Church of the Assumption, at Farquhar Street within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a history dating back to the late 18th. century. This Catholic church was relocated to its present site in 1857 and rebuilt in its present basilica layout. In 1955, it was decreed a cathedral by the Vatican, although its dwindling number of parishioners led to its reverted status since 2003.
The church is currently under the jurisdiction of the City Parish, a grouping of four Catholic churches within George Town city centre.
At least some of the Catholic parishioners of the church currently reside at Argus Lane, right behind the church.
After founding George Town in 1786, Captain Francis Light extended an invitation to a French Catholic priest, Father (later Bishop) Arnaud-Antoine Garnault, to settle on the Prince of Wales Island, as Penang Island was then called. Father Garnault and his Eurasian congregation had been escaping religious persecution in southern Siam. Light accepted Father Garnault's permission to relocate the Catholic mission to the Prince of Wales Island and subsequently dispatched his ship, the Speedwell, to pick up the Catholics.
Upon arriving in George Town, Father Garnault established his presbytery at Bishop Street and the first Catholic church of the settlement, the Church of the Assumption, at nearby Church Street. The church was so named by the Eurasian Catholics celebrating their deliverance from persecution.
However, Father Garnault's relations with Light were not always pleasant. When Father Garnault left in 1787, Light wrote to his superiors in British India to request for a replacement. According to Light, 'a Portuguese padre would be better than a French, the latter being too great politicians'.
The church was then rebuilt in brick and continued serving as the heart of George Town's Catholic community until 1857. It was subsequently moved to its present location at Farquhar Street. Reconstruction works began in 1860 under the supervision of Reverend L.C. Manissol, and the church in its present basilica form was opened in 1861. At the time, the church could hold up to 1,200 followers.
When the new Penang Free School building was completed in 1906, the school's old buildings were demolished. The church bought all the materials for the construction of a new parish hall at the Love Lane side of the lane in 1907.
The newer building was later demolished in 1926 in order to build an extension of the church. Two new wings were added in 1928 at a cost of almost $85,000 (Straits dollar).
In 1954, a shrine housing a statue of Our Lady of Fatima was added in front of the church. The following year, the Vatican decreed the church a cathedral; the church was renamed the Cathedral of the Diocese of Penang.
Due to the decline of George Town in the 1970s, the urban population began to move out of the city centre towards the suburbs and other areas on Penang Island. Consequently, the Catholic congregation living within the city centre gradually shrunk. In 1988, the four Catholic churches in George Town city centre, including the Cathedral of the Diocese of Penang, were amalgamated into a single City Parish.
Following the shift of the Catholic population towards George Town's suburbs, the status of the Cathedral Church was passed on to the Church of the Holy Spirit within the southernmost suburb of Gelugor in 2003. Since then, the church at Farquhar Street has once again become known as the Church of the Assumption.
Penang State Government
N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)
Malaysian Federal Parliament
P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)
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- Langdon, M. A Guide to George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precints. Penang : George Town World Heritage Incorporated.
- Cheah J. S., 2013. Penang 500 Early Postcards. Editions Didier Millet.
- Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books.