Basilica of Our Lady of Sheshan

First built by Jesuits on the site of an old Buddhist monastery, there’s been a church at Sheshan since the 1860s. At the time, surrounding Songjiang district was an important town in its own right; now its been absorbed into the greater Shanghai metropolis, though it’s still 30km from downtown.

The present-day cathedral, shaped like a cross with a spire soaring 40 meters overhead, was completed in 1935, and today stands as one of the most important centers of Catholic worship in the country: Mass is held Monday to Saturday at 7am (6:30am in summer), and at 8am on Sundays. And every May, thousands of worshippers from around the country make the journey here (many of them travelling by boat up the nearby rivers and creeks), following a century-old tradition under which the Pope grants any such pilgrim a plenary indulgence (essentially an amnesty from punishment for sins to which they’ve confessed).

Badly damaged in the Cultural Revolution, in latter years the church has been gradually and carefully restored. Standing high on one of the city’s few hills it’s a wonderfully atmospheric place to take in an alternative view of the city, and discover an unexpected historical legacy.

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