St. Mary’s Cathedral in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, is the church building of the Catholic Sekiguchi Church (founded in 1900) and is the cathedral of Tokyo Archdiocese. It was built in 1964, designed by the world-famous Japanese architect Kenzo Tange.
From the ground it is hard to see that it is a Christian church, but if you look at the building from above, you can see that the building is in the shape of a cross, the symbol of Christianity. After 50 years, the sophisticated design of the stainless steel cladding still continues to fascinate visitors.
History and Outlook
Originally built in 1899 as an annex to the Seibo French School, it was a wooden Gothic-style cathedral with tatami mats in the pews. It burnt down during the Tokyo Air Raid in 1945, but was rebuilt with the support of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Germany. From 1960 to 1964, Kenzo Tange designed the building with the help of acoustic and structural engineers from Tokyo University.
Kenzo Tange, also the architect of the Yoyogi First Gymnasium and famous world-wide, is known for his ability to blend contemporary and traditional Japanese styles. The reinforced concrete cathedral features a modern structure, with eight curved walls and hyperbolic parabolas forming a large cross.
Inside the Cathedral
The cathedral has a solemn atmosphere reminiscent of Gothic architecture and synagogues. From the sky it looks like a large cross, and if you look up at the ceiling from inside, you can see light pouring down from the cross-shaped top skylight on the ceiling, giving you an idea of its shape.
The mystic light pouring down from the skylight, combined with the texture of the cast concrete creates a tranquil and solemn atmosphere.
At the back of the altar is a large cross, 17 meters high.
Churches are often associated with stained glass, but here, there is a ladder-shaped window made of thinly cut alabaster.
The soft golden light shining through the window and the beautiful light coming down from the skylight are definitely worth experiencing.
The pipe organ, one of the largest in Japan for church use, is located behind the pews. Its clear tone and rich reverberation is something you can only experience in a vast cathedral.
The cathedral hosts a variety of concert events. From the 600 seats and standing room for 2,000 people, visitors can enjoy the sound and light of the cathedral.
Because of its majestic atmosphere, the cathedral is a popular place to hold a wedding.
At the cathedral, non-Catholics are welcome to hold their wedding ceremonies in the hope that they will have a happy married life.
As a general rule, couples can hold a wedding in the cathedral if it is their first marriage, and if they agree to take a marriage course in the Catholic Church before the wedding.
The museum also houses a full-scale replica of Michelangelo’s masterpiece ‘Pieta’ from St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It is exactly the same size as the original, and was donated by Japan Culture Group in June 1973.
Cave of Lourdes
In the church ground, there is a replica of a cave at Lourdes, which recreates the ‘Lourdes miracle’ scene, in which the Virgin Mary made a spring appear in the cave. The pure white statue of Mary has a very peaceful and gentle expression.
The original Lourdes spring is a sacred place in France and is a pilgrimage site for the Catholics.