The walled city of Intramuros is one destination that never fails to amaze me. Its rich history and dramatic landscape, against the Manila’s cityscape, is enough to get me into wanting to visit and discover it more and more. Ironically, I haven’t had the chance to discover it during the time when I had to render internship hours when I was with the Department of Labor and Employment that finds it home within its walls. It took me more than a decade to really appreciate the old city of Manila.
But did you know that Intramuros was once the home of 7 great churches in the Philippines?
Yes, there were 7 churches within its walls and as fate would have had it, six of these churches were destroyed during the Japanese Occupation and during the liberation of Manila. The aftermath of the war only gave way to the re-construction and restoration of two of these churches while one is currently in the process of reconstruction.
I had the opportunity to walk around Intramuros and do my own "Visita Iglesia" by searching for the actual sites where these 7 Intramuros churches once stood.
San Francisco Church and Convent
Entering from Anda Street, I turned left on Muralla Street. I had no idea as to the exact location of all the seven churches except for San Agustin Church and the Manila Cathedral, with both still standing to this day. What I had with me was the names of these churches and a little information as to what building or institution is occupying the land where these churches once stood.
I headed for the Mapua Institute of Technology.
The present location of Mapua was once the site of a church that was marvelled for its retablo-like façade – the San Francisco Church and Convent. The last church structure standing was the third structure built by the Franciscans and it boasts of columns, niches, and statues. Too bad though that after it got destroyed during World War 2, the church remained in ruins until it was acquired by Mapua Institute of Technology.
Within the old church’s compound is a chapel known as the Chapel of the Franciscan Venerable Third Order. It was established in 1611 and the first set of structures were damaged by earthquakes. It was later on rebuilt in the same style as its mother church but was destroyed in 1945.
A few blocks away from Mapua Institute of Technology is the Manila Bulletin Building. The building is probably one of the current icons of the Walled City and, with the exception of historical markers, there are no trace that the Recoletos Church once occupied this parcel of land.
The Recoletos Church was a church dedicated to San Nicolas de Tolentino. The church served as the Recoletos home for its missions in the Philippines, China, Japan, and Marianas Island. It had gone through a number of renovation and reconstruction and it is known for its beautiful four-storey belfry and its magnificent interiors.
It was damaged during the liberation of Manila, forcing the Recoletos to move to the San Sebastian Church in Quiapo. The church remained in ruins until its rubbles were cleared in 1959.
From its rubbles rose the Manila Bulletin Building.
San Agustin Church
The San Agustin Church was the only church that was left standing among the 7 Intramuros Churches after World War 2. It was said to have been spared from the severe bombing because its bell tower was marked with a Red Cross. It is considered a war crime to bomb a building or structure that was marked with a Red Cross. Hence, the church was the only structure left standing in Intramuros after the liberation of Manila.
The current church structure of San Agustin was completed in 1607 and was the third structure built. It served as a concentration camp by the Japanese Forces. It later served as a refuge for thousands of Filipinos during the final days of the Japanese Occupation. The aftermath of World War 2 had the church roof damaged and flattening the adjacent monastery. The main church remained to be the only structure standing after the liberation of Manila.
The San Agustin Church prides itself with medieval design that is reflective of Spanish grand culture. Its massive structure and grand interiors are highlighted by chandeliers from Paris, three dimensional carvings, and a baroque pulpit. The convent was rebuilt in the 1970s under the direction of Angel Nakpil and now houses a museum.
The San Agustin Church is under the “Baroque Churches of the Philippines” under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
San Ignacio Church
A few blocks from San Agustin Church are the remains of the San Ignacio Church that is undergoing reconstruction. It is going to be the site of the future Museo de Intramuros that will house the eccelesiastical collection of Intramuros.
San Ignacio Church stands out among the seven churches because it was designed by the first Filipino architect, Felix Roxas. It stands out because of its two towers. The interiors were designed and executed by Filipino sculptor Isabelo Tampinco and his students.
After it was destroyed during World War 2, it has remained in ruins until recently when efforts to reconstruct the church to serve as a museum. The church undergoing reconstruction was built on the second site.
The first site where the first church was built is where the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila now stands.
The Manila Cathedral was originally known as “Church of Manila”. It was first established in 1566 and the present church structure was finished in 1958.
The Manila Cathedral is the seat of power of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines and is dedicated to the principal patroness saint of the Philippines – the Immaculate Concepcion. More than just a religious sanctuary, it has also seen Philippine history unfold.
Interestingly, the cross above the dome was once the zero kilometer mark of the country before it was moved to Rizal Park. The church was also tower-less from 1880 when an earthquake toppled its towers until its post-war restoration in 1958.
The church was reduced to rubbles during the liberation of Manila and went through restoration from 1954 to 1958 under the supervision of Cardinal Santos and Filipino Architect Fernando Ocampo. At present, the Manila Cathedral stands in all magnificence that showcases the influence of religion in the country.
Santo Domingo Church and Convent
Known for its ivory image of the Virgin of La Naval, the Santo Domingo Church was the first casualty of the Japanese Occupation after the church and the monastery was bombed by the Japanese in 1941. The church that was bombed by the Japanese, was the fifth church to be constructed on the original site.
After the destruction of the church, the images and sacred vestments were all moved to UST for its safekeep. The post-war had seen the movement of the church to a new site in Quezon City where the Dominicans built one of the largest churches in Metro Manila and in Asia.
The previous site that the church occupied within Intramuros was later acquired by the Bank of the Philippine Island to which their building now stands.
Lourdes Church and Convent
The old site of Lourdes Church was the one that I struggled to find as I was not aware as to its original site. I had to ask around and I was lucky enough to ask trisikad driver who directed me to the Silahis Antique Shop, the present occupant of the Lourdes Church grounds.
Lourdes Church first opened its doors in May 1892. It went through renovation that eventually led to a better and bigger structure that opened its doors in 1910. The church is known for its image of the Our Lady of Lourdes. However, the World War 2 reduced the church into ruins.
Despite of the permission granted to the Capuchins to rebuild the church in its original location, they opted to transfer the church to Retiro in Quezon City.
Post Travel Notes:
Prior to the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, I could imagine the beauty of the Walled City of Intramuros. It seemed that it had the air of romance and sophistication that we could probably find in most of Europe. It was also a showcase on how religion played an important role in the development and history of the country. Imagine having seven grand churches within that small area of land within the walls of Intramuros. The religious wouldn’t have any reason not to be able to do the Visita Iglesia having all churches within walking distance to each other.
Sadly, World War 2, not only claimed many innocent lives in the Philippines, but also changed the landscape of Intramuros.
Reading through the history of these churches and some anecdotes on World War 2, particularly the Liberation of Manila, I get the impression that the post-war government focused on trade and commerce in the rebuilding of Intramuros and Manila that gave way to the granting of land for the development of industries. In the process, they have missed out on the rebuilding of these rich cultural heritage that could have given the present and future generations a glimpse of how beautiful and magnificent our culture and history.
I would have preferred walking inside the Walled City of Intramuros while getting awed by the views of its seven grand churches rather than searching for the signs that would tell me that one of the churches once stood there.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.