The most treasured icon in Macau, the towering facade and stairway are all that remain of this early-17th-century Jesuit church. With its statues, portals and engravings that effectively make up a ‘sermon in stone’ and a Biblia pauperum (Bible of the poor), the church was one of the greatest monuments to Christianity in Asia, intended to help the illiterate understand the Passion of Christ and the lives of the saints.
The church was designed by an Italian Jesuit and built by early Japanese Christian exiles and Chinese craftsmen between 1602 and 1640. It was abandoned after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1762 and a military battalion was stationed here. In 1835 a fire erupted in the kitchen of the barracks, destroying everything, except what you see today. At the top is a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, surrounded by stone carvings of the sun, moon and stars. Beneath the Holy Spirit is a statue of the infant Jesus, and around it, stone carvings of the implements of the Crucifixion (the whip, crown of thorns, nails, ladder and spear). In the centre of the third tier stands the Virgin Mary being assumed bodily into heaven along with angels and two flowers: the peony, representing China, and the chrysanthemum, representing Japan. To the right of the Virgin is a carving of the tree of life and the apocalyptic woman (Mary) slaying a seven-headed hydra; the Japanese kanji next to her read: ‘The holy mother tramples the heads of the dragon’. To the left of the central statue of Mary, a ‘star’ guides a ship (the Church) through a storm (sin); a carving of the devil is to the left. The fourth tier has statues of four Jesuit doctors of the church: (from left) Blessed Francisco de Borja; St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the order; St Francis Xavier, the apostle of the Far East; and Blessed Luís Gonzaga.