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Published on Sep 14, 2012
While Taiwan is mostly a Buddhist country, with many Taoist shrines and temples dotting the landscape, about five percent of the population is Christian, with a similar percentage of Muslims as well. A handful of Jewish people, too.
San Diego Jewish World's editor Don Harrison, who toured the scenic East Coast of Taiwan during a visit here, sent us a photograph he took of a mountain cliff in Taroko Gorge that appeared to look like a blue and white Jewish ''tallis''. And when we looked, we saw the tallis, too. In multicultural Taiwan, where religions and cultures meet across the ages, anything is possible.
So imagine our surprise when we came across a re-imagined "Last Supper" fresco on an old Catholic church wall that depicts a unique Asian version of the Leonardo DaVinci masterpiece in Italy thanks to a story in the Chinese-language Liberty Times newspaper in Taipei. Unlike the Italian version, the Taiwanese mural depicts the Christian biblical scene in a traditional Chinese painting style with the 13 figures — originally painted by Leonardo as the living Jesus and his 12 Jewish disciples — looking like "Chinese martyr saints." It's a sight to behold.
For example, instead of bread and wine and a western style knife that appear in the original, the Taiwan version shows the men dining on steamed buns and using chopsticks.
The Catholic church in the small village of Yanshuei is asking government officials to help restore the aging fresco since it is now in poor condition due to the tropical island's humidity and the camera flashes of curious tourists. The small church was constructed here in 1986 by Catholic missionaries.
And it's not only about a new take on "The Last Supper." There are other murals inside the church which focus on historical Chinese sages, including an image of Chinese philosophers Laozi and Confucius. It's all part of the church's effort to draw Taiwanese residents in the area — and tourists, too — and to teach such lessons as 'work hard."
The rare "Last Supper" fresco has received widespread media coverage both here and overseas and has attracted tourists from Japan, Hong Kong and China in recent years, according to Taiwan's central Tourist Bureau. Wu Fu-sheng, the church's Catholic priest, says he hopes to find funds to keep the church looking ship-shape in future years for locals and tourists, alike.