The oldest and most famous temple in Penghu is located in the capital city of Magong and was established near the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). It is also known as the Mazu (Matsu) Temple in honor of Mazu, the goddess of the sea who protects fisherman and sailors.
Legend says Matsu was born in 960, the seventh daughter of Lin Yuan on Meizhou Island, Fujian. She did not cry when she was born, and thus her given name Lin Moniang which means means “Silent Girl.” Ling Moniang’s grew up on the ocean and her father and brothers spent many days fishing at sea. One day while her father and brothers were fishing a fierce typhoon developed and everyone thought they had surely drowned in the storm. Ling Moniang began to pray so intensely for her father and brothers safe return that she fell in a dream like trance. She concentrated all of her energy and on rescuing her father and brothers and reach out in the dream and lifted her brothers out of the waves with her hands and held her fathers hand in her mouth. During this time her mother noticed Ling Moniang dream like state and tried to wake her, but her trance was so intense that her mother thought her daughter had died of sadness. Her mother began crying hysterically at which point Ling Moniang opened her mouth to tell her mother she was alright, but in doing so she lost her grip on her father and he drowned in the sea. A short while later her brothers returned to the village and described how a miracle had saved them from drowning. They described how an unknown force had held them above the water as the storm raged around them.
There are several version of Lin Moniang’s death, but on version states she died at age 28 when she climbed up a mountain and flew to the heavens to become the goddess Mazu. After her death many families of sailors and fisherman began to pray to Mazu for the safe return of their loved ones. Mazu is described as a compassionate motherly protector, in contrast to the authoritarian gods like the Dragon Kings and as a result her popularity quickly spread. Today there are over 1,500 Mazu temples in 26 countries of the world. She is usually depicted wearing a red robe, and sitting on a throne.
The temple itself has been reconstructed several times by different Chinese Dynasties and even during the Japanese occupation. In 1604 the Dutch visited the island seeking to establish a trade agreement with the Chinese. Inside of the temple is the region’s oldest stone tablet with Chinese inscriptions, which records Ming Dynasty official Shen Yourong’s rejection of Dutch Captain Wijbrand van Waerwijck’s request to trade. This is the first written record of interactions between Chinese and Dutch officials.
Today many tourist stop by Tianhou Temple to marvel and take photos of the ancient structure, but local Penghu residents continue visit the temple and ask Mazu for guidance and safety as they embark on their journeys.