A-Ma Temple of Macau Also Known as Barra Temple

ama temple

Macau A-Ma Temple

macau chinese a-ma temple

The Macau A-Ma temple was built in the 15th century, also called Barra Temple, is situated halfway up the western slope of Barra Hill.

This chinese temple consists of the Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Prayer Hall, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin, and Zhengjiao Chanlin (a Buddhist pavilion), each forming a small part of the well-ordered
complex which sits in perfect harmony with the natural environment.

The A-Ma Festival is held around April or May, specifically on the 23rd day of the Third Moon in the Chinese calendar.

A Cantonese Opera is held in the Barra Square, just right in front of the A-Ma Temple, as part of the week long A-Ma Festival.

(The following are excerpts from “Chan WH, Lei LF and Thamsir S. Macao Temples IACM SAR, Macau 2002″)

macau chinese a-ma templeA-ma Temple is the oldest temple of Macao. Built during the period of Chenghua Reign in the middle age of the Ming Dynasty as said, it has a history of over five hundred years.

On the monument in commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of A-Ma temple, it is written: “China is large in area and becomes prosperous during the Three Tang Dynasties. Its civilization is well known everywhere.

Vessels and vehicles come to China from all directions. As to the land route, there is a Silk Road connecting Da Shi and Persia.

As to the water route, there are boats in deep blue seas leading to Tian Zhu in the south, where people offer treasure and presents at the beginning, Macao was just a fishing port and the people of Quanzhang immigrated here on a large scale and settled down. During the period of Chenghua Reign of the Ming Dynasty A-Ma temple was constructed”.

The catholic missionary Matteu Ricci, who arrived in Macao in 1582, once mentioned A-Ma Temple in Reading Note of Matteu Ricci in China when relating the origin of Macao:

They gave a part of the neighbouring island to the visiting  as a stage. There was an idol called A Ma, which we can still see today.

The territory around A-Ma bay is called Macao. It is better to call it a protruding rock than to call it a peninsula.

However, this piece of land was soon inhabited by Portuguese and also by some other races nearby lands. Soon it developed into a remarkable port and famous market”

The relation of Macao Ricci corresponds to a popular saying Macao: “A-Ma Temple exists before Macao. A-Ma Temple has been the important landmark of Macao since a long time ago.”

macau chinese a-ma temple

A-Ma Temple and its historic relics are also related in the first chorography about Macao Annals of Macao, finished during Qianglong Reign of the Qing Dynasty:

It is said that during the period of Mingli Reign a big ship of a Fujian
merchant was pushed by storm in danger. Soon a goddess was seen standing at the side of mountain and then the whole ship was safe.

Thus a temple dedicated to the goddess was built in the place and the place was named Cape of Niangma. Niangma in Southern Fujian Dialect means goddess.

There are mainly four halls in A-Ma Temple: Hongren Hall, Zhansuo Hall, Zhengjue Hall and Kun lam Hall. Among them Hongren Hall is the oldest.

It is said that A-Ma Temple has a history of over five hundred years and begins with the Hongren Hall. The Hall is also associated with the legends and records about A-Ma Temple and it is the very one mentioned in the Reading
Notes of Matteu Ricci in China.

At the gate of the Hongren Hall there are couplets engraved on stone: “Holy virtue flows and Putian receives radiance; divine mountain stands elegantly and mirror-like sea sends benevolent waves.”

The four walls of the Hall are made of stone and the altar is placed under the roof. There are some relief engravings on the wall beside the altar, such as water monsters and fairies. The Hall is dedicated to Tin Hau.

macau chinese a-ma temple

The Zhangxiang Hall is said be built during the reign of Wanli of the Ming Dynasty. Similar to the style of the Hongren Hall, the shrine architecture is also made of stone with the altar placed placed under roof. On both side
of the Hall stonewall stonewall are engraved water monsters and fairies, with similar style descending from the past.

It is found that on the stone crossbeam does eunuch Li Feng set up imperial governor in charge of ship tax of Zhushi of Guangdong and concurrently of regulations of salt, from which we can conclude that the Hall was built during the reign of Wanli of the Ming Dynasty inscriptions.

There are also three lines of words engraved on the square pavilion outside of the stone hall: Built by Dezijie Hong in the year of Yi Si Wanli Reign of the Ming Dynasty, Rebuilt by Huaiderjie Hong in the year of Yi Si of Wanli Reign of the Ming Dynasty and Rebuilt in the midsummer of the eighth year of Wyzu of Daogung Reign of the Qing Dynasty.

These are engraved, as judged from the overall arrangement, in the eighth year of Daoguang Reign (in 1828), telling the time of construction and restoration. The hall is dedicated to Tin Hau.

At the gate of the Zhanxing Hall there are couplets engraved on the stone and on the tablet are engraved four Chinese characters the First Divine Mountain.

The Zhanxiang Hall consists of two parts: stone hall square pavilion (sanctuary). The two sides of the square pavilion are later blocked off and so comes the now outlook.

Until now, the biggest architecture of A-Ma Temple is the Zhengjue Hall, built in the eighth year of Daoguang Reign.

In the Zhengjue Hall there is a big round window towards the sea and on the stone above the window is engraved tens of thousand of group pay pilgrimage to the ancestral temple.

The side couplets are also engraved on the stone: Judging from the quiet spring breeze and clear autumn water, sea travelers know that there is a saint in China, who is mother Yeli; Travelling on the sea full of sunshine under blue sky, ships are marching easily as if on flat earth, with the protection of the saint.

The Zhengjue Hall is dedicated to Tin Hau, God of earth and Weito.

Lying on the mountainside, the Kun lam Hall is built in the highest position in the eighth year of Daoguang Reign and dedicated to Kun Iam.

There are couplets engraved on the stone on the main gate of A-Ma Temple, built in the eight year of Daoguang Reign (1828): Virtue benefits the universe, beneficence reaches the world.

There is a stone memorial archway behind the main gate, whose obverse side is engraved with the characters Tranquil waves of the South and whose reverse side is engraved with Zhanxing Pavilion.

There are two stones with the same inscription Stone of foreign ships in A-Ma Temple. The oldest one is placed at the side of the main gate; the other engraved later is before the pathway to the mountain. The latter carriers
forward a continuous line of the first.

There are many kinds of stone inscriptions in A-Ma Temple, including important inscriptions like Haijue, Famous rock and Taiyi,

There is also much calligraphy of literateurs of the past dynasties, such as that of Li Xialing, Zhao Yunqing, Pan Shincheng, Huang Entong, Zhang Daoyuan, Ximiyanga, Wang Zhaoyung etc.

In 1974, a fire caused damage to the Chinese temple. The Chinese temple was restored with donations from private citizens in 1975.

In the whole A-Ma Chinese temple complex was once again restored in 1987, 1996 and 1997 by the Cultural Institute.

(Excertps from: Macau Temples by Chan, Lei and Chendra published by IACM SAR 2002).