Manila Cathedral

Of the twelve beautiful Baroque churches built by the Spaniards there remain only the ruins of the church of the Recollects; only one of them, Manila Cathedral, has been rebuilt.

The Cathedral stands on the southeast side of Plaza McKinley, formerly the Plaza Mayor and since 1956 known as Plaza Roma (renamed on the appointment of the Archbishop of Manila as a cardinal in that year, when a square in Rome was named after Manila).

In the square is a monument to three priests named Burgos, Gomez and Zamora, who were garroted in 1872 for supporting the rising of the troops of Cavite. The monument, by the Filipino sculptor S. Saprid, was unveiled in 1972, on the centenary of the execution (which took place at Luneta)

On the northeast side of the square there formerly stood the Spanish Town Hall (Ayuntamiento), which was destroyed in 1945. On the southwest side is a modern building on the site of the old Royal Palace, residence of the Spanish governors, which was destroyed in the 1863 earthquake. (Originally the mansion of a wealthy businessman, compulsorily taken over by the government, it was a handsome example of 17th century architecture).

The present Cathedral, dedicated to the Immaculate Concepcion, is in a fairly eclectic mingling of Romanesque and Byzantine styles. It was built between 1954 and 1958 by architect Fernando Ocampo, during the episcopate of Archbishop Rufino J. Santos, who became a cardinal in 1956.

The Cathedral succeeded five earlier cathedrals, all destroyed by natural cataclysm or by war: The first was a wooden structure built by the first bishop of Manila, Domingo de Salazar (a great protector of the natives) in 1581, on the site of a modest chapel of bamboo and nipa palm built by Legazpi in 1571 and destroyed by Limahong’s Chinese pirates in 1574. It was scarcely completed before it was damaged by a typhoon (1582) and then destroyed by fire (1583); The second cathedral, built by the indefatigable Salazar in 1592, lasted only eight years before being destroyed by an earthquake in 1600; The third, completed in 1614, was destroyed by a further earthquake in 1645; The fourth was a splendid stone-built structure in Spanish colonial style erected by Archbishop Miguel de Poblete between 1654 and 1671 and destroyed by an earthquake on 3 June 1863; The fifth, built between 1870 and 1879, was damaged by an earthquake in 1880 and destroyed during the battle for Manila in 1945.

The two-storey facade has three doorways and four statues of saints. The bronze doors were the work of two Italian sculptors, A. Monteleone and F. Nagni; the central door has eight panels depicting the eventful history of the Cathedral, while the two side ones are devoted to the Virgin. On the left of the facade is a tower topped by a lantern, and there is a dome over the crossing.

The interior is of no particular character. It has mosaic decoration and modern stained glass by Galo Ocampo, depicting the life of the Virgin. Above the entrance is an organ of 4500 pipes made in Holland. The nave is flanked by aisles with chapels along both sides. The most interesting of the chapels is that of Nuestra Seora del Pilar, notable for its modern architecture by the Spanish architect Miguel Fisac, its red glass and a statue of the Virgin presented by the chapter of Zaragoza Cathedral.

The pulpit, on the south side of the choir, has bronze panels of the four Evangelists by the Italian artist Luigi Scirocchi. On the north side of the choir is the archbishop’s throne, in Italian marble. The high altar, also in Italian marble, has a bronze panel by the German sculptor Toni Fiedler, who was also responsible for the tabernacle and is surmounted by a bronze Assumption of the Virgin (after Murillo) by the Italian sculptor E. Assenza. Under the choir is a crypt, decorated with a mosaic by Marcelo Avenali, it contains the tombs of the archbishops of Manila who died (since 1945). The baptistery has stained glass depicting the life of St. John the Baptist and a very beautiful font by an Italian sculptor, Morbiducci. The transepts, with an octagonal dome over the crossing, have beautiful stained glass depicting the various Marian symbols of the Philippines: Our Lady of the Remedies of Malate, Our Lady of the Rosary of Peñafrancia de Naga, Our Lady of Peace and the Good Voyage of Antipolo, etc.