Hidden churches of Beijing's hutong

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St. Michael's Church

Located in Beijing's longest hutong, Dongjiaominxiang, the well-preserved St. Michael's church is "small but exquisite," according to Sun Hongtao, who has been a priest managing daily matters there for five years.

St. Michael's can hold about 400 visitors – significantly smaller than Beijing's other Catholic churches – and has remained remarkably free from serious damage since its construction in 1901. A young woman called Miya, who was taking pictures of the gate outside said, "A friend told me I would be impressed with the delicate St. Michael's statue here. It is said that the believers take him as a guardian angel."

"During the Cultural Revolution, St. Michael's Church was shut down, but unlike other churches that were torn down, this church was put under Taijichang Elementary School," said Chen Jing, an editor of Tianguang, magazine of Beijing diocese. "The unchanged structure of the church was used as an assembly hall. Repair work in 1986 and 2000 was just to take care of small things, like painting and mending."

In 1901, the church property belonged to the French embassy, and when it opened in 1904, St. Michael's was managed by the French Church. The church is decorated with colorful tiles, and bright stained glass windows fill the east and west walls. "The windows were originally specially made in France, but they were broken when the church was used as an elementary school. The current windows are replacements," an anonymous employee from the archives of the Beijing Catholic diocese said.

St. Michael's is unusual in that it incorporates some Chinese architectural styles into its supplementary structures, like the two-story rectory and the 10-room church offices. It also sits facing north-to-south instead of east-to-west, which is unusual, according to Shi Hongxi.

Christmas mass:

5 pm and 11:30 pm on December 24.

7 am and 8 am on December 25.

Address: A13, Dongjiaominxiang, Dongcheng District


Kuanjie Church

A white cross looms in Jixiang Hutong off of Ping'an Street, just east of Dianmen. It's more noticeable these days, as much of the area surrounding it lies in ruins due to construction for subway lines 6 and 8. The church, at least, is spared, already having been moved once on August 12, 2000, from Kuanjie, displaced for the construction of Ping'an Street.

Protected by a large iron gate, many people don't even notice the church. Xiu Yang, who owns a clothes store across the street, said, "It's really quiet and isolated here. Only on Sunday there are many people gathering here."

Kuanjie Church is one of the eight opened by the United Methodist Church in Beijing. Unlike the city's Catholic churches, Kuanjie is "really simple and more modern," according to Minister Meng Maoru. Former US President George W. Bush once visited in 2008. Teacher Tian, who manages the church camp, said, "President Bush felt this church was familiar and reminded him of home. And in this home, from the small details like the door signs to big things like the door and windows, all were chosen and installed by our staff themselves. People traveled far to procure the building materials, but everyone wanted to contribute to the church, and that makes it more like home."

Address: No.10, Jixiang Hutong, Dianmen East Street, Dongcheng District


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