St. Michael’s Cathedral in Qingdao

The Cathedral of St. Michael is a Catholic cathedral located in Qingdao (also known as Tsingtao), in Shandong Province, People’s Republic of China, and seat of the Diocese of Qingdao.

It is located on the top of a hill in the oldest part of Qingdao, in the center of the portion of the city of German origin, at number 15 Zhejiang Road, on the eastern side of Zhongshan Street, in the District Of Shinan.

It was built by German missionaries, and is the greatest example of Neo-Roman architecture in the province, similar to the German cathedrals of the twelfth century.

The Cathedral of San Miguel is product of an important German cultural influence in the province during century XIX and principles of century XX.

In the mid-nineteenth century, European powers forced China to open up to foreign trade, and the Divine Word Missionaries built a church at the Jiaozhou Bay Concession in Shandong in 1902, and in 1934 erected the cathedral, which remained nominally low his administration until 1964.

In 1942 he came under the control of the Japanese army, and returned to Chinese control when the Japanese left Qingdao in 1945.

In the early 1950s all foreign missionaries, including the Qingdao bishop, were imprisoned Or expelled from China, and during the course of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) the cathedral was subjected to vandalism and a victim of abandonment.

In 1981 the government rebuilt it and opened it again to the religious service, and in 1992 it was listed as a Provincial Historic Building by the government of Shandong Province.

Historic context

Following the defeat of China in the First Opium War, the country was forced to establish foreign trade relations through a series of agreements generally known as unequal treaties.

Following the Treaty of Nanking (1842), the British established the first treaty ports, and following the Chinese concession to the British Empire, other foreign powers including France, the United States, Portugal, Germany, Japan and Russia also won concessions.

Foreigners, who focused on the sections of the cities destined to them, enjoyed the legal extraterritoriality stipulated in the treaties, and thus established their clubs, racetracks and churches in the main treaty ports.

Some of these port areas were leased directly by foreign powers as concessions in China, effectively eliminating the control of local governments.

German presence in Qingdao

In the early 1890s, the German Empire had considered carrying out the occupation of Jiaozhou Bay (Kiautschou in German) to build its first naval base in East Asia, with the purpose of extending into Shandong.

In 1891, the Qing Dynasty government had decided to make Qingdao a defensible city against naval attacks and began to improve the existing fortifications there; As a result of this, German naval officers reported on this Chinese activity during a formal study of the bay in May 1897.

In November of that year the German navy seized the bay under the pretext of securing the payment of compensation as a result of the murder of two German Catholic missionaries in the province.

In the spring of 1898, the German government signed a treaty that allowed the Germans to lease an area of 540 km² for 99 years to build a railroad to the provincial capital , Jinan, and to exploit the coal deposits along the railroad.

The Jiaozhou Bay Concession, as it came to be known, existed from 1898 to 1914; With an area of 552 km², was part of the imperial province of Shandong, on the south coast of the Shandong Peninsula, north of China, and with Qingdao as its administrative center.

According to Wilhelm Matzat, of the University of Bonn, “the so-called Marktstrasse (Market Street) was no more than the old main street of the village of Tsingtao, and the buildings along it were the former homes of fishermen and farmers. After having sold their property, they moved to the most oriental villas, where they settled their homes and fields.”

By gaining control of the area, the Germans equipped the impoverished village of Tsingtao with wide streets, solid housing areas, buildings Government, electricity everywhere, a sewage system, and potable water supply.

The buildings were built in the European style, and the area had the highest density of schools and the highest per capita enrollment rate in all of China.

Primary, secondary and vocational schools were founded by the German Imperial Treasury, and by both Protestant and Catholic missions.

The cathedral was built by the Missionaries of the Divine Word (SVD), the first Catholic missionary society of German origin, founded in 1875 “for the propagation of the Catholic religion among the heathen nations”, in Steyl In Limburg, the Netherlands), by German Catholic priests fleeing the Kulturkampf.

The first mission of the society was established in 1882 south of Shantung, a district of more than 10 million inhabitants, containing 158 Catholics.

In that At that time, the area was part of the apostolic vicariate of Shantung, run by Italian Franciscans, who were in charge of the reconstruction of the work of the previous Catholic mission.

However, the work of the mission advanced slowly because of the lack of personnel and resources, so much so that the southern half of the province, in particular, had been almost forgotten.

Thus, it was transferred to the SVD on 2 December 1885 and became the Apostolic Vicariate of South Shantung, led from Yanzhou, and with Bishop Johann Baptist von Anzer at his head, who led the vicariate until November 24, 1903.

By 1907, the mission had 35,378 Catholics And 36,367 catechumens, and for 1924, 106,000 and 44,000, respectively.

The earliest occurrence of the SVD’s presence in Qingdao is the purchase of land there in 1899, and the beginning of the construction of a hall for the mission.

Design and construction

In the autumn of 1898, Bishop von Anzer had named Father Franz Bartels as pastor of Qingdao, and also put him in charge of planning and building the Catholic mission.

Initially, Bartels remained in a house that was part of a Taoist temple, adjacent to which it had a provisional chapel built to serve as a place of worship for the European inhabitants of Qingdao until 1902, when a hall was built for the mission equipped with a chapel.

Kopja von Lossow, commander of the Third Battalion of the Sea, who had docked in Qingdao, ordered a hundred of his men to attend services every Sunday.

Father Bartels acquired a portion of land on a hill chosen by von Anzer, on Qufu Street, having a printing house and the SVD hall erected in 1902, which was converted into a schoolhouse in 1922.

Convent of the Holy Spirit was also built on the same hill, and occupied by the Franciscan sisters, who worked as nurses and teachers.

Bishop Augustin Henninghaus commissioned the traces of the cathedral to an architect who designed a Gothic church of three naves, but the conquest of Qingdao in the First World War by the Japanese on November 16, 1914, ended plans Of the cathedral.

The city was again under Chinese rule in 1922, controlled by the Republic of China. The Apostolic Vicariate of South Shantung was renamed the Apostolic Vicariate of Yanzhoufu on December 13, 1924, and on February 22, 1925, the Apostolic Prefecture of Qingdao was established from its territory with Georg Weig, SVD, as prefect since the 18 of March of the same year.

On June 14, 1928, he was elevated to an apostolic vicariate.

When the building was restarted, Gothic plans no longer seemed appropriate to the city’s urban landscape, and Father Alfred Fräbel designed the present neo-Romanesque structure, built while Weig – whose remains lie buried in the cathedral – was in charge of the episcopal administration.

Construction began on May 5, 1931 by Brother Theophorus Kleemann, SVD, who became ill and died on September 12 of that year; After which Arthur Bialucha, a German architect who lived in Qingdao and had completed several projects for the mission, assumed the position of superintendent of construction.

Construction was thwarted in 1933, when Hitler came to power in Germany and banned transfer of money abroad.

The diocese took care of the completion of the project independently, which required several changes in the design to reduce its costs; evident changes in the drawings published before the completion of the cathedral, which show the towers With roof in the form of bell; Nevertheless, the roof of both was arranged in the form of a needle.

Construction ended in 1934 and the cathedral was consecrated on October 28 of that year.

Some sources claim that the Cathedral of San Miguel was originally called “Church of San Emilio.”

A Latin inscription on the tomb of Bishop Weig indicates that the cathedral was consecrated to St. Michael the Archangel in 1934; In addition, a photo taken in 1934 – presently in the Federal Archives of Germany – is labeled as St. Michaels Kirche (Church of St. Michael), and authorized secondary printing sources make no mention of a “Church of St. Emile”.

1938-1949: occupation, liberation and civil war

The Japanese re-occupied Qingdao in January 1938, and Bishop Thomas Tien Ken-sin, SVD, was appointed apostolic vicar in November 1942, as Bishop Georg Weig had died the previous year.

That year, the Japanese put a sign on the main entrance of the cathedral that read “Under the management of the Japanese Army.”

On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II, and in September 1945 Qingdao was liberated by Kuomintang forces, restoring the government of the Republic of China.

The following year, February 18, Tien was elevated to cardinal, becoming the first Chinese cardinal and the only one of the SVD.

He traveled to Vatican City to accept the appointment, and his vicariate was elevated to diocese on April 11.

Upon his return on 27 May he was received by representatives of the Shandong Province government, who had organized a welcome, with the United States Navy Band playing outdoors outside the cathedral’s main entrance.

The band had joined the naval forces of the Western Pacific, then based in Qingdao.

During The period of the Civil War (1946-1949) missionaries in Shandong Province experienced a growing tension with the Communists. In this regard, Father Augustin Olbert, SVD, wrote:

“The Reds do not loose and in the end they will be victorious. Almost the whole province is in their hands. For the moment they are still giving the face, but when they are firmly established, they will not hesitate to show us their teeth, as they are already doing in some areas. We are facing the future with great anxiety. Most of the missionaries are convinced that once the Reds are in power they will drive us all out.”

Olbert was appointed bishop of Qingdao two years later.

On June 2, 1949, the People’s Liberation Army entered Qingdao, and both the city and Shandong Province were under Communist control. Bishop Tien flew to Taiwan with the Kuomintang government.

1949-1976: under Mao

Shortly after the communists took control, a combination of assertive nationalism and communist ideology led to the eradication of the Western presence in China, including its culture and goods.

“The denunciation of everything Western as “capitalist,” “bourgeois,” and representative of the “imperialist world” peaked during the ideological extremism of the Korean War (1950-1953), when the last vestiges of economic and Culture were eliminated.”

The missionary and communist ambitions were simply irreconcilable and the broad ideological gap could not be united; All meant a catastrophe for the Catholic mission during the Civil War (1946-1949) and the virtual expulsion of all foreigners in the early 1950s.

Foreign missionaries suspected of espionage were arrested, missionary institutions financed with foreign money were closed, and foreign missionaries were expelled from China; and the SVD mission was not saved from this fate: in 1951, Bishop Augustin Olbert was arrested, served 22 months in prison and deported to Germany in 1953.

Despite the closure Of the cathedral by the government, Olbert remained with the title of bishop until his death in 1964.

The clergy of Chinese origin did not escape the contempt of the Marxist government towards religion during this period; The future bishop, Li Mingshu, was sent to prison the same year that Olbert was deported, and was not released from the labor camps until 1968.

The large-scale detention of bishops, priests, sisters and lay people did not begin until 1955.

Subsequently, the Catholic resistance movement, which faced massive arrests and sentencing to forced labor, was forced into hiding.

Professor Jean-Paul Wiest, an Associate Researcher at the Center for the Study of Religion and the Chinese Society, wrote that “the testimony of Bishop Gong Pinmei of Shanghai and of many others who opted for jail, fields of work, and Even death for the sake of his faith and his loyalty to the Pope, would remain in countless people in the years to come.”

At the end of 1957, owing to the previous expulsion of the foreign clergy and subsequent detention of the national clergy, 120 out of 145 dioceses and apostolic prefectures were left without ordinary.

In the Qingdao case, this was until the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association consecrated Bishop Paul Han Xirang OFM, without papal sanction, in 1988.

The cathedral suffered serious damage during the Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1971; During this time the Red Guard took care of removing the crosses that were on the towers, leaving in this mission a balance of two men who died when falling when they did the work.

Review of the damage to the cathedral says:

“One day, the scaffolding was set on the steeples of the church. People said that they would remove the crosses. The news spread throughout the city. Many people watched from the windows, from the streets, from the beaches, and from the mountain tops, and watched as several small ghostly figures climbed up to the crossroads. Against the blue sky they unfolded a saw. It was said that at night two people had fallen from the tower dying on the spot. It is also said that this church had one of the largest pipe organs in China. They say that when it was played, the whole city could hear their music. But this special treasure was also destroyed by the Red Guards. The next morning, seeing the towers of the church, the tower had been stripped, and the towers were bald, like the skinheads of the delinquents. The spectators felt very uncomfortable, as if the whole area had been damaged, turned into weeds. Not long after that, I occasionally passed by the church and was astonished to see the crosses that crowned the towers: what initially appeared to be two thin needles [when viewed from the towers] were actually the size of two thick men , Heavy, one higher than the other. Since then, the cathedral has become a warehouse.”

Local Catholics rescued the crosses and buried them in the hills, but the 2,400-pipe organ destroyed by the Red Guard, which had been one of the two largest in Asia, was unable to recover.


Later, the Chinese government rejected the Cultural Revolution, although he maintained that “it is true that [comrade Mao Zedong] made serious mistakes during the “Cultural Revolution”, but if we judge his activities as a whole, his contributions to the Chinese revolution are much superior to their errors.”

The subsequent political changes were favorable to the cathedral, so much so that the government financed its restoration. New crosses were made, and “after several years of repair, [the cathedral] returned to open its doors in April 1981” for religious services.

In May 1999, the church was opened to the general public, allowing entry even if no mass or other services were held.

In 2005, public workers repairing the pipes accidentally found the original crosses buried in Longshan Street, not far from the cathedral, and are currently stored in the north transept.

The cathedral was included in the registration of the government of Shandong Province as Provincial Historical Building in 1992.

The shift in prevailing political views also allowed a rapprochement with the Chinese clergy previously imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution.

In 1985 Li Mingshu was allowed an official teaching position at the Jinan seminary, and in 1994 he was transferred to the service in the Diocese of Qingdao, where he was appointed bishop in 2000. After his consecration he took the name “Joseph”.



The cathedral is located on top of a hill in the center of what was the original Qingdao settlement, on 15 Zhejiang Street, formerly the Bremenstrasse (Bremen Street), on the eastern side of Zhongshan Street, in the Shinan District.

Built in the German Romanesque historic style, its plant is cruciform, with a central nave and two lower aisles, on either side; All crossed by a transept and with a semicircular apse to the eastern end.

The cathedral is 65.9 m long and the transept is 37.6 m wide, with an external height of 18 m.

The towers are 56 m high, 18 and have a needle each, shaped like a Rhine front (that is, four sides that rise from four steep pediments, with each of the sections in trapezoidal form that are flattened and Unite at the tip), each with a cross of 4.5 m.

One of the towers has a single bell, while the other has three smaller ones.

The western facade rises to a balustrade between the towers at 30 m, and has three portals, with a rosette on the central.

The building materials are reinforced with concrete and granite, and the roof is composed of red tiles.

In his book German Architecture in China, Warner Torsten writes about the cathedral:

“[According to residents] the cathedral is too big for Qingdao scale, and its location on top of a hill makes it even more evident. Perhaps the idea was to build a powerful building to keep the Protestant Church, which for twenty years had been the religious building in Qingdao, or perhaps the intention was to overcome the 46-meter towers of the Franciscans in Jinan. The towers of the cathedral in Qingdao were taller than those of all other churches in the major cities of northern China, Tianjin, Beijing, Dalian or Jinan. They dominate the silhouette of Qingsao, and give the particular impression of being a ship entering the port.”


The total area of the cathedral is 2,740 m².

While the exterior is neo-Romanesque style, its interior has neoclassical pillars and arches; And above the nave, 12 m high, and the transept, is a coffered ceilings. The narrow vaults on the two side aisles are much lower than the central nave, and serve as ambulatories.

In addition, the central nave may have a thousand people inside it, and both the baptismal font and the statues have signs In Chinese and English.

The central nave extends to a high vaulted apse at the eastern end, while the side aisles continue around the apse, forming an ambulatory.

From the ceiling of the main corridor hang seven candlesticks, and under the arch of the chancel is the high altar, under an ornate canopy; The ciborium under the main altar is inscribed with the Latin words Venite Adoremus Dominum, and in the sanctuary there is a second altar, portable, in which most of the masses are celebrated.

According to Lonely Planet, “the interior is splendid, with white walls, an organ of gold … and a beautifully painted apse.”

The mural painted on the dome of the apse shows Jesus sitting on a cloud, with red and golden rays radiating from his golden Aureola.

God the Father, represented as a white-bearded man with a triangular halo, looks down from a cloud above Jesus, and under his beard is a white dove, with wings outstretched, and with a circular halo of the same color, Representing the Holy Spirit, completing the Trinity.

Around it, four cherubim fly, two on each side; While to the right of Jesus is Mary, her mother, and to her right, St. John the Baptist holding a cross.

In the same cloud of Jesus there are three angels flanking on each side, and underneath it there are two others, one on each side waving a censer. Underneath the whole scene a banner says Gloria in Excelsis Deo.

In 2006, St. Michael’s Cathedral commissioned the construction and installation of a 12 by 12 m Jäger & Brommer body, costing 700,000 euros, which should be ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The organ is located in the choir High on the western entrance.

The north transept contains three large murals showing Jesus: Jesus washing the feet of St. Peter, the Sacred Heart and the Pietà. This transept also has the tombs of two bishops; One of them is Qingdao’s first apostolic vicar, Georg Weig, SVD, who oversaw the construction of the cathedral.

Weig’s tombstone is decayed, chopped at its edges and with broken stone at its base.

The other tomb contains part of the ashes of Bishop Paul Han Xirang, OFM, the other part is in Han, Yucheng County, Shandong, his hometown.

The South transept also contains three great murals: the Little Jesus praying, St. Therese of the Child Jesus (patroness of the missions), and the Nativity. The north and south arms of the transept contain two altars each.


The church is active and according to 2008 data, more than 10,000 Catholics in Qingdao went to their services.

According to the parish bulletins of December 2009 and January 2010, the Mass was celebrated daily by Bishop Li Mingshu at 6:00 a.m. Am, local time, with additional masses on Sundays and Easter and Christmas holidays. Services are provided in both Korean and Chinese, with a Korean priest and several Chinese on the spot.


Below is a list of bishops who have governed the Cathedral of San Miguel since its consecration in 1934:

Georg Weig, SVD † (designated 18 March 1925 – died 3 October 1941)

Thomas Tien Ken-sin (Tienchensing), SVD † (designated 10 November 1942 – April 11, 1946, designated Archbishop of Beijing)

Faustino M. Tissot, SX † (appointed in 1946 – 1947, resigned)

Augustin Olbert, SVD † (designated July 8, 1948) – arrested in 1951, imprisoned until 1953, and deported to Germany – died on November 18, 1964)

Paul Han Xirang, OFM † (appointed April 24, 1988 – died 6 March 1992) Note: consecrated as bishop and appointed without papal mandate.

Joseph Li Mingshu (appointed in 2000).