Before the British established their base in Hong Kong, Macau – a one hour’s jet foil ride away – was at the centre of East-West trade. It was also an important religious centre. This is reflected in the many Catholic churches that continue to dot the landscape.
The city’s most famous church, St Paul’s, was built in 1602. It burned down in 1835, and only its stone facade remains. The Ruins of St Paul’s have become the city’s unofficial symbol.
“The Ruin’s of St Paul’s are one of the finest examples of Macau’s unique characteristics as a city of European, Chinese, and other Asian exchanges, “ says Joao Manuel Costa Antunes, director of the Macau Government Tourist Office. “The history and architectural elements of the Ruins of St Paul’s by itself are a tourist attraction of Macau.”
St Paul’s stands at the heart of what has been dubbed the Historic Centre of Macau, which was declared a World Heritage Side by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in 2005. Several stately old churches dot the zone.
Located just off Senado Square, the city’s bustling heart, is St Dominic’s Church, which dates from the early 17th century. The church is not only one of Macau’s loveliest, it also has its most fascinating past. In 1644 a military officer supporting the Spanish against the Portuguese was murdered at the alter during Mass.
During the Rites Controversy in 1707, the Dominicans sided with the Pope against Macau’s bishop. When local soldiers tried to enforce an excommunication order on them, the friars locked themselves in the church for three days, pelting the soldiers with stones. In 1834 the monastic orders were suppressed. The church was used by the government as barracks, stable, and public works office for a while.
The Cathedral, originally known as Our Lady of Hope of St. Lazarus, is located a few blocks over on the Largo de Se. Consecrated in 1850, it was nearly destroyed in a typhoon a quarter of a century later. It was completely rebuilt in 1937.
St Augustine’s Church, a yellow and white stucco edifice dating back to the 17th century, is located a few blocks over on Rua Central. St Joseph’s Seminary and Church and the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library are located across the way.
Further down the road is St Lawrence’s Church. Dating back to the 1560s, it has been rebuilt and renovated countless times. Situated atop Penha Hill is the Chapel of Our Lady of Penha, which was first built in 1622. It was completely rebuilt in 1837. The list goes on.
Before its return to Chinese administration in 1999, Macau’s official name was “Cidade de Deus de Macau Nao Hao Outra Mais Leal (City of God Macau There Is None More Loyal). This appellation was bestowed upon the city by Portuguese King D. Joao IV in 1654 after Portugal regained its independence following 60 years of Spanish rule.
It was not only in recognition of the city’s importance as a religious centre. During the Spanish occupation, Macau was the only territory in the then far-flung Portuguese Empire that remained loyal to the Portuguese throne.
Copyright: Michael Taylor