Either you are sorting it out, or you are full of it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ruins of St. Paul’s

The Ruins of St. Paul’s left me with a strange feeling:

It’s the remains of a church in Macao, burned to the ground in the 19th century, which have been tastefully adorned by several Portuguese architects and plenty of money before the Portuguese returned the city to China. I suppose it makes sense, making the last vestiges of their rule into a ruin for tourists to gawk at. This is how the legacies of all rulers and conquerors end – names on stones constantly beset by flashbulbs, peace-signing, giggling tour groups, and the endless rattle of trinket sellers.

That’s not to say that this place is no longer holy, no longer the site of interesting and varied religious rites. Of course, most people participating in this religion have no idea that they are participating in it. But such is the power of this religion.

It is most visible when you walk inside the remains of the crypt. It’s a small unattended room at the back of the complex, visited by only the most inquisitive of travelers. The once dark and damp repository of bones is now a bright room of granite, illuminated by a giant skylight from above. There are two levels to it, one more of a balcony, the other a pit. It’s like a theater. It makes you feel as if you are at a performance.

Sure, the trappings of Christianity are there, too. An emaciated, black, cast-iron cross sits in the light above, next to what appears to be a black collection box, with a cross for a handle, inlaid almost as an afterthought. They have Gregorian chants looped on loudspeakers hung overhead. The bones of Japanese martyrs lie in the walls encased in glass. They do not bear resemblance to anything human. They could be the legs of cattle or pigs. Oh, there’s still some sort of traditional reverence for them here, I suppose, but it’s stretched as thin as the cross before me.

When I walk on the balcony, I notice the spread of coins out upon the remains of the masonry, everywhere obscuring the stone that lies beneath, outshining the cross, focusing my attention away from the music. If this is a holy place, where people come to remember and pray, then they do so by throwing coins.

I throw two, chucking them like little frisbees, aiming for the flattest, best preserved parts. I miss both times, but I love it all the same.

What do I think while I throw these coins?

I don’t. I think only about the thrill of throwing, about the light of the moment, the weight of the coin in my hand.

It’s an amusement, harmless, quiet, free.

This is how I participate in the world’s newest religion, throwing money in the amphitheaters of ruins, filled with the icons and martyrs of the past.

posted by ferret at 9:42 pm  

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