The Portuguese changed the landscape of trade in Asia and brought Catholicism to the continent. Jesuit St. Francis Xavier came to the Far East with the intention of preaching Catholicism to the Japanese and the Chinese in 1546. However, he died on Shangchuan Island (上川島) in 1552. His cause was carried on by his fellow missionaries who came to China on the merchant fleets and settled in Macao later.
The Jesuits arrived in Macao on the heels of the Portuguese, who gained residence in Macao in 1557. Soon, several churches were built, including the St. Anthony’s Church, the St. Lawrence’s Church, and the St. Lazarus’ Church. Apart from the Society of Jesus, the Franciscans, the Augustinians, and the Dominican Order also had a presence in Macao with their monasteries and churches. In 1576, the Catholic Diocese of Macau was established, which dealt with affairs in Asia, including China, Japan, and Vietnam. Macao became a centre of Catholic missionary work in the Far East.
Although the Ming dynasty (明朝) restrained the spread of Catholicism in China, it granted the missionaries, among whom were Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall von Bell, access to Beijing (北京). In early Qing dynasty (清朝), the court took a liberal attitude toward the Catholics. However, it clashed with the Roman Catholic Church during the Chinese Rites Controversy, and Emperors Yongzheng (雍正) and Qianlong (乾隆) both ordered bans on Catholicism.
Protestant missionaries also came to preach in China and Southeast Asia in the 19th century. Robert Morrison from the London Missionary Society arrived in Macao in 1807. He pioneered the Protestant missionary work in China.
St. Francis Xavier was a founding member of the Society of Jesus. He reached Asia with the Portuguese fleets in 1541 and arrived in Japan in 1549. When preaching in Japan, he noticed the country was heavily influenced by Chinese culture, and therefore decided to make China his missionary destination in the hope that success there could promote his cause.
St. Francis Xavier’s graveyard on Shangchuan Island. He landed on Shangchuan Island in 1552, ready to smuggle into China to start his missionary work. Unfortunately, he died on the island.
D. Belchior Carniero Leitão S.J., the Diocesan Administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Macau.
St. Anthony’s Church and a picture of a monk in St. Paul’s Church. The Society of Jesus was one of the earliest Catholic missions came to China. After Macao’s opening to foreign trade, they built the St. Anthony’s Church, the St. Lawrence’s Church, and the St. Lazarus’ Church.
Left: Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, a supervisor of affairs in the Far East; Right: St. Paul’s College before it was later lost to a fire.
The Spanish Franciscans attempted to preach in Guangzhou (廣州) in 1579 but failed. They were expelled to Macao and there they built the Franciscan Monastery. Unfortunately, the Monastery was demolished in the mid-19th century.
The Augustinians established the St. Augustine’s Church in 1591, referred to by the local Chinese as Long Song Miu (Temple of the Long-whiskered Dragon) because the fan palm leaves on the rooftop appeared to be dragon’s whiskers floating in the wind.
The Spanish Dominican Order established the St. Dominic’s Church in 1591. It was referred to by the local Chinese as Ban Cheung Miu (Temple of Camphor Wood Planks) for its material.
The church in the St. Joseph’s Seminary. The Society of Jesus obtained this piece of land in 1728 to build residential complexes and a seminary for missionaries sent to China and Southeast Asia.
Robert Morrison’s arrival in Macao in 1807 commenced the Protestant missionary work in China. He was dedicated to the Chinese translation of texts including the Bible, A Dictionary of the Chinese Language, and many missionary teaching pamphlets.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Alex Lou, Vice Chairman of The Heritage Society.