Twelve Liao Catholic Church

The Twelve Liao Catholic Church located in Emei Township, Hsinchu County, was once called "the most beautiful church ruins in Taiwan". Built in 1963, it was formerly known as the "Chapel of Angels" and was one of the early churches belonging to the Hsinchu Diocese. It was managed by Rev. James A. McCormick of the Maryknoll Missionary Mission of the United States.
Twelve Liao Catholic Church in Hsinchu
(All images: Hakka TV)

Father McCormick promoted American economic aid work and evangelism in the Hsinchu area. In its heyday, the church was not only a summer camp for teenagers, but also a place for children to listen to Sunday school. The early Hakka agricultural society here was still dominated by traditional beliefs, but due to the influence of priests, the local residents changed and back then, there were 20 to 30 local people who believed in Catholicism. Later, after Father McCormick was transferred to Dahu Township, Miaoli County and after several generations of changes in the church and land, coupled with the gradual loss of population in remote villages, the number of Catholics declined. Over time, the church fell into ruins and has been abandoned since the 1980s.
The church fell into ruins

A few years ago, the Internet world set off an aesthetic trend of people taking selfies in old houses and ruins, making this collapsed and damaged Twelve Liao Catholic Church, hidden among the trees and weeds by Emei Lake, with red tile roof, long corridors, and round arched doors and windows, an unexpectedly popular check-in tourist attraction.
Abandoned Twelve Liao Catholic Church

After being unused for 40 years, this Catholic church in the Hakka-populated area finally got a new owner, a couple, Liu Cong-han (劉淙漢) and Lora Ho (何麗梅), both devout Catholics. It took them 10 years to buy this ruined church. Apart from obtaining the church congregation’s consent to convert the buildings, Liu Cong-han later bought the land around the church, one piece at a time.

The project to restore the Chapel of Angels in Hsinchu officially started in 2019, and since then, the work of restoring it to its original state has been carried out bit by bit. Hoping to restore the church to its original style, the couple invited Fr. Barry Martinson, to participate in the restoration project. Father Martinson is not only an American priest serving in a poor and remote village in Taiwan, but also a colorful mosaic glass artist, specializing in oil painting, mosaic murals and artistic glass design.

Among the restoration work undertaken at this church are the century-old stained glass mosaics from New York, paintings of "The Way of the Cross" in Paris, France, and roof tiles fired by Japanese bricklayers, all of which gave "the most beautiful ruined church in Taiwan" a new life. Liu and Ho have been rebuilding this abandoned church since 2019. Amid all the difficulties, the husband and wife received all kinds of divine assistance by accident, which made them hold true to their faith more fully.
The restoration of the church

The Chapel of Angels is expected to be used for four purposes: a place for evangelism, local interactions, charity as well as culture and arts, not just a place of worship. Local interactions include using the facility to hold small farmers’ markets, charities such as summer English classes at middle schools in Emei, and culture and art events for small music performances.

The church is approaching the end of its restoration step by step. It not only carries the precious memories of the local residents, but it is hoped that the church will inject new energy into the local community.