Every suburb of Singapore is dotted with churches, mosques and temples that highlight the multicultural and diverse nature of the country. No matter your religious background, visiting any of these spots is an interesting – and often very calming – experience. Read on to find out more about some of Singapore’s most historically and architecturally rich places of worship.
Malay for “Sultan Mosque”, this remarkable structure and prominent Singapore landmark is located in Kampong Glam, or the Arab Quarter. Notable for its enormous golden domes, it was built in 1928 on the site of a much older mosque, and designated as a national monument in 1975. Today, it offers services as well as classes, along with religious and legal counselling. The view of the building from the paved section of Bussorah Street is an Instagram favourite.
Singapore’s first Christian church was designed by an Irish architect named George Coleman and built in 1835. Construction funds were raised mostly by Singapore Armenians, as well as Armenians of Calcutta and Java. The simple church originally had a bell tower, which has since been replaced by a spire. The vaulted ceiling and cupola reflects traditional Armenian Church architecture, and the painting above the altar is of Christ and his Apostles at the Last Supper.
If you’ve walked through Chinatown, you’ll have seen the gorgeous gopuram (entrance tower) of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, originally a place of worship from people from Southern India. The first wooden structure was built by a clerk from the British East India Company in 1827 and contained a small deity that can still be seen today. The building has undergone several renovations, with the stunning entrance being added in the 1960s. For many years, it was the only place Hindus could get married. Now, the main festival celebrated here is Theemithi (fire-walking ceremony), held annually in October/November.
Hebrew for “Shield of Our Fathers”, Maghain Aboth was completed in 1878 and is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Southeast Asia. At the entrance of the synagogue is its main attraction: a 1.8 metres tall, seven-branched Menorah made of gold-tinted aluminium. Attached to the synagogue – located on Waterloo Street – is the Jacob Ballas Centre, built in 2007, which includes a full service kosher restaurant, kosher market and a social hall for festive meals and functions.
Hokkien immigrants used to get off the boat from China and go straight to this temple to give thanks to Mazu, Goddess of the Seas. Built on what at the time was a sandy beach in 1828, the temple represents a traditional southern Chinese architectural style; amazingly, its pillars of iron wood, granite and carved stonework were all assembled without any nails. The “swallowtail” rooftop is perhaps its most noted feature. Major renovations have strived to preserve the original structure.
This Tang Dynasty-style temple was constructed in 2002 to house the tooth relic of the historical Buddha and serve as a Chinese Buddhist cultural centre. Conceptualised and designed by Venerable Shi Fa Zhao, the designs incorporated the best arts and culture of the Tang Dynasty of China, with a meticulously crafted proposal, down to the colour of the lacquer paint for the edges of the awnings. It holds services regularly, and provides educational opportunities and welfare services. The complex also includes a museum with ancient artefacts.
St. Andrew’s Cathedral was built in 1861, establishing itself as the oldest and largest Anglican church in Singapore. Designed in a neo-gothic architectural style, the cathedral is known for drawing inspiration from the designs of Netley Abbey, a ruined thirteenth century English church, mainly symbolised by three objects: the Canterbury Stone, which bears a bronze replica of the Canterbury Cross, the Coventry Cross, and the Coronation Carpet.
Founded in 1935, the Church of Saint Alphonsus, or Novena Church, is a Catholic church located in Thompson Road that is under the care of the Redemptorists. Widely known for their Saturday novena services and novena prayer devotion, the church boasts a striking Gothic style that houses Catholic and non-Catholic devotees alike. Having extended the name “Novena” to the surrounding area due to the popularity of their services, the Novena Church is a standout place of worship in Singapore.
Opened in 2004 and located on Admiralty Lane, in Woodlands, Assyafaah Mosque hardly resembles a typical Muslim place of worship, as was intended. Forum Architects deliberately avoided domes, arches, and minarets in order to find a contemporary Singaporean-inspired design, rather than a Middle-Eastern inspired one. The architectural features of the building focus on spirituality, calmness, and unity, with natural light and stunningly high ceilings that punctuate the structure.
In 1905, the Chesed-El Synagogue was built through a need for more places of worship for the growing Jewish community in Singapore. Initiated by the Jewish philanthropist Manassah Meyer, the Synagogue stands as an elegant, artistic break from the bustle of the city in Oxley Rise, and comprises features from the late-Renaissance style of architecture.
Yueh Hai Ching Temple
While nobody is really sure when it was built, this is one of Singapore’s oldest Taoist temples. The earliest written record of the structure goes back to 1826, just seven years after Sir Stamford Raffles arrived. Originally built by the Chaozhou people, the temple sat on Singapore’s coastline to worship the Goddess of the Sea. Now, it’s surrounded by high-rises in Philip Street. A major feature of the building is the extensive use of tidal inlaid porcelain, the figures drawn from classic folktales or myths.
If you walk from Tanglin or the Botanic Gardens up to Dempsey, you’ll pass this church on your way. Built between 1910 and 1913 on the site of an earlier church (1884), it was used by British soldiers stationed in Tanglin Barracks, and still hosts regular Sunday services today. A mystery surrounds the location of the original stained glass windows of the church, which were removed and hidden by a chaplain as Japanese forces closed in on the area in the Second World War. The windows haven’t been seen since.
Located at the eastern end of Dunlop Street in Little India, the Abdul Gaffoor Mosque was constructed in 1907. It was erected on a site of a building known as Masjid Al-Abrar (1846), which served the religious needs of South Indian Muslim merchants. Today’s mosque is rich with architectural details, featuring a large onion dome, cinquefoil arches and a striking hexagonal-shaped tower.
Completed in 1830, this Indian Muslim temple was a memorial dedicated to Shahul Hamid, a saint from India who propagated Islam through his noble work and curing the sick. The building is a replica of a structure in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which houses Shahul Hamid. It is now an Indian Muslim Heritage Centre.
For more great info on life in Singapore, head here.