St. John’s Cathedral is nestled in Central District between the harbor promenade and Austin Mountain, with Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island rising up behind it. Though this Anglican cathedral’s grounds now sit amongst tall glass buildings such as the Bank of China Tower and Cheung Kong Center, it is not far from greener surroundings as it once was, being a brief walk from the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Hong Kong Park, Chater Park and Statue Square. Visitors to the island will find many other attractions within walking distance.
St. John’s first opened for services in 1849 serving the British expatriate population of the island which had recently come into their hands. Today it is a modern, active Christian congregation, with more than a few Chinese and Pilipino members. The cathedral survived the Japanese occupation of the Second World War (losing only its windows in the process), has been through several expansions, and played a role in caring for the large transient and poor population of Hong Kong, especially in the post war period.
Once the head Anglican church of much of Asia, today it is the head of the Diocese of Hong Kong. St. John’s community carries out many ministries, including care for migrant workers and counseling services and also organizes a charity walkathon for the annual Michaelmas Fair.
The building itself is in English Gothic style, expressing both the Early period, known most for its pointed “lancet” arches, and the Decorated period, which brought in detailed tracery around the windows and a great sense of soaring vertical space through narrower pillars and other design elements.
Comparatively the structure is not very ornate, however, it still carries a sense of majesty and elegance; the stained glass window of Christ behind the altar is impressive along with the carved wooden choir platforms. The cathedral has housed a choir along with an organ or harmonium since near the very beginning of its history, and you can still hear the traditional choir sing hymns every Sunday morning mass.
Little else in Hong Kong speaks so strongly to the island’s British and Christian heritage than this stunning landmark, amidst nearby and now taller towers. Its hopeful spirit, as its nearby residents, has survived the region’s most tumultuous periods intact.