Chè-lâm Presbyterian Church was originally built exclusively for the Japanese colonizers of Taiwan along with wealthy local merchants. With indirect help from Kodama Gentarou, the Governor-General at the time, the design and construction of the church was assigned to Ide Kaoru, a famous architect who worked in the Construction Section of the Governor-General’s Office during the Japanese rule of Taiwan. The church was Ide’s first architectural work in Taiwan. The gothic church and its side towers were constructed with a mix of white Ki-lrigan stone quarried in northern Taiwan and red brick produced by the Taiwan Renga Brick Company. The intricately crafted red and white layers accentuated the building and made it a unique specimen of local architecture at the time. The church is one of the few remaining early Christian architectures in Taipei and the only remaining church in Taiwan adorned with fish scale roofing tiles.
In 1896, soon after the end of the First Sino-Japanese War, a multi-denominational Christian organization in Japan, The United Church of Christ, sent priest Kawai Kamesuke (1867 – 1933) to proselytize in Taiwan. In September of that same year, Kawai succeeded in establishing a permanent congregation on what is now Hanzhong street in Ximending District with the aid of Christian followers, Li Chunsheng (1867 – 1933) and George Leslie Mackay (1844 – 1901). In November, the director of the Missionary Dispatch Department of the Church of Christ in Japan, Ogimi Motoichiro (1845 – 1941) came to inspect the work in Taiwan and decided to establish the Japanese Christian Church in Taipei, often known simply as the “Church in Taipei.” This was the origin of Chè-lâm Presbyterian Church. During the Meiji (1868 – 1912) and Taisho periods (1912 – 1926), the church grew rapidly. With indirect help from the Japanese Governor-General of Taiwan, Kodama Gentarou (1852 – 1906), the design and construction of Chè-lâm Presbyterian Church in Taipei was assigned to Ide Kaoru (1879 – 1944), a famous architect working in the Construction Section of the Governor-General’s Office during the Japanese rule of Taiwan. By 1916, the entire church, including the side towers, was completed. In 1998, it was designated as a municipal historical site by the Taipei city Government.
1The Gothic Architecture
Exemplifying gothic architecture, the church is composed of white Ki-lrigan stone and red bricks produced by the Taiwan Renga Brick Company in a rising series of beautiful red and white layers. The exterior is simple and elegant, resembling the small country churches of the English Victorian era. The bell tower on the side of the chapel is supported by buttresses on its four corners; these stand as a prominent feature of the church. The gabled roof extends upward from the front wall of the building into a large mountain-like structure featuring a cross high above the head. Leaded and stained glass windows of every conceivable size and shape cover the facade. Chè-lâm Presbyterian Church is a masterpiece of architectural design among modern churches in Taiwan.
Quatrefoils decorate the inside and the outside of Chè-lâm church. They are said to symbolize the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
3The White and Lavender Chapel
The interior of the chapel features the colors white and lavender, along with a simple chancel consisting of a podium, table, and chairs. The back wall has three pointed arches and a cross in the middle, which complement the chancel. Above the arches is written the motto of Taiwan’s Presbyterian Church, “Yet it was not consumed (fénérbùhuì),” a reference to the story of Moses and the burning bush. The steel roof trusses are visible inside the church, creating a sense of airiness and space that negates the weighty feeling of the ceiling.
4Decoration of Five Loaves and Two Fishes
The miracle of the five loaves and two fishes is a story that has been told among Christians for over 2000 years. The story is illustrated in the decorations that line both sides of the chapel.
Fixed stone louvers adorn the windows in the bell tower. These louvers were not designed for ventilation. They are simply used as decoration to give the flat surface of the bell tower wall a harmonious sense of depth.
6Church Construction Completion Plaque
The construction of the church was completed in 1916, during the Taisho Era of Japanese rule. A small copper plaque commemorating this event can still be found embedded on the right side of the entrance. The Japanese inscription states, “The church is the body of Christ. His love enables all mankind to be saved.”
7Fish Scale Roofing Tiles
Fish scale roofing tiles were in common use during the period of Japan’s rule over Taiwan. They were placed over roofs to prevent water from leaking into buildings. They have long been out of production and there are no longer any craftsmen working with this material. Chè-lâm Presbyterian Church in Taipei is the only church in Taiwan built with fish scale roofing tiles.
The Chè-lâm Presbyterian Church, Taipei, is open to visitors every Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Professional tour guides are available. Groups are advised to make an appointment in advance. Church services are held on Sunday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.