A stone pillar belonging to the remains of the 81-year-old Sankantensya Shrine in Greater Tainan’s Yongkang District (永康), which was designated a historical monument in 2009, eventually saw the light of day after having been hidden by a voluntary worker for the past seven years for the sake of “better preservation.”
The Cultural Heritage Section of the Greater Tainan Government’s Cultural Affairs Bureau received an anonymous tip-off on Wednesday last week saying that the long-missing stone pillar, which was inscribed with the name Sankatensya (三崁店社) in Chinese, could be retrieved from Yan Shun-ju (嚴舜茹), a cultural volunteer.
The section immediately contacted Yan and then conducted an on-site inspection of the missing stele earlier this week with Taiwan Sugar Corp personnel.
Cultural Heritage Section head Lin Wei-hsu (林韋旭) said the Japanese-style shrine was constructed during Taiwan’s Japanese colonial period in 1931 near a now-defunct Taiwan Sugar Corp factory in what is now known as Sanmin Borough (三民) in the Yongkang District.
The site was designated as a historical monument in 2009 by the city government, which also listed a series of air-raid shelters in the vicinity of the sugar refinery as historical buildings, Lin said.
Lin said that the stone pillar was nowhere to be found when the remains of the shrine were declared a historical monument, making its recent recovery even more surprising and valuable.
“We are hoping to re-erect this integral part of the shrine where it used to belong once the site has been fully restored,” Lin added.
The remains of the time-honored shrine are in a remarkably good condition aside from partial damage and the lack of the tamagaki fence surrounding the site, Lin said, adding that the agency would ask Taiwan Sugar Corp to prioritize repairs of the shrine and another of its sugar refineries in Tainan’s Sinying District (新營), using about NT$3 million (US$102,000) of the budget allocated to the cultural heritage site.
According to Yan, she had been “harboring” the pillar for the past seven years after seeing incompetent people attempting to remove the stele as if it were an ordinary piece of rock.
The inscriptions on the stone pillar, which measures 2 meters in length and has broken in half, are still well-preserved, except for the last character “she” (社), which is believed to have been damaged, Yan said, adding she had taken people to visit the tablet in the past.
“My only hope is that the stele can be properly preserved in the future, rather than being treated as a random piece of rock again,” she said.