The Manila Cathedral
by Jericho Andrade
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (The Manila Cathedral)
The Manila Cathedral is the premiere church of our nation and peoples. It is the home of our beloved and revered patroness, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It's beauty and grandeur represents to us the glory of the faith and piety of the Filipino people.
The Manila Cathedral has stood witness to the Archdiocese's manifold events, its important religious celebrations and festivities, the solemn visit of Popes and Church dignitaries, ordination of our priests, installation of bishops, the yearly Chrism Masses, Baptisms, weddings, Confirmations and the continuing drama of the everyday life of the faithful under its wings. It stands as a rock of faith to us all in the Archdiocese.
The Manila Cathedral was originally a nipa church in 1571 by Fr. Juan de Vivero. The arrival of Bishop Domingo Salazar to the Philippines in July, 1581 started the improvements to the frail nipa structure. Bishop Salazar described the condition of the parochial building as such upon his arrival:
I found the church so poor and neglected that it seemed to have been reared from childhood without a father or without anybody who remembered it or had taken any care of it... a straw without a sacristy nor a place where the Blessed Sacrament could be reserved... without armament or any equipment necessary for the service of the altar.
The frail structure of the nipa hut was damaged by a typhoon in 1582, after which a new building of wood took its place.
Again a fire in February 1583 razed the wooden building. By this time, work on the new cathedral of stone was immediately begun under the supervision of Bishop Salazar. However, because of lack of funds, the building was not completed until 1593. In 1600, an earthquake partially damaged the Cathedral.
A new cathedral rose from the ruins of the old in 1614, but again disaster through another earthquake in 1645 reduced the cathedral to rubble. Reconstruction work immediately began by then
Archbishop Miguel de Poblete. Reconstruction was completed in 1671. This sturdier structure made by Archbishop Poblete stood for almost a hundred years but crumbled in another strong earthquake which hit Manila on June 3, 1863. The ruined Cathedral remained unreconstructed for nine years until 1872 when funds were made available for its restoration.
Another edifice of stone and mortar rose on the site of the old Cathedral and was blessed in December 1879. The structure this time availed of the architectural talents of Luciano Oliver, Vicente Serrano Olaveria and Eduardo Lopez Navarro. The following year, 1880, another earthquake damaged the cathedral but was quickly repaired. In the Battle of Manila in February 1945, the cathedral with a Byzantine influence was totally destroyed.
In 1945-58 a new cathedral was build under the direction of Archbishop Rufino S. Santos with Fernando Ocampo as architect. This new cathedral retained the Byzantine lines. The cathedral has three arched doorways. The central door, carrying a frieze of eight panels, are reminiscent of St. Mark's in Venice. A main done dominates the grand structure.
The Cathedral was consecrated on December 8, 1958 and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The Virgin Mary's statue by Enzo Assenza is on the high altar. Its interior is divided into one main altar, or the high altar, and eight side altars. Beneath the main altar is a crypt where remains of Manila's venerable archbishops are entombed.
While much of the art objects were done by Italian artists, the stained glass windows are by the famous Filipino artist Galo Ocampo and the architecture by Fernando Ocampo. The Cathedral is essentially Romanesque in style but the contours of the original Renaissance-styled building were followed and some of the remaining walls incorporated in the structure. Fronting the Cathedral and part of its history is a square called Plaza Mayor by the Spaniards, renamed Plaza McKinley by the Americans. The square today has been named Plaza Roma as a reciprocal gesture after the City of Rome renamed one of its square Piazza Manila.