Our Lady Queen of China 中華聖母主教座堂

Our Lady Of China Catholic Church, Tainan
An unusual temple across from the Koxinga Shrine.

Back when I was living in Tainan 台南 I made an effort to check out many of the temples I encounter in my daily travels around town. One day after breakfast, while riding along Kāishān Road 開山路, I stopped to check out what looked to be yet another temple across the street from the Koxinga Shrine. I was surprised to learn that despite the palatial Chinese architecture and superficially traditional style of design this is actually a Catholic cathedral, Our Lady Queen of China 中華聖母主教座堂. Built in 1963, it is the top-ranking church in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tainan 天主教台南教區.

The interior of Our Lady of China Catholic church
The interior of Our Lady of China Catholic Church.

Religion in Taiwan is highly syncretic—people tend to blend Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk traditions in their daily practices without a second thought. It isn’t at all unusual to see gods of different faiths housed in the same temple, for instance, something that you’d not ordinarily see in any Christian church. My impression of Christianity has long been that it is relatively snobbish and unwilling to mix it up with other faiths—but more recently I realized this is probably a product of my upbringing in Canada. That being said, this “temple” is definitely an oddity in the context of Taiwan.

Another look at the interior of Our Lady of China
Approaching the altar.
Mother Mary if she were Chinese
Mary if she were Chinese.

Wander around the cathedral and you will encounter many representations of Mary, mother of Jesus—only with East Asian features. I would assume, based on the name of the cathedral, that this has something to do with Our Lady of China 中華聖母1, an apparition of Mary that took place during the Boxer Rebellion 義和團運動 in China in 1900, but I have seen nothing that would suggest she appeared with Chinese features.

A statue of Mary outside a Cathedral in Tainan
A statue of Mary outside the temple.
The entrance to Our Lady Of China Catholic Church in Tainan city
The entrance looks like no church I’ve ever seen.

On one hand you might say that the church has made an attempt to adapt to local traditions in an attempt to reach out to the populace—but on the other hand you might also say this all smacks of pandering to an inordinately enormous pool of potential converts. Then again, isn’t it common to portray both Mary and Jesus with European features in a western cultural context? However you view it, and regardless of whether you’re at all interested in Christianity, this cathedral makes for a rather unusual stopover in one of the most interesting parts of Tainan 台南!

  1. It is worth noting that several distinct but interrelated words are translated into English as “China”: the modern state of China as well as a cultural or ethnic China (Zhōnghuá 中華), which is what you’ll find in the name of the cathedral and the apparition of Mary.