Bangkok’s churches provide a window into history

Centuries-old Bangkok’s churches could provide a window into the cosmopolitan cultural richness that makes the Thai capital a renowned global city.

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, with over 93 percent of its people subscribing to the Buddhist faith. But the Kingdom is also known for its religious tolerance and freedoms. Houses of worship for almost every major belief system can be found within its borders, and all are welcome.

“We have lived together harmoniously for over 200 years,” says Pinthong Wongsakun, 62, who lives in a Bangkok community named Santa Cruz because it was home to many Portuguese more than two centuries ago. The Santa Cruz and Holy Rosary churches are landmarks in the neighborhood and are a testament to the long history of Thai-Portuguese relations. Portugal was the first European country to forge contacts with Thai kingdoms.

The first letter Thailand sent to the U.S., to President James Monroe, in 1818 from a Thai official was written in Portuguese, as it was the diplomatic language the Kingdom used with Westerners at that time.

The Santa Cruz community is situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River that intersects the capital. Bells from the church are still used to warn community members when the river waters are rising to dangerous levels during monsoon season.

Not far from the Holy Rosary Church is the Assumption Cathedral, with its Romanesque Bisentile style of architecture located in the neighborhood of Bang Rak in the central business district. It was designed by European architects during the early years of Bangkok, becoming the Kingdom’s capital in the late 1700s.

“This is designed by French missionaries” told by Puttipong Puttansri, Director of Historical Archives, Arch Diocese of Bangkok. “The bell tower was inspired by the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. When Christians pass on the boat, they can see and feel the noble mind.”

Assumption Cathedral was a venue for hosting papal visits to Thailand, including Pope John Paul II in 1984 and Pope Francis in 2019.

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