Time seemed to have stopped in the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral. Perhaps it’s the way the sun washes over the gray stone edifice or how bells toll to mark the first mass of the day. After four centuries, the Manila Cathedral still stands in quiet stupor, like an avatar of time, reminding Filipinos the strength of their faith and richness of their culture.

The neo-Romanesque façade serves as a memento of our Spanish legacy. As Spain busied herself with colonizing the country, the Church prepared to institute its authority in the name of God. Pope Gregory XII issued a decree establishing the Diocese of Manila on February 6, 1578. The church of Manila was then elevated to the rank of cathedral with its patroness, the “Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The Dominican Friar, Domingo de Salazar, was appointed first bishop and thus, metropolitan, and King Philip II delegated him to select a site where the new “seat of faith” will arise.

The church was inaugurated on September 21, 1581 at the Plaza Roma in the heart of the Walled City. It was made of nipa, bamboo, and wood, but it was considered as the most expensive church at that time.

Ruins of faith

The grand visage of the cathedral is made more so by the lingering outlines of ruins caused by six earthquakes and a fire.

The original nipa church was devastated by a typhoon and then razed by a fire in 1583. The church was immediately restored, but it was again destroyed by a hurricane in 1588. In 1593, the first stone cathedral was completed but it collapsed six years later because of an earthquake.

A festival of Pinoy operas

Four other renovations of the building took place. But the repairs between the 17th and the 18th centuries also failed to withstand time.

The seventh cathedral was damaged during the liberation of Manila in 1945 as bombshells nearly wiped it out. Archbishop Rufino J. Santos initiated the eighth reconstruction nine years later. The labor took four years. A new church was blessed on December 8, 1958.

Standing strong

Rising from the debris of earthquakes, fires, and wars, Manila’s premier cathedral is a witness to the rich history of the Filipinos. The seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila, the Cathedral was elevated to become the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception by the late Pope John Paul II in February 1981. From then on, its façade has borne the papal coat of arms.

The basilica has also hosted significant religious events, particularly the inauguration of Manila Archbishop Rufino Santos as the first Filipino cardinal and two papal visits (Paul VI and John Paul II). Today, the cathedral has become the central symbol of Filipino faith.

“The Manila Cathedral stands for the all Catholic churches in the Philippines,” said Msgr. Nestor Cerbo, the rector of the cathedral. “It is the first cathedral in the Philippines and the first channel of evangelization.”

Although the grandeur of the old cathedral can’t be fully restored, present reconstruction has captured its essence and magnificence. From the intricate bronze and wood carvings on the church doors to the white main altar frontispiece dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, the beauty of the church is indeed divine.

Aral mula sa nakalipas?

The stained glass windows, mainly designed by contemporary artist Galo Ocampo, doesn’t only complement the idyllic atmosphere inside the cathedral, it also shows a pictographic narration of Christianity in the country.

Statues of different saints like St. Rose of Lima, patroness of the Philippines, and St. Andrew, patron of Manila, also adorn the façade of the cathedral.

And one of best features of the cathedral is the octagonal dome because it gives the building architectural character, and on a bright day, it illuminates the walls and main altar with an orange glow.

Msgr. Cerbo plans further improvements for the church. With the rise of tourism interest in Intramuros, the rector is currently campaigning to establish a ministry dedicated to the cause of tourism and pilgrimage for the parish.

“Through this we can spread the word of God, so when tourists and pilgrims come here, it would not be just a matter of taking pictures but more of spiritual nourishment,” Msgr. Cerbo added.

To draw up interest in the renovations and rehabilitation of the basilica, an official website was launched last December. More structural renovations are being eyed for the cathedral’s golden anniversary in 2008.

Years may pass and more changes are bound to happen, but like many historical monuments, the Manila Cathedral will linger—a silent guard watching over the city, and a beacon of Filipino faith. Mary Rose M. Pabelonia and Glaiza Marie A. Seguia


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