Ruins of St Paul’s 大三巴牌坊

Many people will recognise this facade. While some thought it was originally built that way, it is actually the front of a burnt down church built in the 17th century.

The Ruins of Saint Paul’s (in Portugese, Ruínas da Antiga Catedral de São Paulo) are the ruins of a 17th-century Catholic religious complex in Santo António, Macau, China. They include what was originally St. Paul’s College and the Church of St. Paul also known as “Mater Dei”, a 17th-century Portuguese church dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle.


The ruins now consist of the southern stone façade—intricately carved between 1620 and 1627 by Japanese Christians in exile from their homeland and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola—and the crypts of the Jesuits who established and maintained the church. The façade sits on a small hill, with 68 stone steps leading up to it.

The carvings include Jesuit images with Oriental themes, such as The Blessed Virgin Mary stepping on a seven-headed hydra, described in Chinese characters as ‘Holy Mother tramples the heads of the dragon’. A few of the other carvings are of the founders of the Jesuit Order, the conquest of Death by Jesus, and at the very top, a dove with wings outstretched.


The ruins were restored by the Macanese government into a museum, and the façade is now buttressed with concrete and steel in a way which preserves the aesthetic integrity of the façade. A steel stairway allows tourists to climb up to the top of the façade from the rear.


Today, the ruins are one of Macau’s best known landmarks and one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Origin in the World. In 2005, they were officially listed as part of the Historic Centre of Macau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Museum


Resisting calls for the dangerously leaning structure to be demolished, from 1990 to 1995, the ruins were excavated under the auspices of the Instituto Cultural de Macau to study its historic past.


The crypt and the foundations were uncovered, revealing the architectural plan of the building. Numerous religious artifacts were also found together with the relics of the Chinese Christian martyrs and the monastic clergy, including the founder of the Jesuit college in Macau, Father Alessandro Valignano.

Macao Old Town

Historic Centre of Macao is a collection of over twenty locations that witness the unique assimilation and co-existence of Chinese and Portuguese cultures in Macau, a former Portuguese colony. It represents the architectural legacies of the city’s cultural heritage, including monuments such as urban squares, streetscapes, churches and temples.

It is always fascinating to visit Macau, which is a stone-throw (or more precisely, a hovercraft ride away) from Hong Kong. While Hong Kong has become the New York of the Orient, Macau remains the New Jersey, with its own rustic charm and peaceful existence. Although some would call Macau the Las Vegas of the East, I would skip the hustle and bustle of the casinos and focus on the old world Macau. Go for an excursion when you are in Hong Kong.

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