Starting with the upgrading of the existing Madre de Deus School, St Paul’s College Macau was set up in 1594 by the Jesuits. It was the largest seminary in the Far East at the time with the mission of preparing Jesuit priests travelling to China and Japan.

Its curriculum was gradually broadened to include core disciplines such as theology, philosophy, mathematics, geography, astronomy, Latin, Portuguese and Chinese languages and even music and the arts and took on the role of a one stop academy for the teaching of Eastern languages and culture with far reaching consequences. St Paul’s was the training ground for missions in Asia. Jesuit priests would come first to St Paul’s to learn eastern languages and culture prior to taking up their appointments. It spread its influence through the region by housing a selection of famous eclectic scholars including the first western Sinologists. The reputation and influence of the College seems to have been at its zenith between 1597 and 1762. During this period Macao became a base for spreading Christianity in China and Japan and at the same time enabled a broader interchange in scientific, artistic and cultural fields. Macau was an important gateway through which western civilization entered China.

St Paul’s was abandoned in 1762 when the Portuguese nullified the treaty they had with the Jesuits expelling them closing down the first western university in the Far East. The buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1835. In 2005 the ruins of St Paul’s, the façade of the Madre de Deus Church, was officially enlisted as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The history of the missions of the Jesuits in China is an indelible part of the history of the relations between China and the western world.

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