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The foundations for Xuanwumen Church were laid over four centuries ago, during the Ming Dynasty. It is the oldest church in Beijing, and was the second European style building to be built in the capital. Commonly referred to as Xuanwumen Church, its humble name seems at odds with its English moniker of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception: a name which more boldly leans toward the glorification of God as well as the cathedral's Baroque style architecture.
Having originated as a modestly sized chapel with a simple cross gracing its entrance, the cathedral has since gone through expansions, destruction due to earthquakes or attacks, and consequent reconstructions. It was built into its current form shortly after it had been demolished by Chinese nationalists during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion.
At its inception however, Xuanwumen Church held some sway with the Chinese. Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty allowed Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci to reside at the Xuanwumen and to create the original chapel. Ricci later became the first foreigner to gain entrance to the Forbidden City, as he was well respected for his astrological and mapping skills.