Tin How Temple
In 1852, the Cantonese clan association (三邑會館) in San Francisco founded the Tin How Temple, one of the earliest Chinese temples in San Francisco Chinatown. This temple is dedicated to Mazu, 妈祖, in gratitude to her blessings to the early Chinese migrants to United States. These migrants braved the storms and perils of sea travel when they journeyed from China to Unites States. By praying to Mazu and appealing to her during crisis, Mazu blessed them and gave them the psychological strength to complete the journey.
They referred to Mazu by her formal title Tin How (Empress of Heaven) in Cantonese and hence the name Tin How temple. In the 1950s, the Tin How temple was temporarily closed for about 20 years until its reopening on 4 May 1975. Although located on the third floor of a building located along Waverly Place, a side street, Tin How temple is very famous and is considered as a must visit for tourists to San Francisco.
In fact, Waverly Place has a Chinese name called Tin How Temple Street, 天后庙街. Not many Mazu temples around the world has a street named after it and this shows how important Tin How Temple is to the people of San Francisco.
To reach the Tin How Temple, visitors must use the stairs to reach the third floor. The 2nd floor is occupied by clan associations but curiously, they are inaccurately described by many guidebooks as “mahjong parlors”.
Inside the temple, Mazu sits on the central shrine with her assistants by her side. Above the shrine are rows of lanterns donated by devotees. You can see the names of donors that are written on slips of red paper and attached to the lanterns. In front of a table is a table full of offerings. The ritual items such as the joss stick holders were donated by devotees more than a hundred years ago.
The side shrines are dedicated to many other deities including Guan Gong, Justice Bao, God of Wealth, Wah To, Wah Kwong, Lady Golden Flower and 18 Guardian Deities, Ji Gong, Lu Dong Bin and God of House Guard. (关帝，三眼华光，张王爷，华佗，包公，金花夫人，十八奶娘，济公，门馆)
During festive days especially the Mazu’s birthday, celebrations are held in her honor. On other non festive days, you will still see devotees, both Chinese and Caucasian devotees coming to pay their respects.
Devotees who need advise will use the divinity sticks held in a container. The devotee shakes the container till one of the divinity sticks drop into the floor. This divinity stick has a number and is exchanged for a slip of paper with the corresponding number. The answer or advice to the devotee’s problem can be found in the story or poetry printed on the paper.
Photography is not allowed inside the Tin How Temple but it is still worth a visit for its historical significance. Also, if you go out to the balcony, you can get a bird’s eye view of San Francisco Chinatown and surrounding area – for free.
Tin How Temple 天后古庙
125 Waverly Pl., Chinatown, San Francisco, CA, USA
Lanterns with names of devotees
Slips of paper for divinity sticks
Tin How Temple Street
Birds eye view of the surrounding area