Baishatun Matsu returns after record-breaking pilgrimage

  • By Jason Pan / Staff Reporter

Organizers were celebrating a record turnout for the Baishatun Matsu procession, which ended a week-long journey when it returned to Gongtian Temple (拱天宮) in Tongsiao Township (通霄鎮) of Miaoli County on Friday.

Despite restrictions during a COVID-19 outbreak, with organizers only allowing registration for people who provided proof of having received three COVID-19 vaccines, 98,000 people registered, a said Hong Wen-hua (洪文華), a member of the temple’s leadership. Committee.

People who signed up paid fees and received armbands, hats, decals and other items, Hong said, adding that 80,000 people signed up last year.

Photo: ANC

Health officials had expressed concern over these group activities.

Miaoli County Commissioner Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) witnessed the arrival on Friday morning and later wrote on Facebook that he later tested positive for the virus and would self-isolate at home as per to the directives of the central government.

The procession – which has no fixed route from year to year – started in the early morning hours of May 20 from Gongtian Temple and traveled through the coastal townships to Chaotian Temple (朝天宮) in the township of Beigang of Yunlin County (北港).

As is tradition, the main palanquin carrying a statue of Matsu – a sea goddess who blesses the voyages of fishermen – was carried on foot the entire journey while attendants carried out ceremonial activities.

Last Sunday, the procession arrived at Chiaotian Temple, where celebratory rituals and events took place during its overnight stay, with the return journey beginning the following day.

The approximately 400 km pilgrimage – the longest in Taiwan – passes through four of Taiwan’s central regions: Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua and Yunlin.

This year it lasted eight days, although it took up to 12 days and as little as six.

The Dajia Matsu procession from Jenn Lann Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮) to Taichung has a fixed route of over 300km. It took place last month and lasted nine days.

The exact count of the number of people involved in the Baishatun Matsu procession was not available, as some who registered only participate for a few days, while others who did not register join the rear, Hong said.

There has been great interest from across Taiwan this year, he said.

People who attend other temples in Matsu signed up, mostly elderly people, filling 63 tour buses that followed the route, he said.

In addition, there were registrations for 6,500 vehicles, which formed a cavalcade behind the palaquin.

Due to the COVID-19 situation, some of the traditions have been banned, including the palaquin approach, Hong said.

A common ritual that people perform is to kneel in the procession path to allow the palanquin to pass over their heads, but people have been instructed to maintain a safe distance so that the activity was not permitted, he said.

Staff handed out alcohol spray at regular intervals and there were medical teams along the route to treat injuries and emergencies, he said.

Many people participate not for religious reasons, but to experience an important part of Taiwanese culture.

The evolution of the procession over nearly 200 years is of interest to people who want to learn more about the Matsu cult in villages and towns along the coast, participants told reporters.

News reports showed people with children who said they were carrying sleeping gear as they would travel the entire route, camping along the road and near temples at night.

Some have even dispensed with tents, simply carrying cardboard or foam pads to lie on in the open, according to reports.

A woman told reporters that the Baishatun Matsu pilgrimage is the most unique of all religious events in Taiwan due to its variable nature.

The procession takes different routes to Yunlin every year, with the return route not matching the route to the south, she said, adding that there are many unscheduled stops.

“It’s unpredictable and difficult for most people who want to do the whole trip,” she said.

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