The Church of the Assumption, on Farquhar Street, was built in 1860-61, but its predecessor, the wooden chapel of the Assumption, was founded soon after Captain Francis Light established the European settlement in Penang in 1786, by the Bishop Garnault, who travelled with Light, and so was the earliest Christian church in Penang. The history of the church, which was renovated in 2017, and the history of Catholicism in Malaysia, which arrived in Malacca with the Portuguese back in 1511, is all succinctly explained in the Catholic Diocese Museum which opened at the beginning of 2018, next door to the church.
The activities of early missionaries such as the Infant Jesus sisters, the La Salle brothers and the Little Sisters of the Poor in establishing schools and hospitals and care homes for the elderly is documented in words and by montages of old photos.
The Church of the Assumption served as Cathedral to the Diocese between 1958 and 2003, when cathedral status was removed and transferred to the 1990s-built Church of the Holy Spirit in Green Lane. Today, the Catholic Diocese of Penang has 26 priests catering to approximately 300,000 Catholics across 29 parishes on the island and the mainland, Kedah, Perlis, Perak and Kelantan. The ground floor of the museum explains its current activities as well as its history, illustrated by lots of photographs.
The beliefs of Catholics are not elaborated upon, as the museum carefully avoids breaking the Malaysian law which forbids proselytising of Muslims by non-Muslims, but many artefacts associated with the religion’s main precepts are on display, including croziers, the hooked staffs carried by bishops as a symbol of their office, and a mock-up of a confessional booth. The upper floor of the museum has many more artefacts, together with mock-ups of the inside of churches, and displays of crosses, old harmoniums, bishops robes, prayer books, stained-glass windows, even travelling cases with everything a priest needs to perform the last rites, presses for making communion wafers, but all without explanation, presumably and understandably to be on the safe side, but which is rather a shame.
The Museum is open from 10am until 1pm daily except Sundays and Mondays, and is located next door to the Church of the Assumption at 3 Lebuh Farquhar.