by two columns, dedicated to Light.

The inscription reads "In his capacity as Governor the settlers and natives were greatly attached to him and by his death had to deplore the loss of one who watched over their interests and cares as a father".

The mahogany trees in the lawn, which came from India as seedlings, were planted by A.B.Mackean in 1885. The ones still remaining today are survivors from the destruction wreaked by WWII.

The war took its toll on the church. Although the structure escaped relatively unscathed, the interior was another story. Looters carted off plaques, memorials and furnishings. A total of 24 memorials life-size marble figures were ruined during the heavy looting. Pews, the pulpit, the lectern and the organ had all to be replaced.

Work to restore St George church back to its former self started soon afterwards and was completed in 1948. Sunday services were immediately resumed.

As they became available, modern amenities were installed such as air-conditioning and video monitors which 'broadcasted' the sermons to people whose view of the sanctum was blocked by the columns.

A must-see heritage of faith and beauty
Today, the St George Church counts as one of the most beautiful heritage landmarks of Penang. The passing of time has not altered the original structure very much, nor weathered its walls.

It's location is also fortuitous; lined up in the same row, and within walking distance from the church, are the Goddess of Mercy Temple and the Kapitan Keling Mosque; a silent reminder of the religious harmony that is sacred to all Penangtes.

It's popularity as a tourist attraction is attested to by the numerous tourism websites around the world which mention it. If you are goin on a heritage walkabout around the historic Colonial Quarter of George Town, the St George Church is a must-see on your list of places to visit.

St George Church Map

View Larger Map

Getting There:
St George Church is located around the heart of Georgetown.
Services in English are held on Sundays at 8.30am and 10.30am.

1, Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 Penang, Malaysia.
Telephone: 604 261 2739
Fax: 604 264 2292.

Written by
Raja Abdul Razak and photographed by Adrian Cheah
Courtesy of www.penang © All rights reserved