Category: Heritage @ Macau.

Historic Center of Macau :: Ruins of St. Paul’s

The Ruins of St. Paul’s refer to the remains of the old Church of Mater Dei and St. Paul’s College. The first Jesuit church of Macao was established in 1583 in the location where St. Anthony’s Church now stands. The original construction dating from 1585 was burned down many times forcing the Jesuits to move up to another site on Mount Hill.

A new church was built on the site of the present Ruins of St. Paul’s in 1582, only to succumb to fires in 1595 and again in 1801. Following what is thought to be the architectural design of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola and under the direction of Father Valignano, a new church was built between 1602-1603. The construction of the granite facade was finished between 1637-1640 after the completion of the church structure. There are consistent records that indicate that the granite staircase leading up to St. Paul’s forecourt was constructed during the same period as the facade. The axis of the monumental granite staircase is not entirely aligned with the axis of the facade, indicating that when it was built, there were already other buildings nearby limiting its layout.

St. Paul’s College followed an academic program of very high standards and is considered to have been the first University of the Far East. The old College was constructed in 1572-1575 and modified in 1578. To accommodate an extension, St. Paul’s College was renovated in 1594. The college had the first printing press in China publishing many important books.

St. Paul’s College received a huge number of scholars and students and benefited from an extensive library containing almost 5,000 books and valuable manuscripts.

Beside the Church of Mater Dei and the College, there were other important services connected to the Jesuit complex such as a residential block, a House for the Missions in Japan and a Safe-deposit House where tributes were paid to the Society of Jesus in proportion to profits made from trading.

In 1835, a great fire destroyed the entire complex including St. Paul’s College and the Church of Mater Dei, leaving only the impressive granite facade that is now called the “Ruins of St. Paul’s”. After the fire of 1835, the site was used for many years as a burial ground until 1854, when St. Michael’s Cemetery was opened and the temporary tombs were transferred to the new cemetery.

Following extensive archaeological studies from 1990-1996, the site was converted into a sacred art exhibition hall and a museum, with a crypt for the martyrs who died in Japan.

Architectural Design

The Ruins of St. Paul’s refer to the facade cf what was originally the Church of Mater Dei built in 1603-1640. The facade is reached by a flight of 68 granite steps from the square below (Largo da Companhia dos Jesuitas). The facade of the Ruins of St. Paul’s is 28 metres wide and 38.5 metres high and is divided into four levels and a pediment.

Following the classical concept cf divine ascension, the orders on each horizontal level evolve from lonic, Corinthian and Composite, from the base upward. The two higher levels gradually narrow into a triangular pediment at the top, which symbolizes the ultimate state of divine ascension – the Holy Spirit. The facade is Mannerist in style carrying some distinctively Oriental decorative motifs, including the use of Chinese characters and round chrysanthemum patterns typical of Japanese artistic representations. Nowhere else in the world can such a massive granite facade combining elaborate liturgical themes and Chinese motifs be found.

There are three entrances at ground level, supported by ornamental walls and ten lonic pilasters grouped in a rhythm of 2-3-3-2. The monogram of the Society of Jesus “IHS” is carved in bas-relief on the lintels over the side entrances. Over the main portal there are the words “MATER DEI” indicating that the church is dedicated to the Mother of God. The second level has ten Corinthian pilasters and three window openings.

There are four magnificent bronze statues of saints and beatified men of the Society of Jesus at this level. Flanking the central window are two panels each decorated with a palm tree, a symbol of life that also represents the exoticism that the Jesuits encountered on their way to the Far East.

The third level is the most elaborate and richly decorated, representing the ascension of the Virgin Mary. From this point on, the facade starts to narrow towards its central axis. At the centre of this third level there is a niche with a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, which is flanked by side panels decorated with carved angels on each side. It is important to note that even though the whole theme is Christian in essence, the craftsmanship of the composition reflects clear oriental influences in its details. There are a total of six composite pilasters in the centre cf this level, flanked by obelisk shaped pillars. The panels between the columns are decorated
with relief.

To the right of the Virgin Mary, there is a representation of a cypress, symbol of immortality, and a seven-headed hydra, with an inscription cf Chinese characters meaning “Our Lady crushes the head of the dragon”. To the left of the central niche containing the Virgin Mary, maintaining a symmetrical balance, there is the Fountain of Life. On the next panel, a Portuguese boat sails on the crest of a wave protected by the Star of the Sea. Further right, there is an arched pediment with the representation of a skeleton and Chinese characters meaning “Remember death and you will not sin”.

On the opposite left-hand side, there is a carved demon, with Chinese characters meaning, “The devil tempts men to do wrong”. The two outermost panels on this level are decorated with obelisks and traditional Chinese liens, similar to those found at the entrance of A-Ma Temple. On the fourth level, a statue of Jesus stands in the central niche, with the representation of the instruments of the Passion on both sides.

The niche is flanked by a set of four composites pilasters on each side, with the panels between pilasters decorated in relief angels. The fifth level is a triangular pediment which is decorated with a dove cast in bronze, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, surrounded by four stars and the Sun on the left and the Moon on the right. The Sun represents the male and the moon the female. The pediment is crowned with a bronze Latin cross.

Photo Gallery

Category: Heritage @ Macau