Date
27 March 2017
Yim Tin Tsai has been a Catholic village since the 19th century. Photo: EJ Insight
Yim Tin Tsai has been a Catholic village since the 19th century. Photo: EJ Insight

Yim Tin Tsai: An island sanctuary of the Catholic faith

Yim Tin Tsai (鹽田梓), which literally means “little salt field”, is a small island in Sai Kung. It is accessible by private ferry service.

Around 200 years ago, a couple surnamed Chan moved in and started farming and fishing. They also built salt pans in the low-lying area south of the island, thus its name.

At its peak, the island had more than 200 villagers, all descendents of the Chans.

Unlike many other traditional Hakka villages in Hong Kong, it has no ancestral hall.

The reason: Yim Tin Tsai has been a Catholic village since the 19th century.

The Vatican first assigned Catholic missionaries to Hong Kong in 1841. In 1864, Father Simeon Volonteri and Father Gaetano Origo started preaching in Yim Tim Tsai.

Two years after, on Christmas Day, 30 members of the Chan family were baptized. A piece of land was donated for the building of a chapel, and St. Joseph was named the village’s patron saint.

In 1875, all the villagers were baptized, making Yim Tin Tsai an official Catholic village ever since.

Built in 1890, St. Joseph’s Chapel features the Romanesque Revival style. It fell into dereliction in the 1970s after most of the villagers relocated.

The restoration work of the chapel was completed in 2004, and one year after it received a merit award from the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Next to it is the Yim Tin Tsai Heritage Exhibition Center, which now occupies part of the village school.

After visiting the chapel and the village school, I went for a stroll along the 1.2-kilometer “Path of Reconciliation” (修和之路). It offers a good chance to observe village life while communing with nature.

The path connects nine locations, including St. Joseph’s Chapel, the former residence of Reverend Father Joachim Chan Tang-shue, the ancestral home of the Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong Dominic Chan, the village well called Water for Life, a bamboo grove, the village graveyard, a pavilion, and the salt fields.

In the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, a Roman Catholic period of prayer from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, Yim Tin Tsai’s St. Joseph’s Chapel has been designated as one of the “doors to mercy”.

The island is definitely a good destination for spiritual meditation.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 6.

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The restored St. Joseph’s Chapel, built in 1890, received a merit award from the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2005. Photo: HKEJ


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