Santa Cruz Church ? the Portuguese Legacy in Bangkok

Santa Cruz Church, the church of the holy cross, was first built the reign of King Taksin, a legacy of Thai-Portuguese relations that date back to the 16th century.

Nestled among old houses on the river banks and newer buildings inland, the reddish dome of the old Catholic church is a prominent landmark on the Chao Phraya.

Descendants of the early Portuguese traders built the first Santa Cruz Church in 1770 after the fall of Ayutthaya. The Portuguese, the first Europeans in Thailand, arrived in Ayutthaya shortly after they captured Malacca in 1511.

As the area was also claimed by the Thai King, the Portuguese shrewdly dispatched an envoy to the court of Ayutthaya in the same year to reassure the Thais of Portuguese intentions.

In 1516, Portugal signed a treaty with Thailand to supply firearms and munitions. With the treaty came with the rights to reside, trade and practice their religion in Thailand. This brought the first Portuguese friars in 1567 who established the Catholic Church in Ayutthaya.

After the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767, the Portuguese continued with their military support to King Taksin in his efforts to drive the Burmese out of Thailand. The supply of cannon and muskets contributed significantly to King Taksin's army.

In recognition of their services, King Taksin granted the Portuguese a plot of land to build a wooden church in an area called Kudi Jeen. Thus, the church is sometimes called Wat Kudi Jeen.

Over the next 65 years, the wooden church in Kudi Jeen fell into a state of disrepair. In 1835, Cardinal Pallegoix rebuilt and renamed the church, Santa Cruz Church meaning Holy Cross Church in English.

The present Santa Cruz Church was rebuilt again in 1913 and this structure has remained ever since.

The gate to the spacious courtyard is a short distance from the Santa Cruz Pier on the Chao Phraya. A crucifix is in one corner of the courtyard and a statue of Mary within a beautiful garden in the other.

Within a smaller courtyard, surrounded by a low wrought iron fence, stands the neat cream colored church trimmed in reddish-brown and topped by a domed belfry. The sidewalls of the church are decorated with stained glass etched with biblical images.

The church and the inner courtyard are closed on weekdays. To the rear of the church, away from the Chao Phraya, there's a little cemetery with nine tombstones encased in marble.

The well-kept church grounds are quiet on weekdays save for the rhythmic strains of children reciting their lessons in the Santa Cruz Convent nearby and the occasional passerby on the way to the pier.

Like an urban oasis with narrow sois (lanes) leading to the busy streets outside, the Santa Cruz Church is all that remains of Portuguese influence in Kudi Jeen today.

The Santa Cruz Church is part of the Bangkok Communities that make up the the rich cultural milieu of Bangkok.

Santa Cruz Church first appeared in Tour Bangkok Legacies, a travel site with a historical perspective of renowned places preserved for posterity and the legendary figures who left these legacies in the landscape of Bangkok. The author, Eric Lim, is a free- lance writer who lives in Bangkok Thailand.

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