I have never heard of such a thing before. Actually I just learned about it the other day as I was researching on the tourist spot I went to. I did an online search and couldn't find enough articles about such at all. Someone did write about this peculiar thing before.
Well here I am also claiming that this religious combo is only present here in the Philippines. There's actually a term for this which you can read further below.
Let's delve deeper... How, where and why has this happened? Well let me tell you all about it.
In my previous travel article, I mentioned I went to the nearest tourist spot where I was staying in San Fernando City, La Union province. Now I will tell you where I went. The place was something I never thought I'd visit. I mean, I just did it at the last minute. (You know why if you've read my previous article. 😁)
So where did I go? I went to a Chinese temple on a hill. Lol I didn't even know it was high up until I got there. I never even read anything about it before visiting the place.
🔸 Weird Travel Discovery: Ma-Cho (媽祖) Temple
Why and what makes the place weird? I checked online yesterday and found out something about it. You can read the details below but first let me tell you how I got there and what I found.
When I went there on Friday I just did so on a whim. Never even planned on going there. Why would I? My line of thinking was like, "Yes it's a temple, and so?" 😂 Since it's the nearest tourist destination from where I was staying, I eventually decided to go there.
Clearly I was not in any good tourist mood after trying to get other van services for an hour. Most of the travel services were available at night. I didn't want to leave in the evening because I wouldn't be able to see anything while traveling back home! That would be such a waste!
So there I was waiting for a van for hours until I finally decided to be a tourist. Went to the temple on a hill just to be productive instead of annoyed at the world.
Street sign at the side of the main road (Quezon Avenue).
Let's walk up the hill.
This structure is actually 70 feet above sea level. Oh it's massive and is something I've never seen before. Walk, walk and walk up the road I went.
I had my backpack on my back and an eco bag with wet clothes in one hand. Imagine how hot it was being under the sun past 3 pm and carrying those things up a hill. I was wearing a KN95 mask and face shield so I was sort of breathing heavily by the time I got up the driveway. Oooof
The bell tower is the first thing you will see. View from the road going up the side of the temple.
For a bit of history... Did you know, the Ma-Cho Temple is NOT the first Taoist temple in the Philippines? It's construction began in 1975. The oldest in the country is actually in Cebu City. That one is called the Cebu Taoist Temple and was built in 1972.
So what does the La Union temple look like? Well get ready for more pictures!
This is the view from the parking area. It looks like a high two story building. I only explored the top floor though, along with one or two visitors/tourists.
Or maybe it's three storeys? I did read it's like 7 storeys high. Heck maybe you can check on it further to be sure. Haha.
First thing I did was talk to the guard and asked if I could leave the eco bag with him. Filled up the guest book and put my temperature there, left the bag then I went up the temple stairs. Yay! 😀 Let's see what's in this Chinese temple.
This is the side entrance where I first saw the Bawal Pumasok (No Entry) sign.
Tadaaa! It also has the same sign at the front entrance. The caretaker is there so I didn't go in as he said it's not allowed.
Unfortunately because it says Bawal Pumasok (No Entry), I did not go inside at all. It felt kinda discriminatory to me though. Filipino-Chinese (Fil-Chi) people were actually allowed to go in and worship. Two Fil-Chi men went in and did some bowing and incense stuff.
Does that mean the sign is only for Filipinos or photographers? The caretaker did not explain it to me at all when I asked about it. As of this time their official Facebook Page have not responded at all. Can't call them on their landline number so nevermind. Online it says the place is open to the public but why the Bawal Pumasok sign? Didn't care that much at the time but still it's disappointing I couldn't take pictures inside.
Down below you can see many statues. Here's some of the 18 disciples statues at the side. There's a statue of Goddess of Mercy (Quan Yin) high up on the same side as the many wall statues.
Shot of 8 of the 18 disciples.
Hello goddess Quan Yin!
Actually I know this deity is also being compared to Mother Mary but now there's Ma-Cho too?! Whoa. Whatever is going on with making one the same with the other is just too much for me. I'm not going to join the bandwagon. 😅
As for that white statue, I didn't know people could go up there. 😂 I only learned it's possible when I saw a former officemate's older photo yesterday. They were standing in front of it! 😆 Oh well. It's fine, there will still be a next time.
Would you believe there also used to be a McDonald's statue sitting in one of the benches there? It was under the bell tower which is at the side of the temple itself. Someone I knew from college had a photo showing a Ronald McDonald clown statue when he went there. Good thing it's gone now.
Inside the bell tower.
Look there's a drum tower too!
I have other pictures but I will only share four more. Hehe.
Once you face opposite of the Chinese altar you will see a magnificent view of the ocean. Wow I didn't know the temple is that high. People could actually see the ocean from there!
It's just beautiful when you behold such a view. Ah such a breathtaking backdrop. Hey wait, there's something "blocking" the entire ocean scene.
Here is the huge and marvelous Chinese memorial archway (with five gates) or Pailou. Took me a while to find out what it's called. Whew, I have no idea about Chinese architecture. 😆 Now you know what it's called too! 😉
Wasn't able to capture the entirety of the huge five arches from the terrace though.
Looks nice right?
The Ma-Cho Temple façade.
Lovely view overlooking San Fernando Harbor in La Union province. 💕
Overall, instead of being able to learn more and appreciate Ma-Cho, I only got to take pictures of parts of the temple. Anyway if you watch the video below you will find out more about Ma-Cho worship.
🔸 What Makes Ma-Cho Temple Weird?
So wait, what did I discover yesterday that makes this place weird? Did you know, Ma-Cho Temple is sort of a combo of Catholic/Christian and Taoist/Buddhist religion? Who would have thought there's such a thing huh? Finally uniting religions? Oh wait, apparently it's been going on for centuries! 😱
Ma-Cho and Our Lady of Caysasay
Let me tell you what the reputable Teresita Ang See said in her article about Ma-Cho (a.k.a. Ma-Tzu or Mazu) as Mama Mary. The popular tale says in 1603 a Taal, Batangas province fisherman caught the wooden Marian statue in his fishnet while fishing in Pansipit river. It was eventually reported to the parish priest and housed somewhere.
The wooden statue kept disappearing in the special urn it was placed in until the priest instructed people to follow where it would go. It would come out and go to a certain place from time to time then come back again. One day, the image just completely vanished. It was only found years later, in 1611, being guarded by birds in a tree.
Eventually the Spanish priests named it the Our Lady of Caysasay, in honor of the casay-casay birds (kingfisher) guarding the relic. Meanwhile, the Fujian Chinese in the area had recognized the Virgin Mary image as that of Ma-Cho.
In Taoism, Ma-Cho is the Queen of Heavens and also the Patroness of Seafarers. It is actually a deity worshipped by the Chinese. Since I wasn't able to see the statue in the temple, let me share a picture from the official Ma-Cho Temple website instead:
Mama Ma-Cho. Photo from The Ma-Cho Temple (machotemple.org).
(Oh boy, me going there probably means something. It might be coincidence or ignorance on my part but heck I must be doing something right without me being aware of it. 😂 I will explain more in the future.)
The story above is the historical connection between Ma-Cho and Mama Mary here in our country. There are also stories of people being healed just by visiting the Batangas church or the statue and the well near it.
To know more of the mysteries of Our Lady of Caysasay plus its history, watch the three-part videos on YouTube. It's mostly in English so you can watch those and learn more.
Otherwise, watch this 10 minute UNESCO video to know who Ma-Cho is to the Taoists or Chinese Buddhists.
What does the Taoist Ma-Cho have to do with Catholic/Christian Mother Mary?
Now you might be thinking, if the Mother Mary/Ma-Cho version is in Batangas, how come there's something of her in San Fernando City, La Union? 🤔
Image from Nuestra Señora de Caysasay Official Facebook Page
In 2006 the then 400 year old Our Lady of Caysasay image made a pilgrimage to Ma-Cho Temple in La Union (upon the latter's request). The previous time it was brought there was in 1974. On the other hand, the image of Ma-Cho (supposedly donated in 1972) goes on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine (or formerly at the Basilica of Saint Martin) in Taal, Batangas every September. There is a 5-day festival upon its return to La Union.
This year the annual pilgrimage is suspended due to the pandemic. There will still be a celebration on Sunday, September 12. If you are near the area maybe you can visit it, hehehe.
So as I was saying, the pilgrimages are what I consider as the strongest link between the two. Otherwise if you are a firm believer that they are one and the same then maybe you wouldn't have any issues with learning about what I shared.
🔸 Combining Deities is a Chinese Thing
Making one god synonymous to another is what my word discovery of the day means: syncretism.
Apparently the Chinese are known to combine or interchange deities from different religions. Syncretism is common to them even since the Middle Ages so I guess we shouldn't be surprised anymore huh. Looks like this is why the Chinese-Filipino or Fil-Chi community also acts the same way.
Or perhaps it was just a case of mistaken identity centuries ago that caused the two religions to overlap. I don't think there's anything wrong with merging two deities but I think it's not commonly done.
In fact, if you are familiar with the life of the Virgin Mary and watched the above video about Mazu, you'll know the difference. The history and story of the two individuals are simply not the same. However both have already left the Earthly plane and aren't human anymore. Does that mean syncretists think they can make one the same as the other because both are already spirits? 🤔
As for comparing the religious houses of these two... In Ma-Cho temples, they have divination wood blocks that people use for various reasons. I don't know much about it because I don't want to do any extensive online research anymore. Hehe.
On the other hand, going to the mentioned Batangas shrine will grant you plenary indulgence especially when you do what needs to be done. When you go there you must:
- Go and confess your sins.
- Participate in a Mass.
- Pray for the intention of God the Father.
Unfortunately the parish was damaged during the Taal Volcano eruption last year. It is currently being renovated as it got cracked and all. Even so I think it is still operational? The social media page of the church is still active so we can just inquire with them first before traveling.
I would like to visit it soon so hopefully when I am able to it would already be fully renovated.
Going back to my travel story, I shall write what happened next in my next article. Hehehe. This one has become too long so stay tuned!
Have you ever been to Ma-Cho Temple? Hope you had a great experience. Perhaps you will have a better one than me if you haven't been there before. Hehehe.
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