The design of Dadaocheng Presbyterian Church in Taipei is a combination of the architecture styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This historical landmark is, moreover, a combination of Eastern and Western cultures. The front façade of this magnificent western church building is made of exposed aggregate concrete displaying traditional Taiwanese patterns to present a beautiful blend of Eastern and Western art. As the oldest of the three remaining Presbyterian churches that were built in Taipei during the Japanese era in Taiwan, this building features a very rare design not found in most modern Taiwanese buildings. The chapel’s most peculiar aspect is its lack of a single main entrance. Based on traditional teachings of separation of the sexes, men were required to enter and exit the building through the left side entrance, while women used the right side entrance.
Dadaocheng Presbyterian Church was originally known as Dalongdong Church. It was established by Priest George Leslie Mackay (1844 – 1901) in 1875. During the Sino-French War (1884 – 1885), local citizens attacked the churches and Dalongdong Church was so badly damaged that it was reduced to rubble. It was later rebuilt on Niumoche Street (now Dihua Street) after the first governor of Taiwan, Liu Mingchuan (1836 – 1896) approved funding. The rebuilt church, named Fansi Chapel , was one of the largest churches in Taiwan at the time. In 1915, Li Chunsheng (1838-1924), the founding father of Taiwan’s tea industry, proposed donating a piece of land for the rebuilding of the church. The new building, renamed Dadaocheng Presbyterian Church, Taipei, still stands today. In 2007, a new church building was constructed behind the original; only the chapel’s left and right façades were left intact. The bricks of the front wall were removed and it was rebuilt in its original form a mere six meters forward from its previous position to serve as the entrance to the new church building. In 2002, the old chapel was designated a municipal historic site.
The design of Dadaocheng Presbyterian Church is mainly gothic. It is said that Li Chunsheng (the founding father of Taiwan’s tea industry) used churches built by foreign missionaries in his hometown of Xiamen City (known as Amoy at the time ) as references for the design. The front façade includes symmetrical gothic windows, short spires, and a roof gable. The two main columns are of the Corinthian order (an ornate ancient Greek architectural style), dividing the front of the church evenly into three parts to represent the Christian teaching of the holy trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) being God in three persons.
Although the design of Dadaocheng Presbyterian Church pays homage to western architectural styles, the patterns formed with exposed aggregate on the roof gable are actually a mixture of western and eastern art with some traditional Taiwanese patterns incorporated. Curving tendrils flow gently along the ridgeline of the gable to the two small spires on either side, which rest upon paired Corinthian columns. Directly below the gable is an oeil-de-boeuf (French for “bull’s eye”) window with terra cotta decoration. Underneath the window is a typical gothic arch with traditional relief carvings, a design technique commonly found in the Dadaocheng district during the Taisho Period (1912 – 1926).
3Double Door Design
Most traditional Taiwanese architecture adopted an odd number of doors, such as single-door designs (in city walls or residences), three-door designs (in arch gateways and temples), or five-door designs (in the front halls of temples or large gateways). It was rare to see a double door. Dadaocheng Presbyterian Church, however, used two doors on each side to segregate male (left) from female (right) visitors. The unusual design was a new approach to architecture for the otherwise conservative culture of the time.
4Restored Front Façade
By 2007, the front façade of the church had been damaged by significant weathering. In order to preserve the original architectural design, a space was cleared out behind the chapel to construct a new church building. The old chapel, including the two sidewalls, was removed from its foundation and shifted six meters forward. The façade was then restored according to its original blueprint using its original bricks. The new church building is designed in a U-shape to allow the old chapel to serve as the entryway to the new building. The resulting exterior is the only one of its kind in Taiwanese architectural history.
5The Pipe Organ in the Chapel
Dadaocheng Presbyterian Church is one of the few chapels in Taiwan with a large pipe organ. Made by Swiss company Mathis in 2013, the organ at Dadaocheng Presbyterian Church includes 40 organ stops, 2,377 pipes, and a mechanical keyboard. It is currently the fourth largest pipe organ in Taiwan, providing solemn accompaniment to worshippers singing hymns.
The chapel is open to the public every other Saturday morning. Professional guides are available to provide tours. Visitors may also reserve a tour in advance in Chinese, English, or Japanese. Services in Taiwanese are held Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. Chinese (Mandarin) services are held Sunday mornings at 11:00 a.m.