Wanchin Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Wanchin Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
(All photos courtesy of CNA)

Chinese name:

Located in: Wanluan Township, Pingtung County

The Wanchin Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is located in Wanchin Village, Wanluan Township (萬巒鄉), a Hakka district in Pingtung County. It is not only the first Catholic basilica in Taiwan, but also the oldest existing church building on the island. The church’s exterior adopts a large number of western medieval architectural elements and is full of exoticism. Its atmosphere attracts Catholic believers and faithful pilgrimages from all over Taiwan, as well as many visitors who are non-believer tourists.

Wanchin Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

During the Qing Dynasty, there were many Pingpu indigenous groups living in the Wanchin area, as well as Hakka and Hoklo (Fujianese) immigrants from mainland China. Wanchin was a place where the boundary between the Han Chinese and indigenous people was blurred. As the Qing government at that time had difficulty managing the disagreements among the different ethnic groups, there were frequent conflicts triggered by the various groups’ disputes over territory or living space, so local residents often faced problems such as material shortages and land loss.

In 1861, Rev. Fernando Sainz (1832-1895), a Spanish Dominican priest, embarked on a missionary journey in Taiwan. He walked more than 60 kilometers all the way from Kaohsiung to Pingtung with his fellow preacher Zhuo Xiang-zhao (卓享昭) and one of the church members Du Ge (篤哥). They came to Pingtungs Wanchin area, established a base here and started their missionary work.

In 1863, the priest established the first church in the local area. Several years later, it was damaged by earthquakes and maliciously burned by pagans. Therefore, in 1869, the priest purchased the surrounding woodland to rebuild the church. A completion of the consecration ceremony was finally held on December 8, 1870.

In 1874, Shen Bao-zhen (沈葆禎), the Imperial Commissioner of the Qing Dynasty, was ordered to inspect the southern mountain development project in Taiwan. He passed the Wanchin area and witnessed the majestic church, located in the peaceful and quiet countryside, and saw the priest and the local people living in harmony. In view of the situation, Shen believed that the church could uphold customs while at the same time achieve the effect of calming the indigenous people. In order to further eliminate differences and disputes between races, he petitioned the emperor to support the local missionary work. Later, Emperor Tongzhi personally gave two sacred stones inscribed with the words “Dedication” and “Catholic Church” as gifts; they were set in front of the church in 1875.

The Wanchin parish currently has the largest population of Catholics in a single Catholic parish in Taiwan. It is a Catholic village that operates with the church as the center. After a century of continuous development, the church and its believers are still closely connected and are interdependent in terms of religion, history, economy, and daily life.

In 1984, the then Catholic Pope, John Paul II, listed Wanchin Catholic church as the Pontifical Basilica. Pontifical Basilicas have the title of cathedrals with a special status, second only to the basilica of the Holy See in the Vatican. Since then, the church has been officially named as the "Wanchin Basilica of the Immaculate Conception." In the same year, it was also listed as a "Third-Class Historic Site" by the Pingtung County Government.

The Wanchin Basilica of the Immaculate Conception has held the "Parade of Our Lady" every December since 1865. The villagers of Wanchin value this event very much. It is more lively than Christmas and New Year. On the day of the parade, the statue of the Virgin Mary and the sedan chair are placed in front of the church. Everyone lines up to present roses. The sedan chair is paraded through Wanchin, passing by every household in the area, with the sound of gongs and drums and endless firecrackers.