Buildings Column ② “Memorial Cathedral of World Peace (Noboricho Catholic Church)”
The Memorial Cathedral of World Peace is a prominent Catholic church in Hiroshima. It was rebuilt and enlarged from the remains of the Noboricho Church—which was completely burnt down when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city—as a place to pray for world peace. Also known as an architectural masterpiece, it was the first building to be designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan after the war.
The priest Hugo Lassalle (Notes *1), a victim of the nuclear blast at the Noboricho Church, played a key role in the construction of the Cathedral. Father Lassalle’s enthusiasm turned the church restoration plan into a large-scale project to construct the cathedral. While they faced many challenges including a lack of funds, it was successfully completed with various kinds of support and donations at home and from abroad.
Facade built using a concrete frame and bricks
Cathedral during its construction (Photo credit: “Hiroshima Municipal Archives”)
The following passages are recorded on the memorial plaque set up on the bell tower.
This cathedral was built to honor the memories and souls of the victims of the world’s first atomic bombing in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and as a symbol of fraternity and peace for the people of all nations. Thus, the teachings of the cathedral shall consist of truth instead of falsehood, justice instead of authoritarianism, and love instead of hate; in other words, the path to God and world peace. Therefore, all visitors of the cathedral shall pray for the eternal peace of the souls of the lost victims and the everlasting peace of the human race.
August 6, 1954
Murano Togo, the designer of the cathedral, was one of the greatest Japanese architects of the Showa era and was experienced in a wide range of architectural styles, from classical architecture to modernism and Japanese architecture. The facade of the cathedral appears to be simplistic and balanced, with few openings, which is reminiscent of an old Romanesque church. On the other hand, the wall that is composed of an exposed concrete frame and bricks made on-site gives a modern feel to the building. Bricks purposely laid irregularly, crude joints and concrete window frames made on-site make subtle shades on the walls and add sophistication and human warmth.
Another special thing about the cathedral is its many Japanese motifs. You can find it in many places, such as the distinctive windows and roof, lighting fixtures, and a phoenix statue on top of the dome, so try looking for them when you are there.
Crude brick joints and distinctive windows
Lighting fixture shaped like a lotus flower
As you can see, the more you observe the building, the more sophisticated you will realize it is. It is modern yet majestic, built with crude materials yet sturdy and divine, and Japanesque in many ways. This design is probably based on the criteria for the architectural design competition (Notes *2) held at the time, which is “modern, Japanesque, religious, memorial” but is probably also a result of the careful consideration of Murano, who provided the design for free out of empathy for Father Lassalle’s enthusiasm to build a place to pray for the victims of the bombing.
The architecture is not all that consists this cathedral. The bell, door, stained glass, altar, pipe organ, baptismal font, and more were donated from all over the world and are all important parts of the cathedral. For example, the altar donated from Belgium is inscribed with the message “The compensation for sacrifice is peace” while the front door donated from Germany is inscribed with the message “Loving your neighbor opens the doorway to peace”, truly embodying the purpose of the cathedral.
Front door (donation from Düsseldorf, Germany)
Together with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that was built during the same period, the Memorial Cathedral of World Peace is considered as Hiroshima’s monuments to peace. While both buildings were built with the purpose of rebuilding Hiroshima as a modern city, the vastly different designs add sophistication to the memorials of the bombing sites in Hiroshima. If you get the opportunity to visit Hiroshima, I highly recommend visiting the cathedral in addition to the Peace Memorial Museum.
*Permission to take photos of the cathedral interior acquired
Location: 4-42 Nobori-cho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima
Completion Date: 1954
Designer: Murano Togo (Murano & Mori Architecture Firm)
Important Cultural Property of Japan
Forbidden to take photos inside the cathedral. For opening hours and other details, please check the facility’s website.
*1 Born in 1898 in Germany. Returned to Japan and changed his name to Enomiya Makibi.
*2 At first, the design was to be decided by a competition but a winner was not chosen, so Murano, who was a judge of the competition, designed it instead.
- Noboricho Catholic Church Website http://noboricho.catholic.hiroshima.jp/
- “50th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Memorial Cathedral of World Peace News” Roman Catholic Diocese of Hiroshima 50th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Memorial Cathedral of World Peace Committee 2004
- “Memorial Cathedral of World Peace” – Ishimaru Norioki, 1988, Sagami Books
Born in 1978 in Hiroshima. Urban planner. Representative of Architecture Walk Hiroshima.
Promotes Hiroshima architecture by hosting architecture exhibitions and publishing architecture guidebooks. Author of “Architecture Map Hiroshima”
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