I visited the old center of Macau 3 times in the past years, and each time somehow it all began with a walk around St. Paul’s church.
It is not for us to known the time the project of St. Paul’s Church (aka, Our Lady Mother of God, 大三巴牌坊) started or from whom was draw the original architectural plan. It is certain tough that it was designed by Society of Jesus’s mathematicians and completed together with its staircase in 1622 and 1640.
The first half of 16th century Western Europe was shaken by the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther and John Calvin which lead to Council of Trent (1545-1563). The Catholic Church, in response, went to the opposite direction holding the Counter-Reformation.
Founded in 1537 by the Spanish priest Ignatius of Loyla, the missionaries of the Society of Jesus , or Jesuits, arrived in Macau in 1555 following the footsteps of father Francis Xavier, who died in a isle a few kilometers far from Macau.
As Macau became the gate to Eastern Asia and by the early 1600s it was the biggest Portuguese settlement in the whole region after Goa in India.
China and Japan were main trade partners of Portuguese. In the flourishing island of Macau, Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans built several churches, one hospital, one orphanage and even one leper asylum. The institutions were open to everyone and are some are still existing.
Macau was also the pole from which many commercial or religious expeditions were starting from to join China and Japan, lead by prominent figures as Matteo Ricci, Michele Ruggieri, Giuseppe Castiglione, to mention just a few.
The 2016 movie Silence by Martin Scorzese describes the life of Jesuits missionaries in Macau while were preparing themselves for East Asia.
Along the centuries Macau has been the center of several war events, but to destroy St. Paul’s Church was a fire during a typhoon on 26 January 1835.
The reconstruction of the St. Paul’s Church from 1990s is relevant for Macau and Chinese history as a mark of colonialist era and as symbol of a four-hundreds-years long relationship between the West and the East.
Nowadays is possible to visit just the facade of the church and its foundations. The facade follows the philosophy of Jesuits order, where western architecture and iconography is characterized by a local touch, such as the Asian motif of sea waves and lion cubs.
Finally Jesuits aimed to stress the ideas behind the Counter-Reformation promoting the representation of Virgin Mary, saints and other holy images well described also today.
This facade have been symbol of Macau for centuries, even today surrounded by the modern light of casinos and hotels it still attracts visitors from all the world and it reminds us of the deep-rooted relationships between the West and the East.