– Maria Sheli Kwak
Situated at the highest point in Macau, the Capelinha de Nossa Senhora das Neves (Guia Chapel) stands inside the Fortaleza da Guia (Guia Fortress). Popularly known as Guia Chapel derived from the fortress and the lighthouse of synonymous name, the chapel, however, is dedicated to Nossa Senhora das Neves (“Our Lady of the Snows”). Devotion to Our Lady of the Snows originated from the miraculous snowfall on a hot summer day in Rome 352 A.D. Legend tells us that a wealthy couple from Rome, who was hoping to conceive a child witnessed the snowfall as a sign from Virgin Mary, together with Pope Liberius (310-366) on the night of 5 August. A 16th century Pope, Pius V (1504-1572) raised the devotion of Our Lady of the Snows to a universal feast and was commemorated in this chapel respectively.
The Chapel was erected around 1622 by nuns from the Order of Saint Clare. Founded in 1212 by Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1212), the Order was spread across Europe by Saint Agnes of Assisi, a sister of Saint Clare, starting in 1218 from Perugia, Italy. First introduced to the Kingdom of Aragon (modern-day Spain) and then to the Philippines in the 17th century. Clarist nuns from the Philippines arrived in Macau in 1633 and they were housed in this chapel until the Convento de Santa Clara (Convent of Saint Clare) was established.
Together with the lighthouse which was built in 1865, the Guia Chapel has been the symbol of Macau’s maritime, military and missionary history. During the Battle of Macau in 1622, the Guia Hill was the target of Dutch soldiers. Some tales regarding this battle say that the image of Virgin Mary from the chapel appeared to protect from the enemies. In 1625, the Spanish Jesuit Adriano de las Cortes (1578-1629) embarked on a diplomatic mission to Macau from Manila and passed by this chapel. His accounts indicate that the fortress was only developed after the Battle of Macau. This manuscript written in Spanish language about China is held with importance and preserved in the library of the British Museum today.
This small chapel’s white-washed exterior features typical characteristics of the Portuguese hermitages of the 17th century. The frescoes inside the chapel were brought to light in 1998 during the conservation work. The frescoes feature both Christian and Chinese motifs and themes, reflecting Macau’s multi-cultural uniqueness. The bell located on the left side of the Chapel was used for announcing the hours and used to notify the Town and its inhabitants of the ships approaching the peninsula. The old church bell was replaced in 1707 and subsequently was recast in order to improve its sound and appearance in 1824, by Commander Domingos Pio Marques, who was the administrator of the Chapel. Further explanation is engraved on the back side of the bell; ‘consecrated and christened with the name of Mary by the Most Excellent Bishop and Governor, Dom Friar Francisco de Nossa Senhora da Luz Chassim’. Accessible from the Colina da Guia, the Chapel is open to the public daily between 10:00 and 18:00.