Coming face-to-face with the Mater Dei

Categories abroad, Places
The facade of the ruined St. Paul Church propped up at the back.
Mostly mainland Chinese tourists at the front of the facade. CLICK TO ENLARGE

The Ruins of St. Paul is one of Macau’s top tourist drawers and, if not, the most iconic of all the territory’s landmarks. An imposing, well appointed facade rich with details that is a blend of the West and the Orient.

I was invited by the Macau Government Tourism Office-Philippines (MGTO) together with other travel writers and bloggers for a familiarization tour to this interesting place last May and it was a beautiful experience with its cuisine, glitz and old world charm. The weather was kind of disappointing. Cool morning but the skies were overcast that I was a bit worried of how I will be shooting the famous facade of the ruins of St. Paul.

We just came from Largo do Senado, tracing a maze of streets where tourists of different nationalities were treading the portuguese pavement. Past shops selling overpriced trinkets and food and stuff, a veritable tourist trap. But no one is complaining.

For the first time visitor, the Ruins is on top of the list to visit in Macau, numero uno, that just has to be ticked off. Photos I’ve seen on the internet, on countless brochures and features show a stunning facade, well lighted, blue skies during the day or a riot of fireworks at the background at night.

Bronze sculptures along the square. CLICK TO ENLARGE

The Ruins of St. Paul was where the Jesuits (Order of the Society of Jesus) built their complex starting in the 16th century consisting of the Jesuit College and, later, the Cathedral of St. Paul (the Mater Dei) built in the 17th century by Japanese Christians and local craftsmen. Except for the facade which was made of stone, all the wooden parts were consumed by fire in 1835.

The alley started to go up an incline, past still many more shops selling the same stuff with their salespersons calling out to the disinterested tourist or giving away bits of beef jerky to the curious. Koreans are milling at some souvenir stall while a well dressed young woman was posing, fingers V like and smiling for the camera. As I continued to move further, the pathway started to narrow with the throng of people. I was nearing the Largo da Companhia de Jesus, or the Jesuit Square and in a few seconds, the ruins will be in view.

Beautiful detail on the facade. CLICK TO ENLARGE

I held my breath, trying to compose myself and preparing for the majestic view as if meeting a very famous star. I looked up and was just in awe. Mouth agape. The facade, the grand old dame, the Mater Dei was infront of me, up a flight of stone steps from the square almost filled with mainly mainland Chinese tourists.

It is lording over the landscape and imposing is an understatement.

I wasn’t disappointed despite the throng of tourists or the overcast sky. I was entranced upon seeing the overall architecture, its upward movement giving it more oomph. I grabbed my telephoto lens and checked the delicate and at the same time intricate details of the bas relief. I was astounded.

Like the ones found in some churches in the Philippines, San Agustin Church’s facistol is one, there are many Oriental features: slit eyed angels and saints and local flora and fauna. A beautiful blending of the East and West.

After that initial visit, I always came back on my own during tour free times. When I ran a few kilometers along Macau, I included the ruins as part of my route. It really is beautiful. I can just sit at one of the cement benches at the Jesuit square down below it and just gaze, detail after detail, column after column and just smile at the Mater Dei.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London).

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. Open for work, collaborations and inquiries for site features.

10 thoughts on “Coming face-to-face with the Mater Dei

  1. This is probably one of those icons around the world where you never get the place for yourself unless you get up at the crack of dawn. Were you able to try the free sample of food on the way to the ruins?

  2. “For the first time visitor, the Ruins is on top of the list to visit in Macau, numero uno, that just has to be ticked off. Photos I’ve seen on the internet, on countless brochures and features show a stunning facade, well lighted, blue skies during the day or a riot of fireworks at the background at night.”
    -bai, i can feel it! hahaha
    hirap talaga kapag checklist but i think most tourists are like that.

Tell me what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.