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Manila Cathedral: Romanesque Architecture

Angelo is an active church volunteer and is fascinated by church architecture, especially old architectural churches in the Philippines.

The present structure of the Manila Cathedral (Photo by the author)

The present structure of the Manila Cathedral (Photo by the author)

The Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, known more simply as the Manila Cathedral, is known as the "Mother Church of the Philippines".

Situated within the Walled City of Intramuros, The Cathedral has been standing there since the Spanish era (from 1565 to 1898) until now. With various reconstructions due to destructions such as earthquakes and World War 2.

It is known as the "Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception" as it is dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the Patroness of the Philippines.

It is also the Seat of the Archdiocese of Manila.


History

The First Structure was built in 1581 using wood, nipa branches, and bamboo, materials which were locally found in the islands. Unfortunately, it was made using fragile, combustible materials, so it was destroyed by a fire in 1583.

The Second Structure was built in 1592 using stone as material, which is stronger and fire-resistant than the last structure. But unfortunately, it was destroyed by an earthquake that occurred in 1600.

The Third Structure was built in 1614, and it features three naves and seven chapels. But it was again destroyed by another earthquake in 1645.

It was rebuilt again, but still it was destroyed again by another earthquake that happened in 1863.

The Cathedral before being destroyed by the 1880 earthquake (Photo credit: Nostalgia Filipinas)

The Cathedral before being destroyed by the 1880 earthquake (Photo credit: Nostalgia Filipinas)

After it was rebuilt, it was again destroyed by the destructive 1880 earthquake that ravaged the majority of Luzon.

The ruins of the Cathedral in World War 2, notice that only the outer shell and façade were left (Photo Credit: Nostalgia Filipinas)

The ruins of the Cathedral in World War 2, notice that only the outer shell and façade were left (Photo Credit: Nostalgia Filipinas)

During World War 2, it was again destroyed but this time by bombs and artillery from the Japanese forces when they invaded Manila. The entire city was gravely brought to ruins, nearly all historical and cultural structures have been destroyed, it was like a living hell during those times.

Only the outer shell and the façade of the Cathedral have been spared and was left of the structure.

Present Structure:

The Eighth Structure is the present structure, built in 1958 under the supervision of Architect Fernando H. Ocampo. Today, the Cathedral is undergoing maintenance due to cracks brought by recent earthquakes and aging.


Romanesque Architecture

The Manila Cathedral is styled in Neo-Romanesque Architecture.

Romanesque Architecture is an architectural style originated in Medieval Europe. It prominently features semi-circular arches around the structure, whether exterior or interior.

It is actually unknown when exactly this architectural style came to use, but some sources say that it began between the 6th Century and 11th Century.

It combines the architectural features of ancient Roman and Byzantine structures.

Romanesque-styled buildings are not only limited to churches, but also apply to other medieval structures such as castles, homes, abbeys, and more.

The Romanesque Period was followed by the Romanesque Period.

Architectural features found in a Romanesque church (Illustration by the author)

Architectural features found in a Romanesque church (Illustration by the author)

The main feature that distinguishes Romanesque style from the other architectural styles is the semi-circular arches found on the ceilings, portals, vaults, doorways, and more.

The eastern end of a Romanesque Church is almost always semi-circular.

Romanesque church facades, generally to the west end of the building, are usually symmetrical, have a large central portal made significant by its moldings or porch, and an arrangement of arched-topped windows.


Façade of the Manila Cathedral, notice the semi-circular arches and the 5-tiered (center) and 3-tiered (sides) archivolts (Photo by the author)

Façade of the Manila Cathedral, notice the semi-circular arches and the 5-tiered (center) and 3-tiered (sides) archivolts (Photo by the author)

The opening of the portal may be arched, or may be set with lintel supporting a tympanum, generally carved with saints and Biblical characters. A lintel is a beam that is placed across the openings such as doors while a tympanum is a semi-circular decorative wall surface above the doorways in which figures of saints or other ornaments are carved.

In addition to that, there is a series of tiered arches known as "Archivolts" which also appear in semi-circular form, and they are ornamental bands that surround an arched opening. They can appear in multiple tiers and situated right above the tympanum as decorative feature.

Semi-circular arches on the ceilings of one of the side aisles of the Cathedral (Photo by the author)

Semi-circular arches on the ceilings of one of the side aisles of the Cathedral (Photo by the author)

More semi-circular arches at the interior of the Cathedral (Photo by the author)

More semi-circular arches at the interior of the Cathedral (Photo by the author)

The semi-circular arch feature is also found in the stained glass windows, the semi-circle is noticeable on top of each of those windows, whether large or small.

Notice the semi-circular arch on top of each stained glass window (Photo by the author)

Notice the semi-circular arch on top of each stained glass window (Photo by the author)

If you look closely on the details of the stained glass windows, you may recognize some Biblical figures or saints as these show either Biblical stories or the life of a saint.

It is rather interesting and fascinating to check out every detail, if you manage to pay attention to the message of each stained glass window.

You might be able to learn something from it and be amazed by the beauty of the work of the artist behind it.

This stained glass window located right on top of the altar depicts the Queenship of Mary (Photo by the author)

This stained glass window located right on top of the altar depicts the Queenship of Mary (Photo by the author)

At the exterior parts, the buttresses are the structures that are built to support the main structure and protect it from the lateral or sideways forces that may arise from the roof structures that might have lacking adequate bracing or support, as these may render the building fragile.

Romanesque structures have buttresses that generally have a flat square profile and do not necessarily project a great deal beyond the wall.


Its Impact to the Filipino People

Other than being the Seat of the Archdiocese of Manila, and being the Mother Church of the Philippines, there are other significances of this Cathedral and how it's special to the Filipino people.

One of these is being a symbol of resiliency that despite it being destructed by various calamities, it continues to be rebuilt by the hearts and helpful hands of the people even if it takes a long period of time, could be many months or even years to complete it.

Another one is that the cross on top of its dome and the top of the bell tower both act as lightning rods not just the structure itself but also to its surrounding buildings.

Dome of the Manila Cathedral (Photo by the author)

Dome of the Manila Cathedral (Photo by the author)

In addition to that, the Dome especially the cross on top, is illuminated at night to serve as guide to ships travelling at sea to the Port of Manila.

Lastly, the cathedral has stood the test of time despite most of the Spanish-era structures in Manila being destroyed by the war and calamities, and is lost forever. This proves that Filipinos can help in the preservation of heritage buildings, they just need to have the courage to make that move.

Image of Mary, The Immaculate Conception at the side of the Cathedral (Photo by the author)

Image of Mary, The Immaculate Conception at the side of the Cathedral (Photo by the author)

Being under the guidance of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the Patroness of the Philippine nation, the community is dedicated in preserving the faith despite attacks from haters, non-believers who tend to lure people away from the true meaning of being faithful as a Christian and as a Filipino as well. Which is fulfilling your mission for the Motherland, no matter what it takes, as long as you put your heart and soul onto it.

Note that Filipinos call their homeland, Motherland, as they are being dedicated to the Blessed Mother. It is because they give utmost importance to mothers, who care and nurture her children so that they would grow into faithful and better citizens of the country, and enlightened people as well.


Here's More to That

Sanctuary section which the altar section of the Manila Cathedral is located, as viewed from the choir loft (Photo by the author)

Sanctuary section which the altar section of the Manila Cathedral is located, as viewed from the choir loft (Photo by the author)

Aside from serving its purpose as a place of worship and heritage, it also served as host for various national events such as the funerals of its former archbishops and 2 former presidents (Carlos P. Garcia who died in 1971 and is a layman, and Corazon C. Aquino who died in 2009), majority if not all lied in state at the very cathedral.

Probably the most significant event that happened recently is for holding the Papal mass on 16 January 2015 which was led by His Holiness, Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines. This was the first of 3 Papal Masses, and was exclusively attended by the members of the clergy as well as lay people, nuns, and seminarians.


To Conclude

The brick walls of the Cathedral bore witness to the rich history of Manila as well as that of the "Walled City" of Intramuros. If only these walls could talk, it could tell stories never found in books or archival photos, we might be able to learn more of our past.

As the Manila Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Philippines, has stood the test of time for us to learn about what it has gone through all these years, just like our earthly mothers who have gone through different challenges in live in order for us to live a fruitful life, and to grow as Filipino Catholics from the impacts and lessons from these challenges so that we would be able to share them for the years to come.

As long as you are willing to visit and listen to the history behind those walls, and feel the presence of God, the doors of the Cathedral are always open to welcome the faithful.

The Manila Cathedral is open for pilgrimages especially for people, whether an individual or a group of friends or classmates, who are willing to go deeper into the faith and the solemn vibes of the centuries-old church.




For more information, visit the website: Manila Cathedral - Basilica

Or its Official Facebook page: The Manila Cathedral


The Manila Cathedral is located at: Beaterio St, Cabildo St, Intramuros, Manila, 1002 Metro Manila.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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