Sunday, 4 April 2010

Why Jesus walks in Macau

This is the statue of Jesus that normally sits in a secret alcove behind the altar in the church of São Augustinho in Macau. He's hidden from public view but those who know enter an unprepossessing opening, and suddenly this magnificent statue in glowing colours appears out of the darkness. Amazingly theatrical. No wonder he's reputed to do credit(see photostream, lots of excellent images)

All over the Catholic world, statues are taken in procession through the streets as an act of faith. The idea is that God shares in the life of the community. It's not "just" for show. This statue is special because there's a legend attached to it. Four hundred years ago, there was a power struggle in the city  between the Augustinian order, the Dominicans and the Jesuits. The statue was taken to the Cathedral, but mysteriously kept returning to São Augustinho. Compromise: each year since then, at the beginning of Lent, the statue is shrouded and taken to the Cathedral in the dead of night. Next day, it's returned to its original church in an elaborate procession, bishop and clergy also dressed in purple, the colour of Lent. Incense, prayers, songs. Everyone follows, or comes to look, believers or not. Chinese do processions, too, of Chinese gods and symbols, so it's a good example of cross-cultural empathy. Nowadays Jesus walks through the city centre, past McDonald's and so on, but that shows that faith for those who follow it is real and alive.

There are many legends connected to this church, which is known as Lung So Miu in Chinese - "Dragon Hair Temple", because the first structure (1589) burned down, but mysteriously, the mat shed roof  collapsed and didn't burn. Proof that the church was protected by a powerful dragon. Then, in 1712  the procession stopped. There was famine in South China. The statue came out again, and the harvest returned.  Macau is full of legends like this, it's part of the mystique of the place. Please look up labels on right. I'll do more as and when I can...

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