Visita Iglesia: 8 Old Manila Churches
This is a series focusing on the Manila Visita Iglesia that can be followed as a guide for the much observed Filipino Catholic Lenten tradition. Click the image at the right to access the rest of the posts.
Manila was the capital city of what was then known during the Spanish colonial period as the province of Tondo. It was established under the command of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1571 over the remnants of Rajah Soliman’s kingdom. Most important of its area is Intramuros, a citadel where Spain’s colony was administered. Within it’s walls the major religious orders built their churches. Outside were also constructed several religious edifices to attend to the spiritual needs of parishioners. This visita iglesia in Manila series features eight of the important churches within this historic city.
1 Malate was formerly known as Maalat, derived from the salty waters near it which the Spaniards later corrupted to the current word form. The first church was constructed by the Augustinians in 1588 under the protection and care of the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios or the Our Lady of Remedies whose miraculous image was brought in 1624 from Andalucia, Spain.
Upon orders of Governor-General Sabiniano Manrique de Lara, it was destroyed in 1661 over fears of an attack by the pirate Li Ma Hong but rebuilt in 1677-79.
In 1762, it was made the headquarters of the British during their brief invasion of Manila. In 1864, it was rebuilt for the third time after the great earthquake of 1863 that destoyed many other churches.
The façade is said to be a blend of Muslim and Baroque architectural styles, one of the impressive ones in Manila. Unfortunately, because the paletada has been scraped off the surface, wearing and deterioration has been apparent with two of it’s emblelishments, the two heart relieves at the side of the main portal disintegrating.
2 San Agustin Church in Intramuros is the mother of all churches in the country. It was constructed in 1587 and finished in 1604. This church has survived earthquakes, fires, typhoons and when Manila was bombed out by the Americans to flush out the Japanese in World War II, the second most destroyed city in the world after Warsaw in Poland, it was the only structure left standing in Intramuros suffering a gaping hole in what is now the Chapel of Legazpi and a damaged bell tower.
The left belfry was torn down by Spanish authorities after it posed a security risk for passersby after it cracked in the 1880 earthquake. The interior offers a peek of the richness of religious edifices in times past with its stunning trompe l’oeil, beautiful 17th century pulpit and intricately carved portals make it one of the must see churches in the country.
The church and the monastery complex is the only remaining example of its kind in the Philippines. The titular patron of San Agustin church is the Conversion of St. Paul. During the pre-war period, it was one of seven major churches within the walls that people come for the visita iglesia.
For more information on this church, I have prepared a 24 part series that details it’s exterior and interior.
3 The Manila Cathedral, the ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Manila is just one of two surviving churches that can still be found in Intramuros.
It was first built in 1581 made from nipa and bamboo. In it’s 428 years of history, it has been destroyed by fire, typhoon, earthquakes and the last World War but always rising from the ashes.
After World War II, only the walls and façade stood. The current structure, the 8th, was built between 1954 and 1958 over the remnants. Even now, one can still see some of the original portion at the choirloft.
It was elevated to a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II during his Manila visit in 1981 and is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.
The architecture is a blend of Romanesque-Byzantine with Baroque elements that typifies many Philippine Spanish colonial era churches in the country. It’s main portal feature bronze relieves that depict its construction history.
4 Tondo was the first city of the province with the same name and the church’s convent was one of the first few in Luzon having been accepted by the Augustinian friars in 1572. It is under the protection of the Sto. Niño de Cebu.
The first stone church was believed to have been finished in 1625. It got damaged in 1641 during the Chinese revolt and by an earthquake in 1645. In 1661, together with Malate Church, it was torn down upon orders of Governor-General de Lara due to fears of an invasion by the Chinese pirate Li Ma Hong (or Koxinga) from Formosa (now Taiwan). It was rebuilt later that year.
The current stone church, the third to be built was started after the earthquake of 1863 damaged the previous one. It is the first church in the country to use steel framing for the media naranja or dome and iron sheets for the roofing that were imported from England.
The façade of the church is done in the neoclassical style flanked by twin belltowers.
5 The Minor Basilica of San Sebastian is a sight to behold. Its towering spires, soaring high into the heavens, and impressive neo-gothic architecture sends one to ecstasy.
The current structure, the national shrine to the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, was built by the Augustinian Recollects in 1893 after the one made of stone was destroyed by an earthquake. It’s first church was built in the middle of the 17th century.
The iron sheets and panels were manufactured in Belgium and was assembled by local artists and craftsmen when it arrived in 1888. It’s beautiful stained glass windows were imported from Germany.
The architecture is neo-gothic with those fan vaults and lancet arches. However, because of the material, the intricate details and embellishments in typical architecture is at a minimum.
6 Quiapo District was first established in 1586 by Governor-General Santiago de Vera. The Fransciscans erected the first church made of nipa and bamboo under the advocacy of St. John the Baptist.
A fire destroyed the first structure in 1639. It was later rebuilt but this second church was damaged during the 1863 earthquake. While the Franciscans built the first church, later structures were erected by the Seculars.
In 1787, the Archbishop of Manila, Basilio Sancho de Santas Justa y Rufina ordered the transfer of the image of the Black Nazarene that was then enshrined at the Augustinian Recollect’s main church, the San Nicolas de Tolentino, in Intramuros. This transfer or translacion is commemorated every 9 January.
The third church was inaugurated in 1899. In 1928, fire consumed the edifice and was rebuilt with the architect Juan Nakpil in charge of the plans for reconstruction. It was later expanded to its current form sometime in the 80s.
Now known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, it is the center of the icon’s devotion in the country.
7 Binondo Church was founded by the Dominicans for the spiritual adminsitration of the Christian Chinese.
The first structure was built in 1596 presumably of light materials and was dedicated to San Gabriel. It was rebuilt in stone in 1606. In 1740, it was decided to demolish the old church and build a new one which was inaugurated in 1749 and dedicated to the Nuestra Señora Santissima del Rosario.
The church and its belfry were damaged by the 1863 earthquake. During World War II, bombs were dropped in 1944 and left only a shell of the Church. It was later rebuilt.
…it’s front and belfry is a fine example of Mexican-Spanish colonial architecture, expressing, as some historians wrote, “the graceful and lively form of the baroque Philippine Style.”
It is now known as the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz as this was where the first Filipino saint lived, worked and grew up.
8Sta. Ana Church
The Franciscans were the first to establish a mission outside the walls of Intramuros in 1578 to better serve the needs of the laity. This is the present town dedicated and named after St. Anne of the Abandoned.
The present church’s cornerstone was laid in 1720 by the Bishop of Manila and acting Governer General of the Philippines that time, Francisco de la Cuesta. It was built under the supervision of Fray Vicente Ingles.
The church is known for its beautiful baroque retablo, the only one of its kind that can be found still intact in Manila. The statue of the Our Lady of the Abandoned is a copy of the original at Valencia, Spain and holds a crystal baton that used to belong to the Governer General, symbolic of his authority and was donated by the Archbishop.
In 1966, the National Museum excavated the inner patio of the church and found a rich horde of artifacts with the oldest, a white and blue ceramic with floral designs dating to the 11th century. This indicates its rich pre-hispanic past.