Chijmes (14)

Located at 30 Victoria Street, the Chijmes National Monument is named after the initials of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Middle Education School, or  the Convent of the Sacred College of the Child Jesus.

As you can see, this is a building complex that, although it started as a Catholic convent with outbuildings, has now been transformed into a commercial centre.   Today it offers a wealth of ethnic restaurants. Everything from Turkish, Brazilian and Japanese to tapas.  It also houses a variety of shops and various shows are performed in an incomparable setting.  These are often reserved by companies for their most exclusive events or couples who choose to celebrate their wedding in Chijmes Hall.

Chijmes occupies an entire block and includes examples of many different architectural styles and periods forming a unique aesthetic diversity. It is in an area laced with beautiful gardens and open spaces that are worth visiting during the day and especially at night.

This block houses the oldest standing residential home in Singapore, the Caldwell House, which, along with its neoclassical style gardens and courtyards, evokes a more rustic version of Covent Garden in London. Caldwell commissioned George D. Coleman to build this home between 1840 and 1841.   Coleman is also known for building the Armenian Church and the original St. Andrew's Cathedral. Years later, the building was sold to Father Jean-Marie Beurel, a French missionary who founded the Convent here, as well as other notable buildings in the city such as the Saint Joseph's Institution, now the Singapore Art Museum, and the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, where he was the pastor.

In 1854 Father Beurel broght the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus to the Convent. They worked busily on their sewing chores, reading and writing on the top floor, while the first floor was used for receptions. In addition to this convent, these nuns, led by Mother Mathilde Raclot, were very committed to the children in the area and came here to establish a school and orphanage. In fact, the Gate of Hope, where abandoned babies were left, is the gate of Bras Basah Road. In all, they set up almost a hundred monasteries all over Malaysia, including the Light Street Convent in Penang, which is the oldest girls’ school in the region.

The convent’s first chapel was built shortly before the arrival of the sisters in 1850, but by the late nineteenth century it was in such poor condition that the nuns had to work hard to raise funds to build a new one. In fact, almost everything we now know about the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus is thanks to the manuscripts of these nuns, who kept a diary recounting the details of their daily convent life from the time of their arrival until 1971.

Designed by Father Charles Benedict Nain, the new chapel was built  between 1901 and  1904 and consecrated in 1905.  As you can see, it is one of the most elaborate places of worship in all of Singapore and radiates a typically Gothic elegance, reminiscent of Saint Joseph's Church in some of its details, such as the stained glass windows.

Finally, after nearly 130 years, the last service took place on 3 November, 1983, after which the convent was deconsecrated and closed.

After more than 5 years of restoration and over 100 million dollars, the Chijmes complex finally opened, to the delight of a fun-loving public. Here you will find a wide range of unique items, gifts and souvenirs, as well as chic cafes and restaurants. Many say it is reminiscent of the exuberance of 1930s Shanghai.

So now you know. If you are hungry for food or for culture, Chijmes has something to offer. Go for a pleasant walk, indulge in some shopping, grab a sushi, relax in a spa and take some good photos of the old convent.

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