The Ruins of Mater Dei in Macau, A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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This is a fabulous testament to the work of the people of Macau and the history of the Jesuits in the Portuguese Colony. It is very interesting to see the development of the colony through the eyes of the ever expanding church in the region. The Church of Mater Dei was first built in the early 1600s along with a School and College on the site. It was an enormous complex. It survived for over 200 years before fire destroyed the Church and College, leaving only the Facade of the Church. Visiting Macau, it is a MUST SEE.

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The Ruins of Mater Dei in Macau, A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  1. 1. 1 photographed and written byphotographed and written by:: Fergus DucharmeFergus Ducharme,, assisted by:assisted by: JoemarieJoemarie AcallarAcallar andand NiloNilo JimenoJimeno.. © proudly present:proudly present: The Ruins of St. PaulThe Ruins of St. Paul’’s Churchs Church (The Church of Mater Dei)(The Church of Mater Dei) Macau,Macau, Peoples Republic of ChinaPeoples Republic of China
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  7. 7. 7 © When we arrived in ‘Old Macau’ I was struck by the resemblance of the area of Macau which me a lot of Old Quebec City, particularly the lower town of ‘Old Quebec City’, with its cobbled stone narrow streets lined with myriads of small shops and restaurants, a great deal of hustle and bustle, crowded and throbbing with activity. Part of this “quartier” of Macau is home of the Ruins of St Paul’s Church. The story of this particular church is one of the most interesting and compelling that I have ever read. This is the shortened ‘Fergus Version’ of the story.
  8. 8. 8 © There are two ways of entering the precincts of the church. The ‘front way’ and the ‘back way’… when you enter from the front this is the view you get of the monument and you climb 66 steps from the Plaza below
  9. 9. 9 © And if you enter the back way you walk up a slightly sloped cobble stone street alongside the ruins.
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  13. 13. 13 © The name of the ‘façade’ is in fact “Façade of Our Lady Mother of God” or ‘Mater Dei’ as it is inscribed on the lintel over the main door. It is also called: “Façade of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception” to whom it is dedicated
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  15. 15. 15 © The Jesuit Missionaries built original church on the site in 1580. That original church, was a wooden structure and was destroyed by fire in 1595, it was rebuilt and suffered the same fate in 1601. The new church, the remains of which we see today, had wooden columns in the central nave and a Chinese style tile roof. The sidewalls of St Paul were made of Chunambo or Taipa (see our previous posting on Tabique several months ago on the main website at www.historicphilippines.com) a muddy earth mixture of straw, lime from oyster shells, and wood. The architect is believed to have been Carlo Spinola, SJ, a Jesuit who was originally Genoa, Italy. It was the largest Catholic churches in Asia at the time and was said to have been rivalled only by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in terms of its beauty with royalty from throughout Europe competing with each other to bestow upon the cathedral their best gifts. The façade we see today was part of the church that was reconstructed starting in 1602 and which was completed sometime in 1637. (Records are notorious few and far between because of the fires and typhoons that plagued the settlement in its early days). There was a particularly violent and destructive typhoon that hit Macau in 1838 and the church caught fire and for the third time was completely destroyed, except for the now famous façade and leaving only a pile of rubble behind. According to historical records, the Church, had been built with white granite, topped by a grand vaulted tile roof in the Chinese style and had three magnificently decorated halls.
  16. 16. 16 © painting by William Heine, 1854
  17. 17. 17 © Its baroque facade is richly ornamented with classic oriental touches. The hundreds of artisans who carved the various sculptures making up the façade were said to have been Christian converts who escaped persecution for their faith in both Japan and China.
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  19. 19. 19 © The structure is divided into five distinct levels or tiers. The first tier is comprised of ten Ionic columns with three entrances. The middle or main entrance has the words 'MATER DEI' carved into the lintel. The two entrances on each side are decorated with bas-reliefs which contain the ‘motto’ of the Jesuits 'IHS" which stands for: “Iesus Hominum Salvator” or “Jesus Savior of Man”.
  20. 20. 20 © The second tier features ten Corinthian columns with three windows. A Catholic saint is enshrined in each of the four alcoves between columns. Between the columns on either side of the central window, there is the sculpture of a palm tree which according to Louis Antonin Berchier probably symbolise the ‘glorification of the Society of Jesus and its mission’. In addition, on the lintel over the three windows are sculptures of seven roses over each window. The saints depicted on this level of the façade are the first 4 Jesuit saints and from left to right they are: St Francis Borgia (1510-1572) St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) St Francis Xavier (1506-1552) St Louis of Gonzaga (1568-1591)
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  22. 22. 22 © The two tiers as a whole are said to represent the Society of Jesus and the activities of missionaries.
  23. 23. 23 © The remaining three tiers are the most decorated. On level 3 there are six Corinthian columns and four obelisks topped with spheres. The statue of Madonna stands in the middle of the third tier symbolizing that the Virgin Mary is at the heart of the mysteries which link man to God.[6], The statue of the Virgin is surrounded by six angels celebrating her glory: the bottom two incensing, the middle ones sounding a trumpet and the top two with their hands joined in an attitude of payer and reverence. The balance of this level has additional 6 different sculptures, which are: • The fountain of life and the tree of life which symbolize: ‘the eternal renewal of Life on Earth and in Heaven. • A small virgin over a Nau (a Portuguese type of ship which symbolizes the journey which the soul of the believer must make to reach salvation. • A winged monster with 6 heads which symbolizes all the evil forces of satan that are directed at man and the Church. • The Devil lying on the ground which symbolizes the devil’s defeat with an arrow in his heart representing victory over temptation. • A Skeleton lying on a scythe representing death, but death is also defeated, pierced by an arrow. There is also a Chinese inscription which translated reads: “remember death and do not remain in sin.” Finally, there are 2 large scrolls which represent the “glorious passage of the soul into the Divine world”.
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  25. 25. 25 © The fourth level is comprised of a statue of Jesus as a child and further depictions of the Holy Trinity. And finally the fifth level depicts a large Dove in the centre alcove, representing the Holy Spirit. On each side of this sculpture are two columns with inscriptions on their base – the left hand one is inscribed: SP/ED/RO meaning St Peter, first Apostle and Pope; while the right hand one is inscribed: SP/AU/LO meaning St Paul, first great missionary to the gentiles.
  26. 26. 26 © At the very top of the façade is a very large iron cross which is tilted towards the East. It signifies the passage from the earthly world to the divine world. photo courtesy of: TripAdvisor
  27. 27. 27 © It is worth mentioning that the stone lions at the sides of the third and fourth tiers are distinctively Chinese. There are also bas-reliefs in designs of chrysanthemum and cherry, as well as Chinese inscriptions. The surviving façade has long been acknowledged as a perfect fusion of western and eastern cultures.
  28. 28. 28 © Excavations between 1990 to 1995 uncovered the foundations of the building. Findings also included numerous religious artefacts as well as relics of Japanese Christian martyrs and some monastic clergy. Relics of Father Alessandro Valignano, the founder of the Jesuit college in Macau were also discovered. Mateo Ricci, SJ
  29. 29. 29 © Ruins are scattered around the site including some of the ruins of the Jesuit College of Macau, pictured below, destroyed in the same 1835 fire that destroyed most of the complex including the Church.
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  31. 31. 31 © This site is jam packed with artefacts and history that it simply cannot do it ‘justice’ in a short presentation here. That’s why, as a result of our recent visit and discoveries at Macau, we have plans to return to Macau sometime in the next year so that we can finish the job we started at Mater Dei and indeed to visit the other principal churches of the island. Included in this will be a complete review of the activities of the Jesuits in Macau and the regions surrounding it. The Jesuits were a major influence on the development of the entire region including Japan, Mainland China, Malaysia and even the Philippines.
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  35. 35. 35 © photo courtesy of: TripAdvisor
  36. 36. 36 © We want to thank the following for the contributions to this article: Photos provided by: TripAdvisor Materials and some photos provided by: www.wikipedia.org Primary reference: The Mysteries of the Mater Dei Façade at Macao, by Louis Antonin Berchier
  37. 37. 37 © If you have suggestions or recommendations on how we can improve this service for you please send your ideas along to: info@historicphilippines.com

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