Situated at Pitt Street in the city of George Town in Penang, Malaysia, it was first built in 1728, making it Penang's oldest Taoist temple.
Today, the Goddess of Mercy Temple is dedicated to the Taoist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. However, the temple had been originally established for the worship of Mazu, a sea deity. Following an influx of ethnic Chinese into George Town after the founding of the settlement in 1786, the temple transitioned into one dedicated to Guanyin in 1824; by then, it also began to function as a neutral mediator between the rival Cantonese and Hokkien communities.
While the temple's more secular functions have since been passed on to the Penang Chinese Town Hall, it retains its religious significance and remains popular amongst Penangites of Chinese descent. It becomes a focal point for Chinese festivities such as the annual feast days for Guanyin and the Jade Emperor's Birthday, attracting devotees from across Southeast Asia.
What is now the Goddess of Mercy Temple was first constructed in 1728. The temple, built at a cost of $4,000 (Spanish dollar), was dedicated to Mazu, a sea goddess worshipped by the Hokkiens as a patron for seafarers. At the time, Penang Island was sparsely populated and the temple, built by the seafaring Hokkiens, was located relatively closer to the sea.
The temple was renovated in 1824, during which the temple's main deity was changed from Mazu to Guanyin. Other Chinese deities, including Guan Yu and Tua Pek Kong, were also added into the temple, reflecting the more diverse Chinese community in George Town by that point. Decades of Chinese immigration since the founding of George Town by Captain Francis Light in 1786 had resulted in several Chinese dialect groups establishing themselves within the new settlement, including the Hokkiens and the Cantonese.
The temple also began to play the role of a mediator in the increasingly frequent disputes between the Hokkiens and the Cantonese. In the temple's early years, it was run by a committee that consisted of equal numbers of Hokkiens and Cantonese. Thus, the temple was able to serve as a council and a tribunal for Penang's Chinese community up until the mid-19th century.
However, the worsening feud between the various Chinese dialect groups in George Town, which culminated in the Penang Riots of 1867, eventually led to the establishment of the Penang Chinese Town Hall in 1881 to take over the temple's more secular role as an arbiter for the Chinese community. From then on, the temple serves a more religious purpose amongst Penang's Chinese.
The temple has been rumored to possess magical qualities, as it miraculously survived the several attacks on the temple since its inception in 1728. For instance, the temple remained unscathed when the Imperial Japanese Army bombed and invaded Penang in December 1941, and survived a handful of terrorist attacks in the 1960s.
The Goddess of Mercy Temple was last renovated between 2012 and 2017.
The temple is in Central Georgetown on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Kling (Lebuh Pitt) in between Lorong Stewart and Lebuh Farquhar.
Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia.