Historic Malacca (Part 1)

Drizzling Morning at Woodlands

The morning drizzle did not dampen our spirits to travel to one of the most historic place in South East Asia. We have planned this for so long. Nothings going to stop these backpackers – so off we go.

Buses here meets most of my transport needs. They’re comfortable, inexpensive – and what I like the most — wide clear windows, perfect for those who take pleasure in seeing the sights. Most destination are served by more than one bus company. Coaches (long haul buses as they call it here) are very well maintained – we’re not really in a hurry, so these extended trips are perfect. And we got a very nice bonus — Filipinos on board! their loud conversations in Tagalog, “sitsitan” and nonstop “chismisan” provided some strange comfort.

The vast immigration complex located in Woodlands (Woodland Checkpoint) is yet another testament to the Singaporean efficiency and effectiveness brand. They have a knack for making things work. Simple steps – go down the bus, fall in line, have the immigration officer check your passport – done. Your bus is already waiting for you at the other end. Ready to take you across to Malaysian terra. Traveling made easy – I think that’s what these people had in mind.

Tourism means money to these guys – they got the game figured out. No wonder they have one of the highest tourism revenue, considering their size, in Asia.

Oh well, that means we have some catching up to do back home.

The houses and shops along the river. This area is referred to as the "Old Town" of Malacca.

The Country Scene

Beautiful Green Hills of Johor. There are massive housing developments in the area. All around the provinces of Malaysia, the rubber tree abounds.

The long trip  provided natural refreshing scenes. Strings of rugged hills – still lush, still green, on both sides of the road. There were streams and rivers as well. You’ll have more or less three hours of these pleasant Malaysian country scenery, so sit back and relax. If you have keen eyes you get to see groups of monkeys on top of trees. Quite hard to spot since your moving at 60 to 80 km/h but worth the try.

The only stop is after about an hour or so of traveling. A quick 15 to 20 minutes break. Good time to pick up some food and drinks. The kopitiam is a good place for stacking up reserve energy – you know what I mean. These places offers diverse variety of noodle and rice meals. Prices are cheap of course – welcome news for me since I’m always on a tight budget.

Directions in Melaka. In the Heritage area of Malacca can be found many museums: The Democratic Government Museum near Stadthuy, the Architecture and Islam museum on the opposite side, then the UMNO, Ethnography, Kite and Stamp museum - all a few yards away from each other.

Arriving in Melaka Sentral we immediately tried to find the bus that will take us to the heart of Malacca – the old town.

St. Francis Xavier’s Malaccan Legacy

The city has been awarded with a UNESCO World Heritage title. A label that most of them are very proud of. Walking around you’ll see why.

The Church of Saint Francis Xavier

The St. Francis Xavier Church is a twin-spired neo-gothic structure built on the site of an old Portuguese church by a French priest, Father Farvé, in 1856, in honour of St. Francis Xavier … known as the ‘Apostle of the East’… It was believed that the church was modelled after the Cathedral of St. Peter in Montpellier in Southern France, which closely followed the older church’s original construction, except for a portico which was added on in 1963.”

The street where old houses and shops were kept as it was

Catholics in Banda Kaba “cherish with pride the fact that their patron saint walked their local paths”, and I could understand that. It’s the same emotion Las Piñas natives had when their Padre Ezekiel Moreno, the loved Spanish Recollect  in the parish where the famous bamboo organs was invented, was declared a Saint.

Together with the memorial statue of St. Francis is that of Yajiro, his young Japanese disciple whom he met in Malacca. The Japanese went to back to his land to preach, although he was said to have been unsuccessful, he became of one the first Christian missionary there.

Some Filipino religious believe that Francis reached Mindanao after preaching for more than a year in Moluccas. But the story is unproven as there are no existing document that supports it. In the island of Ternate (Moluccas) where he once preached were families that would end up one day in Cavite. Descendants of these Christianized Malays that listened to him are now in Ternate (Cavite) the spot where their ancient warrior ancestors were relocated.

Magellan’s group came to our shores in 1521 but missions to Christianize the islanders only started under Legazpi (his group arrived in 1565). If St. Francis was doing his evangelical work in 1546 , then he had been planting the seeds of Christianity before the Spaniards, his countrymen, established their mission work in what would become Las Islas Filipinas.

On his feast day, two reliquaries containing “piece of skin taken from the foot of the saint while the other encases a fragment of a finger bone” are shown to the public. Strange artifacts but you know us Catholics  – we dearly love our saints.

 Church Ruins on the Hill

The Ruins of Sao Pao. The large black stones are grave markers.

“In Paul’s Hill was where he passed nights in prayer, preached the Word of God, worked miracles, wrote important documents and letters and even raised the dead”, According to Padre Pintado who wrote a book about the ruins of St. Paul.

The Saint’s reputation as a miracle worker is legendary. One of my favorite stories about him is when he run into some bad weather – it was said that he dipped his cross and pacified the bad weather but he lost his Cross — then crabs from the deep sea went ashore and handed it back to him!

We’ll never know if that really happened but Malacca locals believes this miracle and take it as gospel. They say that the crabs, distinctly having what appears to be a cross on their shell can only be found in the area, “proof” they say that it wasn’t a myth. Some of them refrain from eating these crabs out of respect for their beloved saint.

But what interest me is that some suggest that this incident took place in Mindanao.

The steep stairs that leads to the old ruins of Sao Paolo. Malay's calls it Bukit St. Paul. "Bukit" is a word familiar to us because it is where we got the word for "Bukid" which means a hill.

Back to the amazing ruins on the hill. It was originally built  by a Catholic Portuguese Captain in 1521. The same year Magellan arrived and tried to conquer our islands for Spain. “Inside the decaying stone interior are hefty, intricately engraved tombstones of the Dutch nobility”. It felt eerie inside but the history of the place was just overwhelming.

The church on a hill. The white structure was a British built lighthouse

The rear portion of the Ruins of St. Paul. There are still existing graves here of Dutch and British nobility.

The Dutch who once attempted to wrestle control from the Spaniards in our country but was routed took the administration of the Malacca from the Portuguese but relinquished to the British later on. Reading this felt like reading news from the recent world cup!

St. Francis was temporarily buried in this elegant church until his body was sent to Goa. A wire fence now protects the former grave of the saint inside the ruins.

When the Dutch took Malacca from the Portueguese they used the church and renamed it (I don’t know if they painted it orange) but they soon abandoned the church when they completed the Christ Church.

(End of Part I)

References:

Voice of Ruins, Rev. Father Manuel Pintado

In Honour of Malaccas Saint, Sunday Star December 2 2001, by Vanitha Nadaraj and Percy D’Cruz

 February 2011


Histori Malacca (Part 2)

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