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 延平郡王祠. I was surprised to learn that despite the palatial Chinese architecture and seemingly traditional style of design this is a Catholic church, officially Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral 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 name is derived from Our Lady of China 中華聖母, an apparition of Mary that took place during the Boxer Rebellion 義和團運動 in China in 1900.
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, where Protestantism is the norm. Catholicism seems much more amenable to adapting to local customs and aesthetics. Wander around the cathedral and you will encounter many representations of Mary, mother of Jesus—only with East Asian features.
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!