The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is commonly known as the South Cathedral (Nantang) or the Xuanwumen Catholic Church to the locals, named after the location. It is a historic Roman Catholic Church and the oldest Catholic Church in Beijing.
Fr. Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) came from Italy to China, and is widely recognized as the initiator of Catholic missionary work in China and one of the earliest members of the Society of Jesus. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was originally a small chapel built by Matteo Ricci beside his residence in 1605. It was later rebuilt by German Jesuit priest Johann Adam Schall Von Bell in 1650, with the annex serving as the priests’ residence, an astronomical observatory, an equipment room, and a library. The new church, in a baroque style, was 66.6 ft (20 meters) high, 88.5 ft (27 meters) long, 42.7 ft (13 meters) wide, with a 13.1 ft (4 meter) high cross on the top, making it the first big church in the city. It was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. After the construction was completed, J.A. Schall Von Bell set up two monuments, which still stand on both sides of the courtyard of the Cathedral.
The original church was destroyed by two earthquakes. It was rebuilt but then destroyed by fire in 1775. The Cathedral was again destroyed in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, and was rebuilt again in 1904 to its present form. The main components of the 100-year-old building remain unchanged with one exception – its wooden support columns have been replaced by brick-and-mortar columns decorated with stone mosaics. The arrangement in the nave, however, is quite different from what it had been in the past. On the wall behind the pulpit is an oil painting of the Virgin Mary, before which candlesticks and other ritual implements stand on an altar. To the left of the pulpit is a portrait of St. Joseph and on the right one of Jesus of the Sacred Heart. Other paintings portray episodes in the life of Jesus.
During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, it was used as a toy processing factory. Finally it re-opened to the public in 1978. Today the cathedral remains in excellent condition and it is the Seat of the Beijing Diocese. Masses conducted by more than 10 Chinese Fathers attract many Chinese and foreign worshipers every Sunday. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is possibly the best known to foreigners in China as there are mass services in English, Latin, Italian, and Chinese. And the church is always crowded during Easter and Christmas.
Address: 141 West Qianmen Avenue, Xicheng District, Beijing.
Getting there: Bus: 102, 105, 109, or Metro: Line 2 and get off at Xuanwumen Station. The South Cathedral is on the north east corner of Xuanwumen intersection, right outside the subway.
Monday-Friday: 06:00(Latin) 06:30(Chinese), 07:15(Chinese)
Saturday: 06:00(Latin), 06:30(Chinese), 07:15(Chinese), 18:30(Chinese)
Sunday: 06:00(Latin), 07:00(Chinese), 08:30(Chinese), 10:30(English), 12:30(Italian), 15:00(English)