Being the favorite saint of the Portuguese, Saint Anthony (1195-1231) was the patron saint of Macau until the 17th century. Especially popular among the navigators, the first Catholic church built in Macau was thus dedicated to him. The church was built by the Jesuits.
The earliest Portuguese sailors and merchants settled in the area of what is now Camões Garden on Patane Hill. Just below the garden, the Jesuits established themselves with a hermitage in 1565, where now lies St Anthony’s Church. The small hermitage was set up to accommodate the missionaries who travelled to Macau in order to further their journeys to Japan and China.
Locally known as ‘Gardener’s Church’ (花王堂), the name is associated with the floral wreaths that were used in weddings. It was a popular venue to hold the weddings for the Macanese community since its establishment in 16th century. The saint is known as ‘marriage saint’ in the Portuguese-speaking world, a saint women pray to, asking their intercession to find faithful husbands. Hence, churches dedicated to Saint Anthony became popular venues for weddings. Moreover, he has been an important saint for the Macanese diaspora as well.
The side altar is dedicated to Saint Andrew Kim Taegon (1822-1846). He was the first Korean to become a Roman Catholic priest after having trained for the priesthood at the seminary in Macau. With some French missionary priests, he returned to Korea in 1842, where Catholicism was subject to persecution. His life was short-lived. He was executed in 1846. Currently, the parish is run by the Korean priests of the Blessed Korean Martyrs.
The current stone building structure dates back from the reconstruction in 1638. The tall cross at one side of the gate marks the reconstruction year. The church was subsequently rebuilt after the fire in 1809 and the damage from the typhoon in 1874. The stone platter on the façade of the church indicates that the façade and the tower were renovated in 1930, by José da Costa Nunes (1880-1976) and Artur Tamagnini de Sousa Barbosa (1880-1940), Bishop of Macau and the Governor of Macau respectively. On 13 June, feast day of the saint, a procession with the statue of Saint Anthony departs from the church and circles around the Praça de Camões.