This is the fourth post of my Shanxi civilian castles (山西民间古堡) series. So far, I already took you to the deserted stone fortress of Xiangyu (相峪堡), within the lost walls of Douzhuang (窦庄) castle and more recently into the imperial manor of Kangxi in Huangcheng Xiangfu (皇城相府).
When travelling through China, I take the train and the bus as much as possible, but once in a while I end up hiring a driver for the day. Hiring a driver is more expensive, but it is definitely a faster and more convenient way (I can stop anytime, anywhere) and I can enjoy the insights of a local. Thanks to driver Zhang, I was able to visit places that are off-radar to most people.
The fortified church of Our Lady of the Rosary
Driver Zhang was a native of Daqi (大箕), a small village in Zezhou county (泽州县), just south of the town of Jincheng (晋城) which was my base to visit the castles of the Qinhe River (沁河) basin where most civilian castles of south Shanxi are concentrated.
He decided to drive by his hometown because he had not been there in a while (he moved to the city with his family more than a decade ago) and because there was another castle-like old structure to show to that foreigner who like ancient Chinese architecture. This is how we ended up pulling in front of the fortified church of Our Lady of the Rosary (玫瑰圣母天主教堂).
We entered the small fortress through the only entrance : a narrow cobble-stone lane at the end of which the church of Our Lady of the Rosary stands, almost out of place and out of time, in front of little square. On the left-hand side, we find living quarters home to the priest and a few other people apparently. The entire structure is surrounded by a stone wall which, I assume, predates the construction of the church and rests on a giant rocky hill.
The place was pretty much deserted, and I was not able to gather much information about how this place came to be. Even driver Zhang scratching his head with a smile admitted that he did not know much about this place steeped in history.
Like most protected historical structures in China, there is a short introduction on an aluminium plate right by the entrance.
During the Yihetuan Movement (义和团运动), an uprising that took place at the turn of the 20th century and which opposed imperialism and activities associated with foreign missionaries, two Dutch priests found refuge in this fortress in 1900. They prayed the virgin Mary and asked for her protection.
Still alive in 1902 when the movement also known as the Boxer rebellion was finally over, they erected this church in memory of Our Lady of the Rosary (玫瑰圣母).
The best view
Although the entrance and this fortified compound where the church is located are really impressive, I really enjoyed the lateral and rear view of the church of our Lady of the Rosary that we get from outside.
From the back, we could see the different layers of the wall and I definitely had the impression of that the structure is much older than the construction of the church itself.
From the side, the view is equally impressive. Like contemporary bell towers, three high-voltage transmission towers surrounded the structure. Although I wished they did not exist, they were a reminder that the rural landscape is changing fast. The 21st century has indeed caught up with the vicissitudes of China’s long history.