The Religious Melting Pot Of Waterloo Street

Today, Singapore is frequently referred to as a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. Though there were a few notable cultural and racial frictions in the early nation-building years, the various groups generally coexisted in peace.

Several avenues have a religious variety that is apparent in their architectural imprint. Many religious buildings have been erected close together, and on some streets, they may even border one another. Aside from the well-known Telok Ayer Street and its historic institutions of Al Albrar Mosque, Thian Hock Keng, and Nagore Durgha Shrine, Waterloo Street is also known.

Thomas Church, a resident councillor, gave the street its name in 1837. In 1858, it was renamed Waterloo Street to avoid confusion with the other Church Street in Singapore, which is still there today.

WATERLOO STREET, SINGAPORE. Image Source (Archives Online)
This tour of Waterloo Street uncovers a side you never knew. Image Source (Time Out)
This is Singapore’s must-visit neighbourhood. Image Source (Jetstar)

“Because Singapore is genuinely tiny, the places of worship of various religions may be located on the same street, and in some cases even next door to each other,” wrote Professor Tommy Koh in an editorial for The Straits Times on February 21, 2014.

Also, Dr. Koh mentioned taking his international guests on a tour of Waterloo Street; and that his friends were shocked to see Buddhist worshippers performing offerings at the Hindu temple 20 meters away while they were observing a flag ceremony at the Islamic Centre.

Aside from Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho (1884) and Sri Krishnan (1870), other notable religious institutions in Singapore are the Church of Saints Peter and Paul (1869), Maghain Aboth Synagogue (1878), and the old Methodist Church (1875). The Methodist Church was the last building to be destroyed; however, it too has been rebuilt on the same location. The rest of these religious institutions, with the exception of the Methodist Church, continue to thrive on the site today. The Methodist Church, formerly located on Kampong Kapor Road, was renamed the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church in the 1920s.

Middle Road Church. Image Source (Yesterday….Today….Tomorrow)
Maghain Aboth Synagogue. Image Source (Wikipedia)
Maghain Aboth Synagogue Singapore – Location & Opening Hours. Image Source (Singapore Travel Hub)

All of these temples were erected in the 19th century, many decades or even a century before other famous structures and complexes like as Cheng Yan Court and Waterloo Centre.

While the Waterloo Street area may be referred to as a Chinatown, owing to its high concentration of Chinese and Buddhist-oriented festivals and service vendors, it is worth mentioning the other ethnic communities that have existed here since the beginning.

Waterloo St vendors to move into allocated lots from January, Singapore News & Top Stories. Image Source (The Straits Times)
Saint Joseph’s Church, Singapore. Image Source (Wikipedia)

The city centre was originally situated along the junction of Waterloo Street, Bencoolen Street, and Queen Street. If the Kampong Bencoolen region is looked at as a whole, further places of worship would be included, including the Masjid Bencoolen (1845) and Saint Joseph’s Church (1912), both of which are still in operation today.

The landscape of Kampong Bencoolen has altered considerably, however, these religious sites have been preserved. They continue to serve the needs of their devotees while also reminding us of Singapore’s religious tolerance. One of the keys to Singapore’s cultural and religious harmony is co-existence and a greater understanding of one another’s culture and religion.

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