CULTURE & HERITAGE
PENANG STORIES
Feast of St. Anne in Penang

Perhaps the most renowned landmark in Bukit Mertajam on Penang’s mainland is St. Anne’s Church that glows ethereally during full moon nights. Built in mid 1800s, the church has attracted those of Roman Catholic faith from around the region for decades now. The pilgrims will then celebrate Feast of St. Anne in a festive and carnival style starting with a 9-day novena, stalls pedalling convenient meals, information booths and ending with a procession of St. Anne’s statue and her daughter Mary on a palanquin within the church’s spacious premises.

Globally, Feast of St. Anne is normally celebrated on 26 July with the 9-day novena falling after or (usually) before the actual feast day. This year, 2015, the nine days of novena in Penang begins on 24 July with daily church service during which pilgrims light candles and pray their thanks for wishes granted as much as casting new hopes or wishes in the church. The 9-day novena comes to a peak on the tenth day with a mass that precedes the half hour procession trailed by those attending the feast bearing crosses, candles or lamps. During the 10 days, St. Anne’s church has been known to receive around 10,000 visitors per day and climaxing to more than that on the final day.



Who Was St. Anne
In a nutshell, according to history, St. Anne was the mother of Virgin Mary and a grandparent to Jesus Christ. Having experienced difficulty to conceive during her own lifetime, she is also believed to be the patron saint of, among others, women who are unmarried, married and looking to get pregnant, in childbirth and, surprisingly, miners as well as sailors. To her, women pray for marriage, fertility and a family life.

The Building, St. Anne Church
Building of the white church on a slight hill in Bukit Mertajam began in 1846. Since then its premises has grown wider to house a larger complex during different decades and finally, today, the ‘new’ church on the sprawling premises that is a few large paces away from the old church is considered one of the largest churches in Malaysia with a capacity to hold more than 2,000 worshippers. This larger complex still known as the ‘new’ church became the main point for Feast of St. Anne for many years but slowly, in the last few years, attention was brought back once again to the old white church also known as St. Anne’s Shrine during the celebration days.

Festive and Carnival Atmosphere
This Christian festival is very possibly the largest second only to Christmas in Malaysia. There is often a celebratory ambience on the church premises due to the stalls and booths erected but also from the pilgrims’ congenial mood. This pleasant, harmonious vibe spills onto the town area as well, attracting quite a few tourists to come for a peek to satisfy curiosity as much as to soak in the gladness. The best time to catch the procession at church’s premises is on 1 Aug around 9pm. However, do check for programme updates on www.stannebm.org and there’s also a map on the website for directions to the church.

Image credits: Leonard Selva