MACAU CHURCH HERITAGE – Church of St Augustine

– Maria Kwak

It was the first of November, 1586 when the Augustinians first arrived in Macau. Macau was then a Portuguese colony, governed by the Spanish Empire’s Felipe II (r. 1581-1598). The Spanish Friar, Francisco Manrique (d. 1588) with a couple of monks from the Philippines established themselves as the Mosteiro e Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça (Monastery & Church of Our Lady of Graces). The King later handed the church to the hands of the Portuguese friars in order to avoid the conflict between the Spanish and the Portuguese. The double-headed eagle in the ceiling represents the emblem of the Spanish Empire. The bell tower attached to the side is part of the original monastery.

During the 18th century, all the missionaries in Macau were expelled in the midst of the Chinese Rites Controversy. Although the Augustinians supported the liberal views held by the Jesuits towards the ancestral worship, the conflicts among the orders caused the expulsion altogether. Despite the political turmoil, its beauty was adorned not only by the locals but also the Qing officials. It was considered the most beautiful one among other churches in town.

The main altar, over the main arch of the high chapel, St Augustine (354-430) who gives the name of the church is painted. He is a Father of the Church, who emphasised the significance of graces from God.  The shield represents a heart crossed with the arrow of love, which drips into a chalice, representing the Eucharist over the Bible. The Saint is venerated by most of the Christian churches. His feast day is August 28. The side altar features St Monica (322-387), the mother of St Augustine, in green robes, who exerted a great influence on St Augustine. Her feast day is May 5.

The current façade comes from the Baroque-style reconstruction in 1814. Its legacy was left in one of the drawings (Sketches in Macau, 1832) of the artist George Chinnery (1774-1852) who lived in the neighbourhood. The church is locally known as Long Song Miu (龍鬆廟), meaning the Temple of the Long-whiskered Dragon. This popular name comes from the palm leaves by the church which appear to be dragon’s whiskers floating in the wind. Church bells rang at sunrise, sunset, and at three in the afternoon, at which time everyone knelt down to pray, even in the streets. The locals were impressed by the processions of Catholic feasts. When the friars were expelled from the city, these processions had to come to an end. Since the expulsion of the friars in 1835, the monastery served as a military hospital until the completion of the Hospitalar Conde de S. Januário in 1873. The church was severely damaged during the 19th century, due to a fire in 1872 and a typhoon in 1874. The locals who believed that the misfortunes were brought upon due to the cessation of processions, kept the tradition alive for centuries. The Way of the Cross during Lent is one of the traditions that is still being carried out by its brotherhood.

Subsequently, it went through a reconstruction as a neo-classical-style building, similar to the theatre in the opposite the church. Alexandrino António de Melo (1837-1885) who designed the Teatro Dom Pedro V opposite took part in the reconstruction. For some time, it was used as a liceu (official high school) in 1893 and was finally opened as a church once again at the turn of the 20th century. The church lends its name to the square Largo de Santo Agostinho, which is one of the prominent squares in the city.

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