A Catholic Church on the Tibet/China border

Fascinating post on the blog In The Footsteps of Joseph Rock about a Catholic Church in western China on the Tibet/China border.   Great photos and interesting story.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Luis says:

    Great pictures
    “After a drink at the shack we were taken up the road by an old gent who turned out to be the caretaker for the Catholic church. I told him I was a Catholic as well, and he seemed delighted with this.”
    I especially like that part. The old gent could teach us a bit about claiming our Catholic identity!

  2. Mark says:

    Now THAT is what a Catholic Church in China should look like!

    This is a wonderful contrast to the totally Europeanized Cardinal Zen pictures that were up here a few months ago.

    The Church is vaguely romanesque, yet clearly Chinese. The decoration too. There is enough of an organic blend with Catholic culture to make it traditional for both.

    If only they had been allowed to develop their own Rite…

  3. GandhianCatholic says:

    Honestly, I can’t understand the aversion to Baroque for other cultures. Latin is the universal toungue of the Roman Rite, Gregorian Chant the universal music…so why can’t Baroque be thought of as the universal vestment/structural preference?

    The Tibetan Catholics are in my prayers.

  4. Kaneohe says:

    Wonderful article and photos – Fr. Z, many thanks for the link!

    GandhianCatholic – “Latin is the universal toungue of the Roman Rite, Gregorian Chant the universal music…so why can’t Baroque be thought of as the universal vestment/structural preference?”

    First, why should Baroque hold that place of honor? After all it’s only one of several 17th century architectural styles. If you are pushing Latin and Gregorian chant as fundational elements it then follows that Romanesque is the natural and complementary architectural style.

    That said, I truly believe that our Catholic tradition is too rich and varied for one single style to be prefered (especially the ghastly concrete bunker style that has no place what so ever in our tradition).

    Romanesque, Byzantine, Mozarabic, Gothic (English, French, German, etc…), Baroque (Italian, Russian, German, etc…), Neo-Classical (English, French, Scandinavian, Russian, etc…), Renaissance(e.g. Quattrocento, High Renaisance, Mannerism) are but many valid architectural styles used and fostered by the Church. To say one of these is your personal favorite is fine, but to say one should be prefered over another is difficult to understand.

  5. PaulJason says:

    I worked with Student for a Free Tibet for a number of years before returning the Catholic Church. I can tell that I have never met a more loving or kind people then the Tibetans. I was very lucky to meet with Palden Gyatso, a man who spent 33 years in a Chinese prison for being simply a monk, at one point the guards for no other reason then to just do it used electric cattle prods in his mouth, as a result he has no teeth of his own any more. While sitting and talking with him I ask what he thought of the Chinese government and guards that had done this to him. He smiled and said “compassion, love, and sadness for them” he told me he prayed for them everyday. It’s funny at times I meet non-Christians who carry more of the light of Christ then the Christians I have meet. What pulled me back to the Catholic Church was and is that same love and compassion men like Pope Benedict and John Paul the Great have for their fellow man. This is a time when we truly need that love and compassion in our own country.

  6. John Kusske says:

    I concur with the people who say that this is what a Chinese Catholic church ought to look like. It avoids both the completely Europeanized/Westernized look common in all the larger cities, and the redone Tian’anmen / Temple of Heaven look of the church in Dong Er Gou in Shanxi. Both of those have their merits, but this seems to incorporate the better aspects of both, and have a great deal of local culture thrown in to the bargain! Besides the obvious Tibetan/Naxi influence in the bell tower, I think I even detect a measure of Yunnan culture in the somewhat Islamic/Moorish look to the arches above the pillars lining the sides of the nave. Stunning, all in all, and I would dearly love to go there in person…

  7. Mark says:

    And Gregorian Chant is hardly “foundational” either. It is a Carolingian, Gallican imposition, and frankly I think Old Roman Chants sounds more Mediterranean (and therefore appropriate to Rome itself).

    Pugin has great arguments for why Gothic is the Christian paradigm. And one must admit it evolved in a uniquely Christian context (as opposed to being adapted from paganism like romanesque and byzantine), and was the architecture of the High Middle Ages, which was the era of greatest organic integration of Christianity with society, the time of greatest Catholic hegemony.

    But then again, Gothic was never very prominent at Rome itself, where the Constantinian Basilica style reigned supreme for over a millennium until the wreckovations of the 16th and 17th centuries brought in the ostentatious pagan-revival vulgarity of the Baroque and Rococo.

    So it’s a little more complicated than the “Tridentine” traditionalists make it out to be, to say the least.

    I’d like to see a greater discussion on trad sites and blogs about the very clear divide that exists between Gothic and Baroque trads, or perhaps more accurately, Medieval trads and “Tridentine” trads. Many sites seem to discourage this sort of “infighting” for the sake of unity, but it is exactly two very different conceptions of what “unity” means that distinguishes us Medieval-model trads from the Counter-Reformation model trads. One is on principle diverse, subsidiary, local, etc…the other centralized, monolithic, conformist, etc…

  8. Michael says:

    Thanks for the mention. You may also be interested in the Catholic churches I visited more recently in the neighbouring (but even more remote) Nu valley, bordering Burma. They are mentioned in my most recent blog posts at drjosephrock.blogspot.com



  9. teresa says:

    John Kusske said: “I think I even detect a measure of Yunnan culture in the somewhat Islamic/Moorish look to the arches above the pillars lining the sides of the nave. Stunning, all in all, and I would dearly love to go there in person…”

    Exactly, this small church is located in Yunnan Province, where more than 50 different ethnic groups are living together. There are also a lot of buildings which combines both western and Chinese architectural elements so well like this one on the blog. In cities like Shanghai which have been western colonies and confessions, they built churches and other official buildings in purely western styles disregarding the Chinese elements, because these buildings were thought to meet the need of the expatriates from Europe and the U.S., but in regions where the missionaries were operating with the help of the local habitants , these highly interesting buildings and innovations came into being. Yunnan Province is actually full of these examples, because Yunnan Province was never a colony, but was in direct neighborhood of Vietnam, which used to be governed by the Frances. And many European missionaries came from Vietnam.

    And secondly there are also very interesting buildings erected by the Chinese themselves, who also combined Chinese and western elements. These buildings are also very interesting, there are many such examples in Beijing, Nanjing and so one. They were designed by Chinese who have been in Europe.

    But you can’t find any such buildings which were erects in recent decades. And the most lamentable thing is, they are pulling down these gems of architecture history to make room for more modern buildings.

    Extremely sad is, that both old Catholic churches in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan, will soon be pulled down, both exhibiting like merits of the small church in Cizhong.

  10. teresa says:

    Sorry, I just made a mistake: there are 26 ethnic groups living together in Yunnan Province, Han Chinese make the 2/3 of the whole population, and 1 /3 of the population are made up by other ethnic groups.

    The church in Cizhong was designed by a French Missionary called Father Ding Delian in Chinese, whose gravestone can still be found in this church.

    Among different pastors of this parish there was an American, one Chinese from Sichuan Province, the last pastor, a French missionary, was expelled in 1951. He departed riding a mule, and his parishioners all knelt down, weeping, to see him go.

    Until now the catholics in this region still visit the graves of the missionaries on All Soul’s Day, and visit the graves also on the Spring Festival to give the Fathers their hearty greetings. They also go to the grave yard to pray for more rain.

    The first missionary was also a Frenchman, Father Gu Delian.

    It’s a pity I can’t find out how the missionaries were called in French.

  11. J. Wong says:

    In 2004, the Hong Kong Diocesan A/V Centre produced a DVD titled “The Way to Tibet” on Catholicism in Tibet . Cizhon and its church were featured in the documentary. At that time the parish only had a priest who came to celebrate mass only once or twice a year. One of those visits is featured in the video. It is very moving to see the emotion of the faithful at this rare opportunity to attend Holy Mass. This reminded me of how blessed I was to live in a place where Mass is celebrated daily. I highly recommended this DVD.


  12. Mark says:

    Does anyone know what languages they speak, and what language the liturgy would be in? Also, are they Patriot Association staffed? Is there any chance of Western missionaries ever getting back there? I’ve been researching this region all day now and have fallen in love with it.

  13. John Kusske says:

    Mark, I think Teresa could speak more to your questions in specifics, but I can say from my own experience in China that this is certainly an officially-recognized church since it is so out in the open. Whether that area of Yunnan has a split between “official” and “underground” churches as is the case in Hebei, Beijing and some other places I cannot say, but I suspect it isn’t so bad that far away from the central authority. “The mountains are high and the Emperor is far away”… The people being ethnically Tibetan or Naxi I would also suspect the mass would be said in their language, though it could be in Chinese given the signs being written in Chinese characters. Yunnan has so many different ethnic groups that standard Chinese (so-called “Mandarin”) may be their lingua franca. Until official relations are ever established between the Vatican and the Chinese governments, there is no chance of any organized return of the missionaries (it’s still a sensitive political issue, with them still being officially held as having been lackeys of the imperialist foreign powers). We can but pray, and hope…

  14. Michael says:

    If you read my other posts about the Catholic churches in this area you will know that they are still firmly controlled by the local authorities. One of the local people at Dimaluo told me they were not permitted to display images of the Pope, and there are many other minor regulations “from the county”. Given that it is a sensitive border area with many minorities, and they are very much aware of the previous encroachments by foreign powers, I am pretty sure that they would not accept missionaries or other outsider presence at these churches. You could visit as a tourist for a short period and help by making donations to the building restoration fund.

  15. leo says:

    notice the cloth over the altar rail

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