Béthanie Neo-Gothic Chapel Restoration, Hong Kong

Summary

Every Sunday the neo-gothic, George C. Tso Memorial Chapel at Béthanie is home to Emmanuel Church – Pokfulam, an English speaking Anglican / Church of England / Episcopal Church, serving the west of Hong Kong and a daughter church of St. John’s Anglican / Episcopal Cathedral.

Béthanie Sanatorium, complete with a neo-gothic chapel was built on a hilltop in Pokfulam, Hong Kong surrounded by dairy pastures by the Missions Etrangères de Paris (the French Mission).  Completed in 1875, Béthanie operated until 1974 as a place for priest and missionaries from all over Asia to recover from tropical diseases before returning to their missions.

In 1974 the French Mission sold Béthanie to Hongkong Land.  The following year in 1975, Hongkong Land determined the site too difficult to develop and in an exchange of land agreement, the Hong Kong government took Béthanie subject to a demolition order.  For the next five years the threat of demolition loomed over Béthanie, however, in 1981 Béthanie was saved and declared a Grade II listed building.

It was not until March 2003, that the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LEGCO) approved funds for the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) to restore and convert Béthanie into its Landmark Heritage campus, housing its School of Film and Television.  This restoration and conversion work was completed in December 2006.

In addition to housing the HKAPA School of Film and Television, Béthanie houses two performance venues, an exhibition hall, a chapel and a museum.  Although Béthanie retains its distinctive traditional architecture, it has been fully modernized to meet the needs of a world-class film and television school.

The first Emmanuel Church – Pokfulam, church service held in the newly refurbished neo-gothic George C. Tso Memorial Chapel at Béthanie took place on Sunday 17th December 2006.


The Restoration of Béthanie Chapel – Pokfulam, Hong Kong

The newly refurbished neo-gothic, George C. Tso Memorial Chapel at Béthanie is home every Sunday to Emmanuel Church – Pokfulam, an English speaking Anglican  / Episcopal Church, serving the west of Hong Kong and a daughter church of St. John’s Anglican / Episcopal Cathedral.

Béthanie was Hong Kong’s first sanatorium.  It was built by the Missions Etrangères de Paris (the French Mission often referred to as the MEP) between 1873 and 1875 on a hilltop (which was thought to be healthier for the patients) in Pokfulam, Hong Kong surrounded by the dairy pastures.

The architect of Béthanie was Fr. Pierre-Marie Osouf – the Procureur (Provider) the head of the French Mission in Hong Kong who was later appointed Archbishop in Tokyo.  Fr. Charles Edmond Patriat, his assistant supervised the building of Béthanie and became the first Superior (Director) of the House of Béthanie in 1875 when it opened.

Béthanie operated for nearly a century as a place for priest and missionaries from all over Asia to recover from tropical diseases before returning to their missions.

In 1974 the French Mission sold Béthanie to Hongkong Land.  The following year, in 1975, Hongkong Land determined the site too difficult to develop and in an exchange of land agreement, the Hong Kong government took Béthanie subject to a demolition order.  For the next five years the threat of demolition loomed over Béthanie, however, in 1981 Béthanie was saved and declared a Grade II listed building.

From 1978 to 1997 Béthanie was used by The University of Hong Kong, at which time it was returned to the Government and gradually deteriorated.

In 2000, the Hong Kong Architectural Services Department commissioned a feasibility study to investigate the restoration of Béthanie.

In March 2003, the Legislative Council approved the capital works funds for the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) to restore Béthanie and two neighbouring Dairy Farm cowsheds as the Academy’s Landmark Heritage campus.  The restoration work was completed in December 2006.

Béthanie now houses the HKAPA’s School of Film and Television. In addition to the academic facilities, it has two performance venues, an exhibition hall, a chapel and a museum.  Although Béthanie retains its distinctive traditional architecture, it has been fully modernized to meet the needs of a world-class film and television school.

Béthanie’s restoration was led by Philip Soden (now retired), Director of Operations at the HKAPA.  The architect was Philip Liao. During the restoration Philip Soden went on a full-scale scavenger hunt across Hong Kong to recover as many of the original furnishings that had been removed from Béthanie when it was sold by the MEP in 1974.

The original main altar, reredos (decorated part of the wall behind an altar), communion rails and sacristy doors were found in storage at the Annunciation Church, Tsuen Wan.  They have been returned on loan by kind permission of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.

Also returned were the massive original chapel doors which were still in use as the front doors to the new French Mission House in Mount Kellet Road.

Locating the nineteen stained-glass windows proved particularly challenging.  Nine of the seventeen original stained glass windows were found and restored.  Two of the original stained glass windows were discovered during the renovations of nearby Chi Fu Fa Yuen housing development, and seven were found at the Freemasons, Zetland Hall on Kennedy Road.  The remaining windows were replaced with hand made replicas of the originals with the generous support of St. John’s Anglican / Episcopal Cathedral.

The search is still ongoing for eight of twelve statues of the apostles behind the altar.  Three of the twelve statues were recovered from an art room at one of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels’ schools. A fourth had been given to the architect who had worked on the new French Mission House and a replica of this was commissioned.

The eight statues of apostles still at large are distinctive in several respects.  They are all 90 cm high with an irregular octagonal base upon which the name of the saint is written in Latin in red Gothic script.  They are cast in terracotta and glazed in grey.  Also on the back of each statue, near the base is the maker’s mark (registered trade mark) “marque deposee“. This maker’s mark is a little gold-coloured chip, about 8mm square, located at the rear of the statues about 75mm above the base.  It appears to be a heart with rays of light emanating from it.

Do you recognise this Marque Deposee from the Béthanie Apostle statues? The Maque might be: RAFEL EFTCZ?  If you recognise this “marque deposee” and might be able to help identify the French maker circa 1873-1875 please contact Director of Operations at the HKAPA  or leave a message on the bottom of this page and we will happily forward it on.

To assist with identification eight missing apostle statues, their Latin names are listed below.

  • S. Andreas
  • S. Iacobus
  • S. Iohannes
  • S. Bartholomeus
  • S. Matthias
  • S. Thaddeus
  • S. Philippus
  • S. Simon

Here is an example of two of the recovered apostles: S. Matthaeus and S. Paulus with a detail of S. Matthaeus showing the saint’s name written in Latin in the distinctive red gothic script.

If you can help in locating these missing apostles or might be able to help identify the maker’s mark “marque deposee“, please contact Director of Operations at the HKAPA so they can seek permission to make reproductions and reinstall the missing statues.  Alternatively leave a message on the bottom of this page and we will forward it on.

The restored Béthanie, houses two performance venues, an exhibition hall, a chapel which is used by Emmanuel Anglican / Episcopal Church – Pokfulam. Hong Kong and a museum dedicated to Béthanie and its founders the MEP.

The first Emmanuel Anglican / Episcopal Church – Pokfulam, Hong Kong service held in the newly refurbished neo-gothic George C. Tso Memorial Chapel at Béthanie took place on Sunday 17th December 2006.

The use of the Béthanie chapel every Sunday by Emmanuel Anglican / Episcopal Church – Pokfulam continues the Christian story of the building.  Between 1974 and 2006 Béthanie did not have a Christian use, however, for most of its history Béthanie was all about Christianity – the Missions Etrangères de Paris and their missionaries in Asia.  At one time the MEP had nearly 60 churches in Guangdong Province alone.

Béthanie’s story has been beautifully documented in a book by Prof. Alain Le Pichon, a French historian at the Université Paris-Sorbonne – Paris IV, who lives in Paris and Hong Kong. His book “Béthanie & Nazareth” recounts the lives of those who found the rest and medical attention they needed and the socio-political events that impacted on them, the buildings and on the functional, trade city of Hong Kong.  This coffee table book is available in English, French and Chinese.

This is how Prof. Alain Le Pichon describes the Béthanie chapel that is now used for worship by Emmanuel Church Anglican / Episcopal  – Pokfulam every Sunday:

“The chapel was indeed a remarkable architectural achievement. It had been conceived very much as a functional place of worship, mostly for the use of sick missionaries sent Hong Kong to recuperate.  But its very simplicity was the key to its charm and appeal.

From the outside, with its domed-roof, its tall, arched windows alternating with its elegant flying buttresses, it was reminiscent of the choir apses of a thirteenth century French cathedral.  And, from inside, an uplifting feeling of space was created by the use of the rib-vaulting technique which first originated in the Ile-de-France area near Paris in the twelfth century.  The application of this technique at the Béthanie chapel was coupled with the use of slim columns whose supporting capitals reach unusually a third of the way up the tall windows to support the ribbing, thus enhancing the feeling of space inside the chapel.

With the light streaming in through the stained glass of the nineteen tall windows, it was then a beautiful place to come and pray, as it is today a beautiful place to come and visit.

Remarkably, the feeling of peace and serenity was achieved with little, if any regard to ornamental refinement or striking effect.  The architect [Fr. Osouf] and his assistant [Fr. Patriat] were happy to adhere to a few guiding principles, functionality of design, purity of line, time honoured architectural techniques, and they made a virtue of being extremely sparing of expensive stone carvings and other ornamental detail.”


For reference here are some additional links about Béthanie and its restoration:

  • Refernence name: “Béthanie and Nazareth: French Secrets from a British Colony
    Author: Alain Le Pichon
    Published by: Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
    Published: 15 Dec 2006
    ISBN-10: 9889943808
    ISBN-13: 978-9889943806

Below is a gallery showing some photographs of Béthanie pre and post renovation.  You can click on the thumbnail image to see a larger image with captions.

 

 


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