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The Holy Rosary Church: A Portuguese Legacy along the Chao Phraya River

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

texts and photos by Clyde Ericson Nolasco

One of the oldest churches in Thailand, the Holy Rosary Church stands along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, in the packed neighborhood of commercial establishments of Bangkok.

Thailand is a four-hour flight away from Manila but stepping inside the Holy Rosary Church in Bangkok didn't remind me of that idea. It is as if I am just visiting an old church in a province in the Philippines.

In spite of the noises in the area, I thought I was teleported to a place that is historic and peaceful; located in the middle of an urban jungle yet permeates solitude and tranquility.

Portuguese Legacy

The Portuguese, the first Europeans to explore the country, first settled in Ayutthaya, a historical city that was once the capital of the pre-Thailand kingdom. However, after the Burmese-Siamese war, Ayutthaya was destroyed. In 1769, The Portuguese resettled south near the banks of the Chao Phraya river.

The church was first built by the Portuguese in 1786, four years after the establishment of Bangkok as the capital, on land donated by King Rama I.

I was welcomed by statues and images I believed have already stood the test of time. They are hallowed witnesses to the cries and prayers of the faithful near Chao Phraya. They can't speak but they have heard a lot; they can't talk but many have pleaded to them for help and intercessions.

A Wooden Church

The original church was a settled wooden building completed in 1787. In 1838, a brick church on a masonry base replaced the wooden one. In 1839, the church was dedicated to the Holy Rosary.

In 1897, the church fell into an irreparable state so its pastor, Fr. Desalles, prepared for the construction of a new one. The new building was finished after six years to become what is now a Gothic style church with magnificent steeples and a facade facing the significant Chao Phraya River. This sacred place brings one to Europe through its interior and stained glass windows.

Wat Kalawar

Locally, the church is known as Wat Kalawar. “Kalawar” is the Thai translation of the Portuguese word Calvary, the mountain where our Lord Jesus was crucified.

These days, Kalawar Church or the Holy Rosary Church is a concrete symbol of the religious diversity in the area serving as a house of prayer for the faithful from different nationalities.

Wat Kalawar, like Mary of the Holy Rosary, embodies a comforting and consoling mother. Wat Kalawar, like Mary who is the Star of the Sea (Stella Maris) is the Star of the Chao Phraya. I entered this Church with hesitations as I am travelling alone, but left with hopeful heart, trusting like Mary and as firm as the Wat Kalawar.


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