Monday, May 2, 2011

Losing My Religion- Top 5 Temples and Churches of Macau

I don't like labels but I love a pretty church or temple and appreciate the dedication it takes someone to be religious. I myself consider myself to be spiritual but do not define myself into one religious box. It's far too easy for me to do that. People are people and we all want the same things. Different cultures create religions to answer the same set of questions all humans have. So why can't they be the same thing? 

Macau is a great example of a town that is equally mixed, East meets West. You can eat traditional Portuguese and have dim sum all in the same town. I like the fact that Macau has held onto it's history unlike Hong Kong which tears down anything over 50 years for the sake of "progress". And yes, there are some parts of Macau that could use some improvements but their love for their heritage is something to be admired. The Portuguese owned Macau until 1999 so it's just passed it's ten year anniversary underneath the banner of mainland China. They speak Cantonese and Portuguese in Macau. You will be hard pressed to find a taxi driver with great English skills and the buses are only Portuguese and Chinese so make sure you are paying attention and have your map handy. A lot of mainland tourists come over so in the past ten years there has been a huge improvement in those who speak Mandarin in Macau. All the Casinos have English speaking staff because of the tourists from Hong Kong so you'll know you'll have no problems once you enter the casino world.

On our historical tour of Macau, we did a church and temple tour. This is because I love to see Unesco Heritage Sites and Macau has many churches and temples with Unesco stamps on them. Seeing the equal appearance of catholic, and buddhist worship centers it really showed you the east meets west vibe of the city. Here are the top churches and temples we went to. (In no particular order.) I would also like to point out that we were there on Easter weekend which meant we got to see a lot of pilgrimages and it seemed super appropriate to see the religious part of town on this weekend.
1. Ama Temple
Ama Temple in Macau. All dressed up for Buddha's Birthday!
Ama Temple is the place that Macau is named after. When the Portuguese arrived in Macau and asked where are we, the locals replied "Ama Cau" which means Ama Temple. So the Portuguese named the country they landed on Macau thinking that's what the locals called their country. (Oh how things are lost in translation...)
It is not the oldest temple in Macau, that belongs to Kuan Ian Temple (or the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy.) But the exact date of this temples building is not exact as it predates the building of the city and the settling of the Portuguese. It is the largest temple in Macau, the most holy and the most visited. It's kind of the city center for practicing Buddhists in Macau and although it's a tourist attraction not many tourists go as it is not close to the city center and requires a bus or taxi from the city center. (But it only cost about 20MOP to get there!) The temple is built into a mountain with several smaller temples being perched into the rock face the further up you go. You will see people buy incense at the bottom, make their offering and the climb the stairs and make an offering at every single one before they climb down. It's part of the sacrifice in order to receive the rewards. There are carvings in the rocks including chinese characters and things that look similar to frescos painted and carved into rocks. They are all very old but look like the paint has been restored within the last 10-20 years or so. There are also signs asking you not to rub the characters. I guess they worry about people rubbing the faces off the gods!
My mother and I bought a wish at the temple. It was made out of plastic straws and pinwheels and as the insence burns around it, it's supposed to take our wish up to heaven. There were wishes there from all over the world in many different languages. We asked for health and happiness for our family!
Wishes from all over! I hope they all come true!

2. Guia Chapel
Guia Chapel is the small chapel that is built right next to the Guia Lighthouse which I wrote about in my previous post. You are not allowed to take photos inside because it is very old, so these photos are from the Macau Tourism Site. DO NOT take photos inside this church!! It is full of 17th century frescos that are very delicate and already falling apart. If people continue to break the rules and take flash photos of them, we will not have them anymore. Also, this church is a very holy place to a lot of nuns as there used to be a nunnery here and you will see nuns here from all over the world praying at this church. Taking photos of them is very disrespectful to them and their religous practices.
Onto the architecture. This church is made almost completely out of plaster. There are no windows and the walls and floors are covered in plaster carvings and frescos from the early 1600's. You can only walk down the aisle to look at it and then exit it. There are no pews and the church is probably only 500 square feet but it is very beautiful and I hope you will go see it.

3. St. Dominic's Church
St. Dominics, there is a good tea house across the street!
St. Dominics is located very conveniently in Senado Square. When you walk from the Ruins to Senado Square you will walk right by it! The doors are huge, atleast 30 feet high and it is a working church with services. So if you walk in to take a looksie and they are praying make sure you don't make too much noise! This church is very beautiful but hands down has one of the creepiest Jesus' I have seen in a while. We're talking full on, anorexic, bleeding, naked, suffering Jesus. When I see a Crucifix like that it makes me happy that the churches my parent's took me to had the happy Jesus on their crucifix. Seeing something like that every Sunday would have seriously scarred me as a child.

4. St. Micheal's Church and Cemetery
The older Catholic style headstones
St. Micheal's is a cute powder blue church located in between the Tea House Museum and the Ruins of St. Paulo. You can take a nice walk like we did and stop in to see this interesting graveyard which has traditional Catholic headstones and the Chinese style headstones with the photography on them. Some of the headstones in this cemetery are very old going back to the 1700's. This church also has some slightly dated stained glass windows where it seems the people burning in hell are all of a darker color then the people who got into heaven. Defiantly racist but it let's you know that this church is genuinely old and has not been updated too much. It was built in 1755 and the famous powder blue exterior was added in the 1800's to make the graveyard appear more cheerful. Not kidding about that fact. Because everyone knows you need a cheerful graveyard.
The day we went someone left out the maintenance ladder access to roof! Mwa haha!

5. Kuan Tai Temple
The smallest temple in Macau is located slap dab in the middle of the city next to Senado Square. This temple is dedicated to the local merchant and thus was a meeting place for people who worked in sales for years. It is located in the market and is currently under construction. However, it was also one of our funniest moments of the trip because we caught the local monk having a nap on duty. I guess it was a slow day for the praying and atoning business. 

Nighty Night Sleepy Monk!

RUNNERS UP:
St. Joseph's Seminary
 St. Joseph's is the only working Seminary School still in Macau. It is also the oldest. The inside of the Seminary features large arched ceilings and a white and brown interior. There are large brown wooden pews that date back to the early 1900's. It is located up a giant hill across the street from Senado Square. So get a drink in the square, catch your breath and then truck up THAT HILL! Next door to it is the famous Don Pedro Theatre which was the first western style Opera House to be built in Asia. They no longer perform plays there but have tours once a month so you can see the late 1800's style architecture and theatre gadgets. The gas operated footlights are really beautiful. There is talk of them reopening it as a local playhouse but my guess is that it would have to be gutted to be up to code wiring wise.

Ruins of St. Paulo
St. Paulo, where every statue is different in the facade!
The Ruins and the Guia Lighthouse are the two symbols of Macau. Go see it! It's really amazing. It's hard to imagine how big it was before the fires happened. I talked more in detail about the ruins in the previous post but couldn't make a listing of the amazing churches and temples of Macau without listing it.

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