1915 Guide to Manila Catholic churches

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Last of three parts

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These are the last three Intramuros churches now gone described in the “1915 Guide to Manila Catholic Churches” by M. M. Norton:

The Franciscan Church of San Francisco on Calle Solana
IT had a 200 year-old chapel for Our Lady of the Porteria (at the entrance) which featured an octagonal ceiling with lunettes of the Virgin’s life by an unidentified European artist. The altar was grand and very interesting. There were reredos in a niche on a solid wall with decoration of garlands and cherubs. The central painting was of the Immacualte Conception. On either side beside the altar were two brackets in gilt with two very ancient statuettes of St. Joseph and St. Anthony of Padua. They were made of crystal with gilt tabernacles, very “curious” in design according to the author.

Along the walls were encrusted tiles of brass and porcelain from Japan. There were four arms of wood that extended from a side wall to a corner of the ceiling that held antique candelabra.

M. M. Norton mentions huge paintings of historical value on the walls. One of them was of St. Francis beseeching Christ to spare Manila (seen in the background as city with toy houses).

Our Lady of the Porteria Chapel was the unique entrance to the Church of San Francisco. One passed out of it by a low and ancient door above which was a small rose window into the court of the church and was transported into an interior of the main church that was simple but of impressive construction. The organ was 200 years old and placed in a special gallery that ran all about the end of the church and joined the choir loft.

There were many other side chapels but the main altar was the most artistic with a painting of the apotheosis of the Virgin above it. The altar was elegant and gilded. Behind it was a sculpture of a reclining figure of Christ that was venerated every Good Friday and was one of the city’s most valued treasures. The artist who made it was from Cebu and died shortly after its completion.

The body of the church was Romanesque with a huge dome in the apse. There were no aisles and along the cupola ran a gallery with four windows to admit light below through stained glass.

One of the devotions that took place in this church was that of the Immaculate Conception.

The San Francisco Church dated from 1677 when it was first named Our Lady of the Angels. But in 1730 a second church was built and it was dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. In 1824 its tower was destroyed by an earthqualke. Legend has it that when an invasion of Chinese pirates was imminent, St. Francis, the mild-mannered saint, was seen upon the walls with a flaming sword defending the city. In commemoration a statue of him was kept at the nearby St. Clare Convent to be taken in procession annually by church officials every October 4, his feast day.

The Recoletos Church of San Jose
M. M. Norton termed it “Spanish Romanesque with slight Renaissance touches.” It had an ornate façade, more ornate than the other churches, with Doric pillars and saints in niches. When the façade was lighted it was a blaze of glory.

It also had a stone court used by the public as a shortcut to destinations nearby. Fairs were held on the stone court and processions began there.

The interior was simple, a nave with no aisles, a slighly curved roof and low supporting arches. It had three side altars on either side of the nave. It had the porteria that was quaint and cloisters with ancient paintings. The side altars had many saints represented like St. Gertrude, St. Rita, St Joseph and St. Ann. There was a low cupola with a gallery.

The main altar had more saints and was dedicated to the Savior of Nazareth. There were also many variations of Our Lady, e.g. of the Pillar, of Sorrows, of Carmel. There were reredos with paintings, statues and sacred objects.

The Capuchin Church of Our Lady of Lourdes
On this list it was the last to arrive in Intramuros – 1886. Naturally, it was the most modern church, one of the first to use reinforced concrete. Its architect was Francisco Perez Muñoz. It was a mix of Romanesque and Renaissance and finished in 1888 at a cost of P50,000. It was located on Calle General Luna.

This church had special devotions to Our Lady of Lourdes and the Immaculate Conception. Before the latter statue were offered prayers for protection during Dewey’s bombardment of Manila. But it was known more for its devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes, whose miraculous appearance occurred in the 1850’s in France. Thus, it was a new devotion so to speak and the church was named after her.

Its door is described by M. M. Norton as “chaste and finely moulded” finely sculptured by Sr. Manuel Flores.

The interior had an elegant arrangement of a nave with a double row of arches. Curvatures and tracery in Grecian or Arabesque designs were along the walls and posts. There was an upper gallery of molave and the most modern organ in the Philippines (circa 1913).

A pulpit of beautifully and skillfully carved wood was simple but very attractive. When lighted the church had a most dazzling illumination.

The structure was complemented by one of the largest gardens of the churches in Intramuros. .

I have dwelt at length on this Guide and the churches that were obliterated in World War II to impart a sense of the past as expressed in these religious buildings redolent of prayers and devotions to the Divinity, the Blessed Mother and the many saints, many of them like San Ramon Nonto, San Pascual Baylonne, St. Gertrude and others now mostly unknown or in the twilight of older memories.

These churches were of mostly native workmanship and artistry and they represent the hard work, skills and creativity of Filipinos.

We now live in a secular age but perhaps we should look back and see the value, the truth and the reality that infused these bygone times and their tangible manifestations. They should be part of our racial memory, our consciousness, our history, ourselves.

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