The history of Our Lady of China and its feast in Macau

O Clarim News Bureau (English)

When we type “Our Lady of China” on Google, numerous images and styles appear, leading to confusion for many. However, to be precise, Our Lady of China is actually named Our Lady of Dong Lu (東閭聖母). In Macau, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of China on the first day of the Lunar New Year; however, our diocese is unique in observing this feast, as other places around the world celebrate it on the Saturday preceding the second Sunday.

Brief History of Our Lady of Dong Lu

Our Lady of China is the name given to an apparition of Mother Mary in Dong Lu, a city in the Hebei province of China. Catholic missionaries have been present in China since the 13th century, and after several hundred years of development, the Catholic faith thrived in various regions of the country. Dong Lu, a small village, is home to a small Christian community established by the Vincentian Fathers.

During the late Qing Dynasty, China faced numerous defeats in wars against foreign powers, resulting in the imposition of several unequal treaties that allowed Western countries to freely trade and promote Christianity within the country. Under the rule of Empress Dowager Cixi, the populace endured natural disasters and a corrupt government, leading to ongoing conflicts between traditionalists and Catholics. With increasing anger and persuasion, villagers in North China had been harboring resentment against Christian missionaries, culminating in the formation of the Boxer Rebellion.

Cixi not only permitted but also supported the Boxers, who subsequently attacked the village of Dong Lu. It is said that a Chinese priest fervently invoked the Mother of God to safeguard his people. In response, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in white and the bullets fired by the rebels failed to shatter the apparition positioned over the Church. According to other accounts, the rebels were put to flight by a “strange horseman”. People believed it was Our Lady and St Michael (the strange horseman) who saved the village. In gratitude for her protection, the Catholics of Dong Lu constructed a Gothic-style Church in the heart of the village. The church has since become one of the largest and most famous Churches in Northern China.

The parish priest at that time, Fr Giron, commissioned a woman to paint an image of Our Lady carrying the child Jesus. This image, named ‘Our Lady of China’ (also named as Our Lady of Dong Lu), was then offered at the altar of the Church.

A few years later, another parish priest Fr P. Flament, a Frenchman, fine-tuned the details of the painting. He invited a friend from his own country to repaint the image of Our Lady of Dong Lu, to commemorate the extraordinary event. Fr. Flament requested that the image be depicted with three specific details: 1) wearing Chinese empress costumes, 2) portraying an appearance of a Chinese lady adorned with a crown to signify Our Lady’s role as the queen of heaven and earth, and 3) showing Our Lady embracing the child Jesus solemnly to convey the noble stature of the Mother of God.

They referenced the magnificent imperial robes of Empress Dowager Cixi and various emperors: Our Lady was depicted in a traditional Qing Empress robe, while the child Jesus wore Chinese-style shoes with a dove on the breast, symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was adorned with a red robe, purple belt, and an emperor-style robe bearing the symbols of JHS (Jesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus Christ the Savior) and HM (Hail Mary). Above the image, a line in Chinese read “Queen of Dong Lu, Mother of God, pray for us.” This oil painting, standing about two meters high, was officially completed in 1908.

Our Lady of China in Macau

(This part is originally from: Feast of Our Lady of China in Macau, written by Magdalene Chan, translated by Jasmin Yiu)

After the National Bishop Conference held in Shanghai on June 18, 1924, Vatican representative Archbishop Celso Benigno Luigi Costantini led all bishops and published a prayer “Consecrate China to Our Lady”, and used the image of Our Lady of Dong Lu as the official and standard image of Our Lady of China. Since then, every year’s Feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception has this practice of consecration in all churches in China.

In 1941, at the request of Archbishop Mario Zanin – an Italian prelate and papal diplomat, who was the Apostolic Delegate to China from 1933 to 1946 – Pope Pius XII announced the feast of Our Lady of China, and approved Dong Lu as an official pilgrimage sanctuary in China. Other sources suggest that the feast of Our Lady of China was promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1937, but the accuracy of this information needs further study and verification. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the reform of the Church’s calendar, the Bishops’ Conference of Taiwan petitioned the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1973, to authorise the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of China on the eve of Mother’s Day, i.e. on the Saturday before the Second Sunday in May. This practice continues to be observed in Taiwan and Hong Kong to this day.

As for Macau, due to the “Portuguese Carnation Revolution” on April 25, 1974, Portugal announced that it would give up all its overseas colonies and return the sovereignty of Macau to China, and China agreed that Macau would remain under Portuguese rule for the time being. Thus, Macau was then a “Chinese territory under Portuguese rule”, while the “Província Ultramarina de Macau” changed to “Governo do Território de Macau”. This was the political situation in Macau at that time, and the Church in Macau made changes in response to the changes in the political situation, and because the number of Catholics in Macau was minimal, and at the same time there was a huge increase in commercial activities, it was not appropriate to have too many public holidays.

Bishop Arquimínio Rodrigues da Costa (Bishop of Macau from 1976 to 1988), re-adjusted the liturgical calendar, adjusted some of the obligatory feasts (circled feasts on the calendar) to non-obligatory, or moved them to Sundays, so that the faithful could have the opportunity to celebrate. Some of the liturgies have been readjusted to be celebrated on Sundays, such as the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension, Feast of Corpus Christi (including Eucharistic procession at that time), the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15), and the Feast of All Saints (November 1) etc. At that time, Vicar General Fr Domingos Lam proposed to keep one of the Marian feasts as an obligatory feast, and after a meeting of all parish priests, it was decided to keep the “Immaculate Conception” as an obligatory feast.

At the same time, some priests proposed to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of China on the first day of the Lunar New Year, so that the new year could be entrusted to Our Lady’s protection, just as the Feast of the Mother of God is celebrated on the first day of January. Following consensus among the Bishop and clergy, a consultation and approval process was initiated and forwarded to the Congregation for Divine Worship. The request sought authorization for Macau to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of China on the first day of the Lunar New Year.