Monday, October 10, 2016

Chinese Madonna in a Portuguese Colonial Church: Macau

St. Francis Church in Macau was built in the early 20th century in the baroque style typical of Portuguese Colonial architecture. Macau, on the southern coast of China was a Portuguese possession from the mid-16th century until 1999 when it was turned over to China, It still maintains characteristics of its Iberian heritage but is very Chinese, as well.  In the main city of Macau, there are other colonial-era churches, including St. Dominic's whose construction, completed in 1587, was overseen by three Dominicans from Acapulco, Mexico. At that time there was still a strong connection between the Spanish kingdoms and that of Portugal.  

Words like "quirky" have been used in tourist materials to describe this small church located in a small fishing village on the south coast of Macau and its' interior is not what one would expect from the polished Baroque exterior.  Instead of the elaborate altar-pieces typical of Iberian colonial churches, the altars are hand-painted in a way that is local and reveals the profound devotion of the place.

(Please note that all photos enlarge when clicked).

Nave and Front Altar, St. Francis Church, Coloane Macau

Side Altar, St. Francis Church, Coloane Macau

Side Altar, St. Francis Church, Coloane Macua

St. Francis Church is small but very classic in it's design with a choir loft running the width of the church.  The staircase and back door are quite decorative being painted the bright  yellow and green that are primary colors of the Portuguese flag, as well as having significance within Chinese culture.  In this cultural context, yellow is considered the most beautiful and prestigious color and is the center of everything.  It also signifies good luck, as well as having been the emperor's color in Imperial China. In Buddhism, yellow signifies freedom from worldly cares. Red symbolizes good fortune and joy and green is associated with harmony and health.  Certainly all of these elements go into the prevalent use of these colors here in St. Francis at Coloane and in other Macau churches.

Choir Loft and Nave rear, St. Francis Church, Coloane Macau

Church rear interior door, St. Francis Church, Coloane Macau

A small room adjacent to the church is filled with photos and images of importance to the congregation.

Room adjacent to Church,  St. Francis, Coloane Macau

Among these is a unique Madonna and Child that is quite unlike anything seen anywhere else.  Although the subject matter is Christian, the iconography links this Madonna to the larger Buddhist cultural context.  Researchers have said that the Chinese Mary is often connected, in worshippers minds, to the Chinese bodhisattva Guanyin. Bodhisattvas, in Mahayana Buddhism, are people who have achieved spiritual perfection and could get off the wheel of reincarnation, but go on to choose to remain on earth to save others.  In effect, they are gods and goddesses and the term goddess is often used with Guanyin.  In fact, Guanyin is the beloved Goddess of Mercy of China and other south-east Asian lands both within the Buddhist tradition and Taoism, which considers her an Immortal. 

Madonna and Child, St. Francis Church, Coloane Macau

The Guanyin below, is from  the Shuanglin Monastery in Quiatou Village near Pingyao, China.  The monastery itself dates from before the 6th century and the figures in it are very old and fragile, which is why they are protected by bars.  Guanyin, here, is seated but like the Virgin floats in the celestial realm and wears a flowing scarf, that is typical of her iconography, as well as that of other divine Buddhist figures.

Guanyin, Shuanglin Temple, Quiaton Village, China

 The three Arhats below, guardians of the Buddhist faith, also wear the flowing scarves worn by many divine figures in Chinese Buddhism.

Arhats, Huayan Monastery, Datong China
Virgin Mary, throughout the colonial world, was a figure who, in different ways, became associated with local older dieties in the process of evangelization and adaptation.  Mexico's Guadalupe was fused with indigenous elements as were the Peruvian Virgins of the Andes, who bore a connection to sacred mountains. In the Macau church, we see a Mary connected with an earlier Buddhist goddess who was and still is at the heart of peoples' worship.







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