• Norton’s Guide to Manila Catholic Church


    Second of two parts

    THIS column continues with M. M. Norton’s 1915 guide to Manila Catholic Churches which I began to write about last week. The author lists the Catholic churches of Manila, mostly in Intramuros, the Walled City, which was like a mini-Rome, where churches were found as you turned corners.

    If M. M. Norton were to come to Manila today and visit Intramuros, she would need a Guidebook to orient her to what happened. Most of Intramuros churches, and they were many, are gone. Only two are left – the Manila Cathedral, newly-refurbished for the nth time, and San Agustin, carrying on as the oldest church in the Philippines.
    Here are the churches that M. M. Norton described but are now gone.

    Sto. Domingo church
    It has a new incarnation in Quezon City, quite admirable, large and adequate. But the Intramuros one was a jewel. It had a pure gothic interior of massive columns surrounded by clusters of four slender pillars. Both of great height on a wide nave. It had an attractive approach, the only church in the area with a close (an enclosed space that was a garden, specifically in a precinct of an abbey or cathedral). Sto. Domingo had a monastery to its right (with 25 friars, cloisters, libraries, refectories) and the Convent of Sta. Clara to its left.

    The pulpit was carved finely with sculpted figures in molave and other rare native woods as M. M. Norton notes. The high altar above the floor also of molave and narra (probably in a design like herringbone as in other old churches) had Sto. Domingo at the center with the saints appropriate to his Dominican Order, i.e. Sto. Tomas, etc. Also, there was the Our Lady of the Rosary, the famous image that won the La Naval battle against the Dutch invaders. She was set against tracery work with ivory face and hands and had a rich blue curtain as part of her accoutrements which carried embroidery in dazzling colors. M. M.
    Norton mentions this blue curtain time and again so it must have been an outstanding example of a rich textile with decoration. This image was saved from the vicissitudes of World War II (not including the blue curtain) that destroyed the churches of Intramuros and is now in its new home at the new Sto. Domingo Church from where she is taken in a grand commemorative procession of the La Naval victory of the 17th century attributed to her every October.

    Sto Domingo had rose windows with colored glass that gave the interior a rich mystical glow conducive to prayer and devotion. It also had ancient paintings on its walls as well as side altars dedicated to individual saints or manifestations of the Lord and the Blessed Mother.

    Its sacristy was monumental for the huge chests of kamagong and gigantic wardrobes (aparadors). The dimensions were mind-boggling. The table in the middle was 21 feet of one piece. It was of “matchless wood” according to M. M. Norton. There was also a huge crucifix in the sacristy. The chests had carved fronts and the aparadors too. They housed rich vestments of the church.

    Each church has one image in the Guide and Sto. Domingo’s vaulted ceiling with its gothic columns is the photograph provided.

    The first Sto. Domingo Church was in 1581 and must have been a modest one of sawali and wood as early churches here were. In 1573, Sto. Domingo’s next incarnation was in stone. The third church and the one M. M. Norton rhapsodizes over was constructed in 1870 designed by the first Filipino architect, Felix Roxas.

    San Ignacio church
    Another outstanding church M. M. Norton describes was the Jesuit church of San Ignacio on Calle Beaterio (now being rebuilt as a museum by the Intramuros Administration). The Ateneo de Manila was nearby in Arzobispo street. This was a relatively new church compared to San Agustin, the Manila Cathedral and Sto. Domingo. It dates from the late 19th Century designed also by Felix Roxas and built by the Jesuit builder, Francis Riera, S.J.

    San Ignacio had an entrance of ionic pillars and three gates of wrought iron of impressive workmanship. M. M. Norton says the design was “Graeco-Roman Renaissance.” The beautiful gates of wrought iron led to the three doors behind which the entrance was veiled in a heavy curtain (like many European cathedrals). There were more doors, all carved, three lateral doors and four apsidal doors. The high altar almost reached the ceiling. It had six enormous pillars of rare beauty. It had a vaulted roof with a lofty nave and a gallery of striking elegance upheld by ionic pillars and carved capitals of rich design using the oak leaf as a recurring motif. The effect was striking. Molave of deep brown with admirable proportions was used. There were fluted Corinthian columns too and medallions carved on them. Carved angels in the choir were “masterpieces of woodcarving” according to the author. These carved masterpieces included a Way of the Cross. The altar rail had carved garlands designed by Agustin Saez. The pulpit also was carved with high reliefs and statues including the staircase up with the four evangelists and St. Peter. All of the carving is attributed to “Sr. Isabelo Tampingco” who stands out in Philippine woodcarving as a master non pareil.

    It had lofty galleries and a number of side altars. Pews were massive and beautifully carved. The high altar was carved again following a design of Agustin Saez.

    Its sacristy had two oil paintings by Zaragoza, a copy of Bonnat’s Crucifixion one of Margaret Mary and one of Jesuit Martyrs by Fuster, a Filipino master. Zaragoza also had a painting of St. John Francis Regis. And there was an Herrera painting of St. Stanislaw.

    San Ignacio Church was begun in 1878 and finished in 1880. It is tragic that of San Ignacio nothing remains. But the Guide has a photo of its impressive pulpit.

    Next week, three more churches to note – the Franciscan Order church of San Francisco, the Recoletos church of San Jose, and the Capuchin church of Our Lady of Lourdes.


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