Mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Soibada, Manatuto, Timor

Religious Architecture

Founded at the end of the 19th century by Jesuit priests – helped by the Canossian sisters in the education of girls – the Mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Soibada, located in the south of the island of Timor (a region where the implantation of Catholicism was residual), provided continuity to the important work of evangelisation carried out by Bishop António Joaquim de Medeiros, who became vicar-general of the missions on Timor in 1877 and resumed the missionary efforts that had been compromised by the extinction of the religious communities in 1834. Initially installed in provisional huts, construction work on a church, a residence for the missionaries and two colleges began in 1900. The Nuno Álvares College for boys was inaugurated four years later and the College of the Immaculate Conception, or the Sisters, for girls was nearing completion at the time of the proclamation of the republic, whose anti-clerical policies caused the interruption of missionary activity for some time. The headquarters of the Vicariate-General Overseas since its foundation in 1900, the mission of Soibada became the main centre of religious and school teaching on Timor for several decades. Besides the two colleges, the Saint Francis Xavier School, for the training of teachers-catechists, and, from 1936, the Minor Seminary of Our Lady of Fátima, functioned in the complex. The mission escaped the destruction wreaked by the Japanese during the Second World War thanks to the intervention of the local chief, Raimundo Doutel Sarmento. It started to decline after the war, however, as a result of the transfer of the teachers-catechists school and the seminary to Dili and the creation of the diocese of Barique. The Mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, however, left its mark on Timor, as a part of the Timorese elite studied there, in a period when the educational system of the state was still in its infancy. Solidly constructed in stone, the mission complex was built on a slope with a main body of two floors and an attic and other adjoining bodies that are in keeping with the contours of the terrain and have galleries with porches. It has a small cloister and a large exterior stone stairway laid out in the form of an open-air auditorium and forming a complex in the fashion of a Benedictine monastery. The most visible exterior signs are pure geometric forms and galleries closed by double blinds that take local climatic conditions into account and ensure a relatively comfortable lifestyle. The galleries are plain and geometric and form a porch that runs the whole length of the building. The main body is a large whitewashed stone volume. The doors and windows of the lower floor have straight lintels, while those of the upper floor have semi-circular lintels. They all have dark brown-painted wooden blinds outside the opening, which creates an ambiguity of closed and open windows in accordance with the position and the movement of the blinds, which enhances the building. The buildings stand on a platform made in a series of terraces of stone without a binding of mortar and which in places are higher than the buildings themselves, but which, due to their interconnection with the surrounding flora, gives the appearance of a white acropolis floating in space. This system also allowed the construction of a large exterior stairway of straight steps to accompany the terracing and rise to a landing, also in stone, which is reached by three small flights of stairs at the top and on the main axis. A portico with a triangular pediment and two columns that make a pair with two more adjoined to the façade, thus allowing the whole to support the gable-roofed porch and define the main entrance to the two floors of the building, stand out on the upper floor. Entrance to the lower floor is made through a door in the volume of the stairway and the symmetrical axis of the building. One climbs to the upper floor by way of a double, symmetrical stairway with two flights of steps on each side. These form a sinuous attraction to the façade. They have balustrades composed of vertical, pinnacle-like elements in whitewashed stone topped by spherical and pyramidal pine cones. The handrail and balustrades are in painted wood and they protect both sides of the stairway.

Edmundo Alves