The interior of Our Lady of China Catholic church

Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral 中華聖母主教座堂

Back when I was living in Tainan 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.

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

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.

Another look at the interior of Our Lady of China
Approaching the altar.
Mother Mary if she were Chinese
Mary if she were Chinese.
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.
The interior of Our Lady of China Catholic church
The interior of Our Lady of China Catholic Church.
Gazing Skyward at the Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral
Gazing skyward.
Residence Behind Our Lady Queen of China Cathedral
The residence behind the church. This looks like it was built earlier than the cathedral itself.

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!


  1. I am not an expert on East Asian religions, but isn’t it a little like “pray to this, pray to that – it all leads to the same place”? If that’s your religion mixing almost makes more sense than sticking to one thing.
    Christianity is different on that, God says clearly that he is the only God and worshipping anything but him is forbidden. Naturally that makes mixing more… Unlikely. Jews and Muslims agrees with this.
    I think Christians all over the world tend to imagine Jesus looking kind of like themselves. That makes him looking Chinese in Taiwan, black in Africa and with blue eyes in all those western produced Sunday school movies. It is simply easier for us to imagining someone who looks like the people we are used to meet. If you want to know how the scientists say you can just such ” what Jesus really looked like “. But for me his actual features are not so important. It is so much about how he treated people and what he said to dive into instead.
    And snobbish? I don’t think people who knows me would call me that. But if you really want use that term I think I, and most other Christan folks, would survive it ;)

    1. Hah, I don’t mean that Christians are individually snobby, only that the Abrahamic faiths don’t play well with others the way many Asian faiths do ;)

      Here’s an exercise: wander into some other Taiwanese churches and see if the representations of Christian figures are Asiatic, Semitic, European, or something else! I’ve only been inside a few temples but they all had very European conceptions of Jesus.

  2. Hi Alexander ! Great article ! Wow, you really got find some wonderful spots in
    Taiwan ! I’m jealous. Even though I only lived there for three months, I got a sense
    of the history and how interesting and deep an old culture can be. Thank you for
    finding these places, but also doing some fantastic research to reveal the true stories !
    ~~ Gavin ( fellow traveller )

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