Category: Heritage @ Macau.

Historic Center of Macau :: St. Dominic’s Church

This is one of the richest historical monuments of Macao and there are many important records about this church’s history relevant to a greater understanding of the cultural background of the city’s past.

The Fraternity of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary was founded in 1587-1588 by three Spanish friars who came originally from Acapulco, in Mexico.

The original group of Dominicans from Mexico consisted of 18 Spanish friars, 15 of whom settled in the Philippines while only three continued their journey to Macao. These three friars, Antonio de Arcediano, Alonos Delgado and Bartolomeu Lopes, founded the Convent and Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary upon their arrival at Macao on 1st September 1587.

The original church was a simple structure built of wooden pillars and planks as walls, giving it a humble image that inspired the popular local designation of “Pan Cheong Tong Miu” (Temple of Wooden Planks).

The Church was rebuilt in 1828, with a completely new structure as it is today. Following orders from the Viceroy of Goa, D. Duarte de Menezes, the Spanish friars were later expelled from Macao and, in March 1588, the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary was attributed to Portuguese Dominicans.

The history of St. Dominic’s Church is also testimony to some of the city’s turbulent episodes. ln 1642, after the independence of Portugal from Spanish rule (1640), when Macao was still celebrating the acclamation of D. Joao IV as the new Portuguese king, a local sergeant displayed in public his support for the Spanish cause and was killed by the local community. The sergeant initially sought shelter inside St. Dominic’s Church and, unable to escape, he was killed in front of the main altar of the church.

Throughout its history the Dominicans of Macao would be associated with some favouritism for the Spanish cause in the region. Despite prohibition from the Chinese authorities, the Macao Dominicans are known to have given shelter to Spanish priests intending to lead missions in China.

On the other hand, the history of the Fraternity itself was not always peaceful, but it contains important information about the city’s own evolution, in association with crucial episodes of the history of Roman Catholicism in this region.

In the Rites Controversy, Pope Clement XXl’s decree on the religious significance of rites performed by Catholics in China, Catholic Patriarch Tournon was sent to Macao to settle the matter. Tournon himself did not enjoy the support of the local bishop, Casal, and the matter proved controversial also in Macao where the two sides were supported by different interests.

As a result of ecclesiastical tensions within Macao, St. Dominic’s Church was closed in 1707 and reopened again in 1709. Toumon himself was arrested by the Macao authorities against the will of the Vatican but in a move supported by both Chinese and other local community interests.

The date of construction of St. Dominic’s Church and the old Convent as it appears today has not been definitively established, but there are records that suggest the building must have been constructed soon after the great typhoon of 1738, which destroyed the previous structure.

Another great typhoon hit the Cathedral of Macao on the 5th of August 1836, and St. Dominic’s Church assumed the temporary status of cathedral, adopting the services of the highest religious ceremonies. St. Dominic’s Church assumed the functions of the Cathedral until the 19th of February 1850.

ln a reversal of fortune, St. Dominic’s Church was struck by lightning in May 1874 and its religious services were transferred to the Cathedral Church of Macao, until the completion of the reparation works in September 1876. The old Convent annexed to St. Dominic’s Church, which disappeared in the 20th century, also had an important role in the church’s history. It served the normal functions of a Dominican Convent for most of its existence.

After the expropriation of most local religious properties, following the royal decree of 28th of May 1834, and implemented in September 1835, the Convent went into decline. At one point, the construction housed other functions, such as the local Public Works, the Firemen’s Brigade and the local Telephone Company, giving an idea of the size of the old convent structure.

The old convent building occupied the whole block, in an immense area that was limited by Rua de S. Domingos, Rua da Palha, Travessa dos Algibebes and Rua dos Mercadores.

In the mid- 20th century the old convent building was destroyed, leaving only the church. The Dominicans were also responsible for publishing the first Portuguese newspaper in China, entitled A Abelha do Chim: (“China’s Bee’).

In 1929, Friar Manuel Joaquim Pintado introduced the cult of Our Lady of Fatima to St. Dominic’s Church, and this cult later spread to Shiu-Hing, Timor, Singapore and Malacca, and is still cherished by the local Christian community.

St. Dominic’s Church was recently restored in important conservation works that prioritised the original design of the building. The church was reopened to the public on the 23rd of November 1997 and is probably one of the most active churches in Macao today.

Architectural Design

St. Dominic`s Church is situated on a square named after the church, St. Dominic’s Square.

The main facade of the church is divided into four horizontal levels and three vertical sections, the predominant part being the 20 metres-high pediment in the centre, decorated with an oval relief carving on top, with the religious insignia of the Dominican order. The lower sections of the facade reflect the functions of its internal space.

The three sections from left to right are mainly defined by the eight rounded wall columns, those on the top section being mainly Corinthian columns, with the capitals of flanking columns being decorated with short gourd-shaped pillars. Between the columns there are three windows with stucco relief sculptures as lintels.

The composition of the facade follows a notion of divine ascension, in a similar concept as that found in the facade of St. Paul’s Ruins, even though in a much less elaborate manner.

On the ground floor there are three entrances, which dictate the rhythm of the following ascension levels. The pale yellow church walls with decorative white plasterwork, the green doors and windows, fine stucco relief decorations, and the exquisite patterns on the facade matched by well-proportioned wall columns, all lend the church a special air of solemnity and elegance.

The church consists of the nave, the chancel and a three-storey high bell tower, close to the sacristy area, in the back part of the building. The chancel is 18 metres long and 12.2 metres wide, with a main altar that has some baroque features. The interior structure is similar to that of St. Augustine’s Church, although more refined.

The church’s high-choir extends to form a long narrow balcony that continues along the sidewalls of the nave, facilitating access to the windows on the upper level.

The nave is rectangular measuring 32 metres long by 15 metres wide. It is divided into three sections by two rows of Corinthian-inspired columns connected by brick arches. The roof ridge is 17 metres high and the eaves 13.5 metres high. The interior wooden ceiling is painted light blue, with wooden air vents.

There are four niches on the sidewalls of the nave, ten rectangular windows, on the upper level, and nine openings on the ground floor. Five of these ground-fIoor openings are directly linked into a side corridor on the right side of the church’s nave, which gives access to the sacristy and bell tower. The flat roof of the side corridor corresponds to the main passage leading to the high-choir, located over the main entrance.

On the right side of the chancel, at the end of the lateral corridor, there is a three-storey high bell tower, close to the church’s sacristy. The ground floor serves mainly as a service area, while the first and second floors are used as a Museum of Sacred Art, exhibiting Catholic artefacts dating back to the 16th century, many of which were made in Goa and Macao and which also reflect a fusion of artistic styles.

The original woodwork and structure ofthe bell tower remains intact. The church’s bells were cast in the foundry of Antonio Bocarro in the mid-l7th century and still hang in the belfry window on the third floor.

The church undertook a profound restoration project in 1997 and is very well preserved, in accordance with its original design. This is probably one of the most active churches of Macao, both in terms of religious service and cultural activities.

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Category: Heritage @ Macau