Holy Trinity — Shanghai's Red Church nears end of major renovation

By Martha Groves

Los Angeles Times

Published: Friday, June 3 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

In the end, the Jones brothers and a Russian helper assembled the organ. Austin Jones professed himself just as happy, given the Chinese workers' tendency to walk off with supplies. "We had to have a special place built to prevent them stealing the pipes, but the number of brass screws that have disappeared is wonderful," Austin wrote to his bosses.

In 1928, the four-story school that Ballard would later attend was added.

By about 1930, Shanghai and the cathedral had reached their zeniths, but the glory days were numbered. In 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the city and surrounded the international settlement. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese occupied the settlement, evicting residents from their homes and effectively ending Anglo-American influence.

Greg Leck, author of the 2006 book "Captives of Empire," said some expats briefly lived under the cathedral's blue-painted wooden beams, which were adorned with gold-leaf flowers and stars. The Japanese soon moved these expats and the Allied population at large into squalid internment camps, as Ballard relates in "Empire of the Sun."

From then on, Holy Trinity went largely unmaintained.

By the early 1950s the church could not afford to pay taxes, and the fledgling Three-Self Patriotic Movement (and, by extension, the Chinese government) took control.

When the decade-long Cultural Revolution began in 1966, public worship was banned. Many pagodas, temples and churches were destroyed or converted for secular use. Communist Red Guards dismantled Holy Trinity's spire, and local bureaucrats set up offices in the bell tower. At some point, the cathedral was stripped of its pews, stained-glass windows and organ.

Preservation advocates celebrated in 1989 when the structure was designated as a cultural heritage site. In 2005, the Chinese government transferred ownership of Holy Trinity to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. With funds from the Chinese government's "religion bureau," the organization hired consultants and 31/2 years ago began the renovation.

A furniture factory in Zhejiang province produced scores of carved teak pews, according to Hou Jin, interior architect with Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural Design Group, whose East China Architectural Design & Research Institute Co. was the project's chief consultant. Brick by brick, workers rebuilt the spire, which once again towers over the neighborhood that now nearly engulfs the church.

Not all interior elements were redone to original specs. Unornamented wood stands in for what had been an elaborately carved memorial to World War I British war dead. A small electric organ, with a few pipes for show, will serve in place of the mammoth Harrison & Harrison model, which would have cost about $2.6 million to reproduce. Woodworkers who re-created the elaborately carved baptismal area added a round-cheeked cherub with Chinese features.

To date, the renovation has cost about $3 million, a pittance by U.S. standards. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is attempting to raise nearly $800,000 more to buy and install dozens of stained-glass windows, the final step, Hou said. After that, the Red Church will welcome worshipers.

A theologian who saw the cathedral as the renovation was underway said the project speaks to the dramatic changes occurring within China.

"While there are many flourishing churches in China, this cathedral has a special significance," Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said in an e-mail. "The very fact that it is reopening ... is yet another manifestation of the marvelous resurgence of faith in China."

© Los Angeles Times.

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