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Lukang Tianhou Temple

  • Date:2020-04-15
Lukang Tianhou Temple

Founded in 1591 to worship the sea goddess Matsu, Lukang Tianhou Temple in northwestern Changhua County is not just a center of local religious life; it also provides unique insight into four artifacts that received formal recognition for their cultural heritage value in 2018.

They are:
  • A stone incense burner (鹿港天后宮石薰爐)
  • An incense burner (鹿港天后宮香爐)
  • A sedan chair (鹿港天后宮鳳輦)
  • A human-shaped pair of candle holders (鹿港天后宮胡人負重燭臺)

Burning incense is an essential part of Taoist rituals. Lukang Tianhou Temple's stone incense burner is a refined and engraved ornament, with a dragon on the front and two deities representing the elixir of life — the legendary female immortal Magu (麻姑) accompanied by a deer and God of Longevity (南極仙翁) — on the left and right side of the vessel, respectively.

Made in 1939, the vessel provides a wealth of information through inscriptions on its body. These include the date of manufacture and the name of its donor, Chiang Hsin (蔣馨), a highly acclaimed sculptor. Stone sculptures in the front hall of the temple are also Chiang’s creations.

The vessel showcases three highly sophisticated sculpting techniques — bas-relief, freestanding, and carving. Though the original color of the limestone burner has faded, its cultural significance lasts.

The incense burner, meanwhile, takes the shape of a deep bowl with two dragon-shaped handles. Sitting on four stout legs, the piece is decorated on its lip and belt with inscriptions reading "Lukang Tianhou Temple" and "Heavenly Goddess of the Sea (天上聖母)," respectively. In addition, inscriptions and patterns were chiseled into the lower part of the exquisite piece's bowl.

Made in 1918, the incense burner is not only a testament to the advanced casting and chiseling techniques of the early 20th century, but also served as a prototype for later dragon-pattern incense burners. The piece also stands out because it is one of very few copper-made incense burners left after the Pacific War, when most large metal objects in Taiwan were melted down for military purposes.

The temple’s sedan chair, made by Li Huan-mei (李煥美), a member of a prestigious family of carvers and engravers in Lukang, manifests the utmost refinement of the aesthetics of traditional wood sculpture in the urban township. For years, the 98-year-old vehicle has carried the sea goddess during the Matsu Pilgrimage, one of the grandest folk culture events in Taiwan.

The sedan chair is 2.3 meters high, 0.92 meters long, and 0.87 meters wide, and is topped by a double set of hip-and-gable roofs and a traditional style ridge. There are columns on all four sides, both inside and outside of its upper cabin. The outer four columns are adorned with wooden dragons and half-fish, half-dragon mythical creatures, whilst the four columns inside the cabin are decorated with elaborate flowers and birds. Viewed from afar, the sedan chair looks like a miniature temple.

The Lukang-based national historic site also houses a rare pair of human-shaped candle holders. Produced in the Qing Dynasty, the camphorwood-made candle holders are unique as they are in the forms of "non-Chinese tribal members," a term that is sometimes translated into English as "barbarian" to describe people whom China's ruling dynasties fought against.

Roughly symmetrical, with slightly different details on each, two big-eyed and barefoot human figurines and depicted on one knee, raising a petal-shaped tray topped by a candle needle with one hand, and grabbing a belt with the other. Over time, much of the color has faded, but some of the pigment is still visible to the naked eye.

The centuries-old sea goddess temple was also upgraded to national historic site in 2019.