one of the many old Catholic churches in Bangkok, was built in 1770 during the reign of King Taksin (1767 – 1782). This Church of the Holy Cross is a legacy of Portuguese-Siamese relations that date back to the 16th century.
Nestled among old houses on the river banks and newer buildings inland, the reddish dome of the old Catholic church is a prominent landmark on the Chao Phraya River.
Descendants of the early Portuguese Catholics built the first Santa Cruz Church in 1770 after the fall of Ayutthaya.
The Portuguese, the first Europeans in Siam, arrived in Ayutthaya shortly after they captured Malacca in 1511.
As the region was in the trading area of Ayutthaya, the Portuguese shrewdly dispatched an envoy to the court of Ayutthaya in the same year to reassure the king that Portugal had no further territorial ambitions in the region.
In 1516, Portugal signed a treaty with Ayutthaya to supply firearms and munitions. With the treaty came with the rights to reside, trade and practice their religion in Thailand. This brought the first Portuguese friars in 1567 who established the Catholic Church in Ayutthaya.
After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, the Portuguese continued with their military support to King Taksin in his efforts to drive the Burmese out of Siam. The supply of mercenaries, cannon and muskets contributed significantly to King Taksin’s army.
With Ayutthaya destroyed, the Catholics from the old city moved south to start a village by the Chao Phraya near Wang Derm, King Taksin’s Palace. In recognition of their services, King Taksin granted the Portuguese a plot of land to build a church. This grant was made during his royal visit to this village on 14 September 1769.
14 September is of religious significance to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. On this day in 326 AD, St Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor, made a miraculous discovery of the Holy Cross during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The day has been designated the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. For this reason, the church was named Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). A wooden church was completed on 25 May 1770.
All photos by Akihiko goto