Great figures of the missionary work
Joaquim Magalhães de Castro
Thanks to an unprecedented document saved in the Royal Library of Ajuda Palace, in Lisbon, we know how the inauguration of the Church of the Mother of God took place, in 1603, apart from knowing as well about the details of its interior. Everything was done symbolically.
So on Christmas Eve, Mass was celebrated in the old church by the Visitor Alexandre Valignano. Then the Blessed Sacrament, which survived the fire, was taken in procession with the presence of over three dozen priests and brothers, transporting five sedans with the relics and images usually kept in the College premises. It was a sight to see! Enlivened with torches, music and dance, the procession passed through the main streets surrounding the College, all of them well-festooned, and the five ships anchored in the inner harbor fired numerous shots of artillery, thus marking the solemnity of the act. The streets were filled with people rejoicing the fact that the church they had longed for, was finally completed.
Christmas Eve was marked by abundant fireworks, followed by Matins and High Mass, the first celebrated in the new church of the Mother of God.
Inside the temple light was abundant and during the summer it had the peculiarity of keeping the environment cool as the three front doors were toward the south. The chronicles say that “the wind in this land is fresh in the time of lull.” The church of the Mother of God was made up of three sections – the central one; to the east, the section of eleven thousand virgins or women; and to the west, Jesus or men’s section – three chapels and two altars: the Holy Spirit and St. Michael. Both the arch of the sanctuary as the two side ones – “the first three stone arches in these lands” – were in white carved stone. The sanctuary was 14 meters wide and the two chapels on the flanks were lined with Japanese fine wood bearing a beautiful stripe on it with the word “Jesus” written in gold. There was another hallway which closed the north part of the College, as it was too much “open and patent to the unhealthy winds of this land”. Following through this corridor one would reach a platform situated on the flank of the sanctuary. Below the platform was the sacristy, “with other cupboards for the church service and the house” and, above it, a few rooms for the priests and brothers sojourning in the territory.
The document provides further details on the size of the church, and stresses the thickness of the columns and walls made of mud and dirt, “which were not very tall, less than 16 meters,” so as to better withstand the fury of typhoons. The tower was equipped with various bells (the document does not say how many) and a huge terrace “where one can see the whole city and the outer harbor bar where the ships come and go.”
In this enterprise seven thousand taels (Chinese coins of that time), more or less, were spent. And all this was done with the alms given by the residents of the city.
The stewards of the Confraternity of Jesus, township people, offered, in 1620, a beautiful silver lamp to the chapel, and one of those stewards added thirty cruzados for a drawn curtain with gold wire for adornment of the altar. It mentioned as well a relic of the “supposed hair of Our Lady” that was still kept in that church in 1746, as is referred in a contemporary document.
The stewards of the Confraternity of the Holy Spirit, in turn, offered, also in 1620, for their altar, four silver candlesticks “and a front with its velvet trim.”
The majestic Church of Mater Dei also greatly impressed the Chinese, as shown by the texts gathered in Ou-Mun Kei-Leok (Monograph of Macau), written by Tcheong-U-Lâm and Ian-Kuong which would be translated in 1950 by the distinctive Macanese investigator Luís Gonzaga Gomes.
Those Chinese tells us that the main church of the foreigners was the “Sam-Pá Temple (São Paulo),” located northeast of Macau, leaning against a mountain. On the side of the building, several doors, made with long narrow stones carved and inlaid with blue gold, “which dazzled.” The top looked like a back canopy and lacy sides were full of admirable jaspers. “That, they say, is the heavenly Mother called Mary”, we read in the Ou-Mun Kei-Leok. The figure of the Virgin was compared to the one of “a young women hugging a small child called Jesus Lord of Heaven.” The dress she wore was not stitched and covered the entire body. Her left hand held an armillary sphere and the four fingers of her right hand “reminded the gesture of one who speaks.” Her hair and eyebrows were stiff, “as if angry”; the ears were characterized by “heavy lobes”; her nose was tall and aquiline; her eyes “seemed to contemplate any distant thing”; and her mouth assumed “the typical attitude of someone who wants to talk.”
“Looking at this figure, one would say that it was in the shape of the most beautiful of women,” concluded the authors of the Ou-Mun Kei-Leok, who at the end of their analysis, mention the existence alongside the Virgin of thirty other figures, though they wouldn’t tell us who they were.