Although Macau is known to have hosted human presence since Neolithic times, on the island of Coloane, nothing is known of their beliefs, though at a time before religion as we know it today developed, Animist Shamanic traditions were the spiritual currency of the time. 

The oldest known settlement which still survives to the present era is Wangxia Village, dating from the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368) where Macau’s earliest temple, Kun Lam Tong, is dedicated to Guan Yin, or the Goddess of Mercy, revered by Buddhists and Taoists alike.  

The original building was, however, rebuilt in 1627. A modern 20 metre bronze statue of the Guan Yin now graces the waterfront of Macau, close to the Macau Cultural Centre. 

The oldest of the original structures of Macau is the Buddhist A Ma Temple, built in 1488 during the Ming Dynasty, and dedicated to Mazu, a Goddess of the Sea, and a protection deity for the local fisher folk. 

These, and the later temples of Macau reflect a syncretism of Buddhism, Confucianism Taoism and Chinese Folk beliefs, including Ancestor worship, that comprise by far the largest of the religious traditions which are active in Macau today. 

The arrival of the Portuguese in these waters from 1513, which led to the establishment of Macau as a Portuguese trading post in 1553, for which they paid rent, with the Chinese retaining sovereignty.  

The first Catholic missionaries arrived in the 1560’s and began the period of church building which remains an important feature of Macau’s heritage, including the Jesuit St. Pauls Cathedral and the Dominican St. Dominic’s Church. 

In 1576, Pope Gregory XIII established Macau as a Diocese, a title it still retains within the Special Administrative Region of China. Catholicism is practiced by people of all ethnicities, but remains a minority within the overall traditions of the people. 

Protestantism arrived in Macau during the 1800’s and was largely observed by British citizens of the colony, and following the lease of Hong Kong to the British in 1841, most protestants moved to take up residence there. Jealous of their new rival, in 1849, the Portuguese refused to pay the rent to a China weakened by the Opium War, and declared Macau to be an independent free port. 

In the early history of Wangxia, Arab and Persian traders had brought knowledge of Islam to the community. Islam also entered Macau through Muslims engaged with the Portuguese army and established a small Mosque and cemetery, which has since been renovated and remains Macau’s single place of worship for Muslims. 

It was not until the Second World War brought Muslim refugees from China into Macau, that a sizeable Islamic presence began to be felt, though many subsequently left for Hong Kong after the war. Today Islam remains an established but small minority religion in Macau. 

The Baha’i religion has had a small minority presence in Macau since 1953. In addition, a small following of Falun Gong practitioners are active under the watchful eye of the Chinese authorities, who have had numerous conflicts with the movement in mainland China. 

The Chinese regained sovereignty over Macau in 1999, and the Special Administrative Regional Government supports religious freedom, and the community of the region exhibits exemplary tolerance towards all beliefs. 

Christmas, the Buddha’s Birthday, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception are all celebrated in Macau as public holidays.

 

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