Saturday, September 19, 2009
Convent of the Sisters of Providence in Phnom Penh? Hands up please. Oh not so many. However you can put that right at pretty much anytime. It's one of the historical landmark sites that we recently visited on the Heritage Mission tour of the old French quarter a few weekends ago. It effectively marks the boundary of the old French (or European) quarter but if you don't know its there, you'll miss it. Today most of the old convent site is unrecognisable, with the chapel being used by about 18 squatter families, though you can walk inside and look at the gabling on the ceiling, and some of the old decoration especially the floor tiles and the concrete cross that crowns the roof. The convent and chapel were constructed in 1881 by the religious sect, The Sisters of Providence of Portieux and was the only one of six churches in the city to survive the Khmer Rouge period. The Catholic Cathedral of Phnom Penh didn't fare so well. As you might expect, the Providence of Portieux congregation started in France and is now present in Belgium, China, Italy, Switzerland, Taiwan and Vietnam, in addition to Cambodia. The Sisters are still going strong in Cambodia and the nuns run a hostel for poor girls and disabled children in the city.