The Ruins of St. Paul’s is an iconic landmark. // © 2014 Creative Commons: Lance Lee
Often referred to as the “Las Vegas of the East,” Macau actually has a very intriguing history. It was the last remaining European colony in Asia and contains a mixture of Chinese and Portuguese influences, from ancient fortresses and casinos to Catholic churches and temples. If your clients have an afternoon to spare, they should consider taking the time to visit some of the well-known churches, chapels and cathedrals that serve as a gateway between the past and the present.
Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral
The city’s most famous (and photographed) landmark, St. Paul’s was built in 1602 and was one of the largest Catholic complexes in Asia until it fell victim to a fire that was caused by a typhoon in 1835. All that remains of the cathedral is its tall facade with baroque features that stands at the top of a long flight of stairs. I found it to be well worth the trek. Upon reaching the top, look behind the facade to find the Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt, which contains various artifacts and relics that were previously housed in the cathedral.
St. Dominic’s Church
Located near the Leal Senado building, this stunning yellow baroque-style structure was built in the 16th century and is the oldest church in Macau. Be sure to check out the bell tower in the back of the structure, which has been converted into the mini Museum of Sacred Art with more than 300 ancient artifacts.
Chapel of St. Michael
If you’re curious about burial grounds, St. Michael’s is a small green chapel set in the midst of a nicely landscaped Catholic cemetery filled with tombs, statues and crosses. Some of the tombs bear edgings (both in Chinese and Portuguese) dating back to the late 1800s when the chapel was built. One of the best-maintained buildings in Macau, St. Michael’s is also known for its impressive series of stained-glass windows.
St. Lawrence’s Church
Also built in the mid-16th century, St. Lawrence’s Church sits on the southern coastline. The yellow-and-white neoclassical building is among the three oldest churches in Macau, and it features a wealth of architectural design and treatment befitting its location in one of the more upscale neighborhoods. Over the centuries, families of sailors would gather on the front steps of the church, where they would pray and await the return of their loved ones who were away at sea.
Chapel of St. Frances Xavier
Especially popular among Japanese Christians, this prominent building has a nicely preserved yellow exterior, white trim and oval stained-glass windows. Built in 1928, the grounds at St. Frances Xavier include a bell tower and are located directly behind a monument that commemorates the 1910 victory over local pirates. I was intrigued by the sacred relics that have been kept here since 1974, which include an arm bone from St. Francis Xavier, as well as bones from Japanese Christian martyrs and rebels who were persecuted centuries before.
If you’re interested in checking out a few more spots, other places worth a mention include Guia Chapel, which contains various paintings including a painting of St. John the Baptist dating back to the 1600s; Our Lady of Carmel Church Macau, situated above Taipa Village and its restored mansions overlooking the sea; and St. Augustine’s Church, nicknamed “Temple of the Long-Whiskered Dragon” due to its neighboring palm leaves that resemble dragon’s whiskers. The churches are accessible by most bus lines and are open daily between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (admission usually ends at 5:30 p.m.).