The St. Annes Festival is an annual religious celebration in Bukit Mertajam, a town in mainland Penang state. In 2018 it will take place from the 20th to the 29th of July. The event draws as many as 100,000 pilgrims each year, making it one of the largest Christian festivals in South East Asia.
The festival is a ten day long celebration of St Anne (Jesus’ grandmother and the patron saint of mothers and minors) and incorporates prayer rituals, and a 3 kilometre long candlelit procession before mass on the feast day itself, the 26th July. The procession include a float bearing the statues of St Anne and her daughter, the Virgin Mary. The festival is unique not only in its size but also it’s length – very few events in the Catholic calendar are celebrated over multiple days. The spiritual atmosphere during the festival is palpable, with many people attesting to having experienced miracles in their lives after praying there.
The church itself also has an interesting backstory. Construction for the original site began in 1846 to serve the local community of Chinese and Indian Catholics, and since then, multiple buildings have been been added, including a residential one and the Stations of the Cross. The whole site is known as the Sanctuary of St Anne. Construction finished on the most recent church in 2002. It is one of the largest churches in Malaysia, and is able to seat 2,200 people. The result is a large church complex that combines to serve as the grounds for the festival. A recent addition is the addition of the life sized ‘Statues of Passion’ in 2006.
With the unique history of the church, as well as the intense importance this festival has for many catholics across South East Asia, it is surely a worthwhile visit. Penang’s “Last Friday, Saturday, Sunday of the Month” organisation has arranged “Let’s Explore: St. Anne’s Festival”, a free guided visit to the procession with explanations about the feast and the historical relics of the church. It takes place from 5.30pm – 7.00pm on July 26th, beginning at the main entrance of St. Anne’s Church (Gate 1) on Jalan Kulim in Bukit Mertajam. Prior registration is required: contact: +6012 – 427 6251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And even if the religious element isn’t for you, tSt Anne’s grounds also harbour the Cherok Tokun inscriptions, 6th century Sanskrit writings describing the heroic efforts of an Indian king, discovered by Lt. Col. James Low in 1845, which are the only recognised ancient megalith in the state. Whats more the Cherok Tokun nature park, the recreational forest encompassing the hill of Bukit Mertajam, is just nearby and is a popular visit for hikes up Bukit Tokun.
By Ella Benson Easton