From Fort A’Famosa and Porta da Santiago, we next hiked up a steep, 110-step paved stairway to the summit of St. Paul Hill (formerly called Malacca Hill) where the roofless ruins of St. Paul’s Church can be found.
Built by Portuguese Capt. Duarte Coelho in 1521, it was formerly called the Chapel of Madre de Deus (Mother of God) and Nossa Senhora do Oiteiro (“Our Lady of the Hill”). The Portuguese enlarged the chapel in 1556, adding a second storey to it. Further renovation was carried out in 1590 with the addition of a tower. A burial vault was opened in 1592 and many people of distinction were buried there, including Pedro Martins, the second Bishop of Funay (Japan).
The body of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary who came to Melaka in 1545, was temporarily interred here in 1553 before it was taken to Goa (India) after 9 months. In front of the church stands a huge, pearl-white statue of the saint, erected in 1952 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of his sojourn in Malacca. A day after the statue was consecrated, a large casuarina tree fell on it, breaking off its right arm (incidentally, the right forearm of Xavier was detached in 1614 as a relic). His now empty open grave, now covered by a wire mesh, marks the place of Francis’ temporary burial.
When the Dutch wrestled Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641, they took over the church, repaired it and reconsecrated it into a Dutch Reformed Church, calling it St. Paul’s Church, a name which remains today. It was used this way for the next 112 years, until it was abandoned in 1753 after the Dutch built their own church at the foot of the hill, Christ Church.
When the British took over Melaka in 1824, St. Paul’s Church had lost its tower. The British added a lighthouse in front of it and used the church as convenient storehouse for gunpowder. Today, several old monumental Dutch and Portuguese tombstones, with Dutch and Portuguese words engraved on it, can be seen leaning against the strong brick walls of the church.