Guangzhou's Sacred Heart of Jesus Church -- usually known as the Stone House -- is the largest Catholic Church in south China. A protected historical relic located in the capital of Guangdong Province, the church is getting its biggest renovation ever in a bid to offer Catholics a better environment for services, to protect the historical value of the site and to bolster tourism.
Fang Xiaowen, deputy director of Guangzhou's Yuexiu District, said on Sunday that the local government plans to polish the European-style structure into church that can compare with France's Notre Dame.
The Stone House, built mostly of granite, was listed as a key State historical relic in the late 1970s.
The first phase of the church's renovation will cost about 19.6 million yuan (US$2.4 million).
The church itself is contributing 3.0 million yuan (US$360,000), with the government footing the rest of the bill.
The project officially started on July 18 and will last for about two years.
The first phase includes repairing the leaky roof, replacing all 98 windows, rewiring the interior and replacing the lights, and rebuilding hallways, stairs, exterior walls and other facilities. The windows alone -- all 600 square meters of them -- will cost more than 4.1 million yuan (US$500,000). The clock tower is also getting a new mechanical clock.
In Phase Two, scheduled to be completed in 10 years, the surrounding environment will be the focus of improvements.
A primary school located on the site will be moved to make way for a garden, and some other buildings will be bulldozed for construction of two squares in the eastern and southern areas.
Cheng Zhiyang, a local Catholic, said that the Stone House was in serious need of repair.
"Repairing the church reflects the government's great concern for religious affairs and its efforts to try to offer a better environment for religious activities," Cheng told China Daily. "This church has been a symbol of religious freedom on the Chinese mainland."
The church, originally designed and financed by the French, took 25 years to build, from 1863 to 1888. It cost more than 400,000 French francs at that time.
Located on Guangzhou's busy Yide Road in Yuexiu District, it occupies 2,754 square meters of floor space and stands 58.5 meters high. A pair of stone towers decorates the front, with the clock in the west tower.
In the 1920s, all the wooden roof beams and stairs were replaced by reinforced concrete ones. In the 1980s, the central government invested more than 150,000 yuan (US$18,000) to make repairs.
On May 26, 2003, an iron gate of the church was stolen. How that happened remains a mystery, as the gate weighed more than 250 kilograms, and stood 4 meters high and 2.4 meters wide. Police have been unable to identify the culprits.
The Stone House will be closed until the renovation is complete.
(China Daily August 30, 2004)