Sarawak, Malaysia: A Gem in the Jungle

To claim that it has not yet been discovered would be wrong. How could it be undiscovered if the locals have been using it since the dawn of the 20th Century? I mean, of course, the oldest Catholic Church building in Sarawak that is still standing today. Welcome to Sacred Heart Church, Bawan.

Bawan Church was the third Catholic Church to be erected in Sarawak: built in 1900. The Kanowit Church was built in 1887, and the Kuching Church was built in 1891, but both buildings have long since been replaced with new churches. The original Bawan Church, however, still survives.

Across the Rejang river from Kanowit town, after about a ten minute drive, you come to a narrow path which meanders into a beautiful and serene compound surrounded by a majestic forest. And lo and behold there it is, the beautiful Bawan Church situated near the calm and cool Bawan river. It is a Gem in the Jungle. Indeed this place could make for the perfect Retreat and Wellness Centre.

The first chapel in Bawan was built in 1885 as an outstation of Kanowit Mission. However, in 1898 Bawan and Tuah became a Rectorship independent from Kanowit, with Fr. Stotter as the first Rector. He built a school and a new Church and put it under the patronage of the Sacred Heart. The church was completed by Fr. Adrian Klerk and blessed in 1900. Later in 1911, with the transfer of Fr. Klerk to Kanowit, and due to shortage of priests, Bawan and Tuah became once again outstations of Kanowit, which is still the case today. However, It did enjoy one more brief period of independence from Kanowit between the years of 1928 to 1932. It is likely that the Church underwent some renovation shortly before the Consecration of its Altar Stone on 31st Jan 1950 by Bishop William F. Brown of Pella. The Altar Stone contained the relics of the martyrs St. Boniface and St. Pius.

Presently, due to its sorry and dilapidated state, after having weathered many a storm, the Church has not been in use for more than 10 years. It is feared that it could suddenly collapse. A new Bawan Chapel has since been built around 2km away. Yet, this old Church, which cries for renovation, still remains a gem. Being the oldest Catholic Church building still standing in East Malaysia, to lose it would be regrettable.

Mathews Olili mhm

One Comment

  1. I had the privilege of visiting this ‘gem’ during my visitation of Malaysia in January 2020 – my last visitation before the pandemic. The Local Christian community are very much attached to this chapel even though a new Chapel has been built. And so the Gospel continues to spread in so many different ways – as in the past, so in the present and on into the future. GS

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