Old Protestant Cemetery – Macau - Atlas Obscura

Macau

Old Protestant Cemetery

The final resting place of 19th-century sailors previously banned from being buried within Portuguese Macau. 

Macau, a small peninsula southwest of Hong Kong, is mainly known for its flashy casinos. Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find a trove of historical treasures hiding among the luxurious hotels and glitzy attractions. 

For several hundred years, Macau was a colony of Portugal, which left behind distinctive historical and cultural sites. But the Old Protestant Cemetery is unique among Macau’s graveyards, as most of those interred there are neither Portuguese nor Chinese.

The Portuguese colonists viewed the peninsula as sacred Roman Catholic ground. As such, they prohibited any Protestants from being buried within the city limits. And on the outside of the city walls, the Chinese refused to allow any foreigners to be laid to rest within the land.

This left Protestant sailors and merchants—many from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Northern Europe—in a tough situation. They were forced to bury their dead secretly at night, risking dangerous confrontations with the Chinese officials and left to do nothing but hope that the unsanctioned graves they dug wouldn’t be defaced or destroyed as punishment.

In 1821, the non-Catholic, non-local merchants finally gained access to their own burial grounds, thanks to the British East India Company’s decision to buy a plot of land to use as a graveyard. People originally buried outside the city limits were exhumed and reburied at the cemetery. By 1858, the graveyard had already filled. The cemetery closed and a new one was opened, earning this one the title of the Old Protestant Cemetery.

You’ll find some interesting graves within the cemetery, including those of the artist George Chinnery and missionary Robert Morrison. You’ll also spot the resting places of many fascinating seamen, including a cabin boy who died of “a fall into the hold.” Keep a particular eye out for the grave that says “Secret to the memory” instead of “Sacred to the memory.”

Know Before You Go

The cemetery is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It's located just off the entrance to the lovely Luis de Camões Park, which is also well worth a visit.