The goddess Matsu ranks among one of the most important deities in Taiwan, thanks to the protection she offered during the perilous journey from the mainland to Taiwan. An estimated 4-500 temples exist in Taiwan devoted to Matsu alone, yet one of the most sacred of all sits in downtown Tainan City.
Inside the Grand Matsu Temple, rooms upon rooms contain shrines to various deities, especially in back of the main hall. The most prominent of all is a large golden one in the middle representing Matsu herself. Two tall monster-like statues on either side represent Matsu’s servants, Qianli Yuan and Xufong Er. Legend has it that these two creatures were monsters that Matsu subdued and converted to do good, helping her to patrol the seas and help sailors.
Visitors and devotees wandering the main hall could peruse the wide variety of deities on display without detecting a single trace of the tragedy and darkness that once transpired inside these very walls, when the holy temple had been a princely palace.
For, in the years before Grand Matsu Temple became one of the most sacred temples in the country, it had been a royal palace. Zheng Chenggong’s son, Zheng Jing, commissioned the building in 1664 for the Prince of Ningjing after inviting the young Ming princeling to take up residency in Taiwan, having no idea the dark turn of events about to befall all who resided there.
It was here, in the palace-slash-proto-temple, that the prince decided to take his own life. Following suit, in the main hall of the building where the giant gilded Matsu reigns today, the prince’s five concubines hanged themselves from a wood beam.
Only later, after the Qing took over Taiwan and General Shi Lang took up residency in the palace, did he petition his emperor to have the building converted into a temple dedicated to Matsu, making the Grand Matsu Temple of Tainan the country’s first officially dedicated Matsu temple in Taiwan. And only those who know the dark history behind the place know why.
Know Before You Go
The temple is located in the Chikan Lou Cultural Zone, but it’s not easily visible. It’s tucked behind some buildings that run along the south side of Minzu Road between Yongfu and Ximen.