St. Paul’s Church is a ruined 16th Century church on St. Paul’s Hill near Dutch Square in the centre of Melaka, also known as Malacca.
St. Paul’s Church is free to enter and is open all hours.
About St. Paul’s Church
St. Paul’s Church was originally built in 1521 by a Portuguese ship Captain called Duarte Coelho in gratitude for his narrow escape from a large storm at sea. St. Paul’s Church in Melaka is believed have been to be the first permanent church in South East Asia. The church was then transferred to the Jesuit order in 1548. The Jesuits enlarged the original small structure adding a second floor in 1556 and the bell tower in 1590.
To get to St. Paul’s Church you need to climb up several flights of shallow stairs to reach the top of what was originally known as Malacca Hill, but has been subsequently renamed St. Paul’s Hill.
The walk up to St. Paul’s Church takes 5 to 10 minutes depending upon how quickly you can walk. St. Paul’s Hill isn’t very high but you do get some great views over Melaka across to the coastline because of the rest of the city is almost completely flat.
The first thing you see when you visit St. Paul’s Church is a statue of Saint Francis Xavier, which was erected in 1952 to mark the 400th anniversary of his death. Saint Francis Xavier was a co-founder of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, who was made into a Saint in recognition of his efforts to convert people in Asia to the Catholic faith. He was very successful in attracting converts in India, but faced a lot more resistance in China and in particular in Japan. Saint Francis Xavier died in China in 1552 and his body was brought to St. Paul’s Church in 1553 where it was kept for 8 months before shipped to Goa in India where it remains today.
One of the striking things about St. Paul’s Church is how badly it has deteriorated. There older churches in other places that are a lot better preserved. The reason for this is that the church stopped being used as the community’s main Christian place of worship in 1753 after the construction of Christ Church Melaka at the bottom of the hill. The Dutch colonialists used the structure as a fortification and the British East India Company, who took over Melaka in 1825, used the old church to store ammunition.
Inside St. Paul’s Church there are two main spaces. The larger space is the original two story building with the first floor and and the roof missing. Many of the windows have also been bricked up. The second smaller space at the rear of the church is where Saint Francis Xavier was buried in an open grave. The hole is currently covered by metal cage.
Some attempts to preserve St. Paul’s Church were finally made in the early 20th Century. Most notably some very old Dutch tombstones scattered around the grounds of St. Paul’s Church were cleaned up and placed inside the church resting against the walls.
The poor condition of St. Paul’s Church is unfortunate, and to really appreciate the importance of this building visitors are required to know about it’s history and to use their imagination. The church has little signage to explain what everything is or used to be.
Location of St. Paul’s Church
- Jalan Kota, Bandar Hilir, 75000 Melaka, Malaysia.