Vaulted ceilings feature grandly inside the Sheshan Basilica. Provided to China Daily
Suburban Sheshan has one of the city's most impressive places of worship, Qi Xiao reports.
Although the Expo 2010 Shanghai is undoubtedly the focal point for tourists coming to Shanghai this year, there are many other world-class attractions in the city that will keep you occupied when away from the Expo Garden, including the Bund, Nanjing Road shopping precinct, the former French Concession area and a plethora of theme parks.
However, if you really want to relax and enjoy some moments of tranquility away from all the fanfare and crowds of visitors, you could add to your schedule a trip to Shanghai's suburban areas.
Sheshan, in Shanghai's western suburban Songjiang district, seems like a place only for company team-building excursions and trips to one of its five-star resorts. But, in fact, this otherwise unfashionable tourist spot is home to a number of attractions and is easily accessible from downtown via the city's comprehensive Metro system - just take Metro line 1 to Xujiahui station and switch to Metro line 9.
Sheshan is home to Shanghai's solitary hill, a sculpture park and an observatory. But its main attraction sits on top of the aforementioned hill: the Sheshan Basilica, a cathedral claimed to be the largest in the Far East.
Built in 1863 by Jesuit missionaries, the church is one of the most significant Catholic churches in China and, in its heyday, attracted hordes of pilgrims all across Asia.
In 1925, the existing church was found to be inadequate and it lagged far behind other churches in Shanghai in size and ornamentation. The church was demolished and rebuilt. Because the Portuguese priest and architect was very stringent about the quality of construction, the project took 10 years to finish, and the church was completed in 1935.
In 1942, Pope Pius XII ordained the Sheshan Cathedral a minor basilica. In 1946, the Holy See crowned the statue of Our Lady of Zose (Zose being the Shanghainese pronunciation of Sheshan) at the apex of the tower. On May 24, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI announced he had composed a prayer for the church.
A 30-minute walk, following a zigzag path with woodcarvings on each curve showing the 14 Stations of the Cross, brings you to the top of the hill and the basilica.
With its 38-meter-high bell tower visible from afar away, the redbrick church is built in a cruciform shape. No nails, beams or steel were used for the construction. Instead the whole interior is made with granite.
Above the marble altar, the Virgin Mother, holding the baby Jesus in her arms, watches over the faithful. Up to 3,000 people can find a place inside.
Recent renovations, which included the installation of landscape and interior lighting, makes the cathedral a pleasant place to visit in the evenings.
Floodlights have been installed in the grounds around the basilica, and there is exterior lighting on the upper balconies and roof. Lighting has also been placed on interior balconies to highlight the ornate stained-glassed windows, and on the vaulted ceilings.
Thor Daniel Hjaltason, a designer and lighting expert from Iceland, one of the two working on the project, said the designers worked intensively for two months to come up with a lighting plan for the cathedral.
"This is a cultural and historic relic," said Hjaltason. "And we had to avoid doing any damage to the church."
They managed to install the lighting out of view of church visitors.
"We installed 230 LED lamps around and inside the church," says Josef Fung, Thor's partner, who is Icelandic Chinese. "But you won't see them."
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