The Ruins of St. Paul's - Everything you need to know about Macau's most famous landmark
You can’t visit Macau without stopping by to see the city’s iconic landmark: the ruins of St. Paul’s Church. This 17th century Jesuit Catholic church appears on both the 5 pataca coin and the 20 pataca banknote, and adorns nearly every promotional tourist brochure. It’s an impressive site; the facade of the ruined Portuguese church stands high on a hill overlooking the old town, a symbol of the half millinium of Portuguese rule over the tiny Chinese peninsula of Macau.
A Little History of Portugal and Macau
Macau, little more than a tiny peninsula and two tinier islands joined by an artificial land-bridge, was once the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Asia, and one of the most important religious and political sites in the world.
In the early 15th century, the small peninsula of Macau was granted to the Portuguese Empire by the Ming Dynasty of China after Portugal's famed armada helped fight pirates off the Chinese coast. It remained a colony of Portugal until its return to China in 1999.
The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church, Macau
Today, a plethora of Portuguese vestiges still mark the face of Macau. The most prominent of these is the iconic facade of the Ruins of St. Paul's Church. Constructed in the 16th century by Portuguese Jesuits, the church was designed by an Italian architect and constructed by exiled Japanese Christians who had fled persecution in their homeland to the Catholic stronghold of Macau. It was, at its time, the largest Christian church in Asia.
The church was destroyed in a typhoon in 1835, leaving only the facade, which has become Macau's symbol and most famous landmark, standing. Today, the facade of St. Paul's appears on both Macau's 5 pataca coin and 20 pataca note.
Visiting the Ruins of St. Paul’s Church in Macau
It’s free to visit the ruins, which are closed only on Tuesdays. Walk up the crowded steps towards what was once the interior of the church, and it’s much quieter and less crowded - most everyone want photos of the facade.
Beneath the ruins of the church lies a crypt. This crypt was re-discovered during preservation efforts in the 1990s. Since renovated, the crypt today holds the relics of numerous 16th century Japanese Catholic martyrs and important Jesuit missionaries who were based out of Macau. As you climb down the steps into the cool dark crypt, the complete silence isbroken only by the soft sounds of recorded Gregorian chant.
In Japan, Christianity was outlawed and persecuted by the Shogunate in the late 14th century. The religion had arrived in Japan with Portuguese traders, and was seen as a threat to the Shogun and the Emperor. Shinto, the state religion of Japan, emphasized the Emperor as the "Son of Heaven", and a religion that threaten that status quo was seen as dangerous. The Kakure Kirishitan, or "Secret Christians", had to go underground, hiding their beliefs.
Most famous of these were the "26 Martyrs of Japan", twenty-six foreign and Japanese Jesuits and Franciscans who were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki in 1597. All have been canonized by the Catholic Church. Their remains were interred in a place of honor beneath St. Paul's in Macau.
Visit the Ruins of St. Paul’s every day (except Tuesday) between 9:00am and 6:00pm.
Admission is FREE