In Macau, you’ll find St. Lawrence Church, also known as São Lourenço Church on your way from Dom Pedro V Theatre to Lilau Square and Barra area. If you’re an architecture and/or history buff, you’ll probably recognize this as a Western-style building, as with most Catholic churches in Macau. With active Masses every week in different languages to cater to the city’s mixed community, this is one of the richest churches in Macau when it comes to heritage and history. Inside, visitors and believers will find several sculptures and gorgeous details dating back centuries ago. São Lourenço Church was, in fact, one of the first churches to ever been built in Macau. We’ll tell you all about the history of this structure, from its construction to nowadays.
Awaiting loved ones
Situated on the city’s southern area–it’s the Catholic church that’s closest to the pearl river delta–it attracted a big part of the Portuguese community. One of the most interesting facts about it is that people would gather along its long staircase awaiting family members that were fishermen. That’s why the local Chinese community, know it as “Feng Shun Tang”, which translates into “church of the winds of peaceful return”, or “Fong Song T’ong” (church of the favorable winds).
Who was São Lourenço?
Most Catholic churches are baptized after relevant figures in the history of religion and São Lourenço’s is no different. Named after Catholic Spanish man, Lourenço de Huesca–one of the first deacons of the Christian church (guardians of the church’s treasure) who became a martyr. In the year 257, the Roman emperor Valeriano persecuted the Christians. The next year, he detained and decapitated Pope Sisto II. According to the tale, Lourenço de Huesca was following the pope before his execution, and said, “Do not think I’m abandoning you, my child, as you will follow me in three days.” After this period, the emperor ordered the church to give away all its wealth, which the guardian refused by saying, “This is the heritage of the church.” This answer made the emperor very angry, promptly ordering that São Lourenço was burnt alive. That’s how he became a martyr due to his service to the church.
Uniting people through wood
This building contrasts with other Catholic churches in Macau for its lateral entrances, pretty uncommon in other venues. It gives São Lourenço Church a wide and impressive aspect and atmosphere. Its layout is shaped like a Latin cross, and there are exquisite details inside that are worth mentioning. But first, let’s take a look at its foundation.
Built by priests of the Society of Jesus right after their arrival, this church’s first version was made of wood. It starts offering parish services as early as 1576. Made of wood and other fragile materials, reconstruction was inevitable. The first renovation works took place in 1618 and several others followed, especially regarding details and embellishments. According to official records, there was a stone found in 1844 written in Latin and that mentions a reconstruction dating back to 1768, sponsored by the Macau Senate (Senado).
In 1844, São Lourenço Church had to be yet again refurbished due to damages caused by strong typhoons. Architect Tomás de Aquino was responsible for creating the design plan for it. Engineer António César de Abreu Nunes was also involved on part of the numerous renovations of this church. The building’s design did, indeed, change dramatically over time. There used to be two windows on the left and right towers. One of them was later replaced by a huge clock. The church’s front has a triangular area featuring the Portuguese royal coat of arms.
Catholic churches might not look that high and mighty on the outside. However, the interiors are usually very rich when it comes to religious and sacred art. We’re talking about painted ceilings and gold-covered walls, unique sculptures of bible figures, as well as of Jesus Christ. There’s also a lot of woodwork worth taking a look at.
In this case, visitors will be mesmerized by the beautiful ceiling painted in turquoise, with white and golden beams featuring big chandeliers. São Lourenço central nave’s most attractive detail is its altar decorated with an image of São Lourenço, a Roman martyr from the third century–above which one can spot a crown with a cherub. Another remarkable aspect is the colored glass windows to which visitors should pay attention: it tells São Lourenço’s life story!
Also, this church is one of the heritage buildings integrated into the Historic Centre of Macao, in 2005 inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Opening hours: Daily, 5:30am–11:30pm*
*Hours may differ due to sudden changes regarding COVID-19’s safety measures