Destroyed by fire in 1835, both the facade of what were originally the Church of Mater Dei built in 1602-1640 and the ruins of St. Paul’s College that stood adjacent to the Church are still present in Macau. The old Church of Mater Dei, St. Paul’s College and Mount Fortress were the constructions of Jesuits and formed what can be professed as the Macao’s “acropolis”.
The facade of carved stone was built in 1620-27 by Japanese Christian exiles and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola. The baroque/mannerist design of this granite facade is unique in China. The facade of the Ruins of St. Paul’s measures 23 meters wide and 25.5 meters high and it is divided into five levels. From the base upward, following the orthodox perception of heavenly ascension, the orders on the facade on each horizontal level progress from Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. The upper levels gradually narrow into a triangular pediment at the top, which symbolizes the ultimate state of divine ascension – the Holy Spirit. The facade is mannerist in style carrying some distinctively oriental decorative motifs. The sculptured motifs of the facade include biblical images, mythological representations, Chinese characters, Japanese chrysanthemums, a Portuguese ship, several nautical motifs, Chinese lions, bronze statues with images of the founding Jesuit Saints of the Company of Jesus and other elements that integrate influences from Europe, China and other parts of Asia, in an overall composition that reflects a fusion of world, regional and local influences. Nowadays, the facade of the Ruins of St. Paul’s functions symbolically as an altar to the city.
Close by, the archaeological remains of the old College of St. Paul stand witness to what was the first western-style university in the Far East, with an elaborate academic programme that included Theology, Mathematics, Geography, Chinese, Portuguese, Latin, Astronomy and various other disciplines, preparing a significant number of missionaries to pursue Roman Catholic work in China, Japan and throughout the region. The missionary route followed by the Jesuits from Macao all over the region was crucial in facilitating the dissemination of Catholicism in China, Japan and other countries, also enabling a broader interchange in other scientific, artistic and cultural fields. After restoration work, from 1990 to 1995, the back side of the Ruins of St. Paul’s has been converted into a museum.