The Resilient Cathedral of Manila

My first introduction to Intramuros was the COMELEC. We used to visit an aunt who used to work there.  After the COMELEC, next  was the church adjacent to it, which I did not know at the time  was the Manila Cathedral.  But it would be a couple of years before  I would appreciate the history and beauty of the place.

The interior of the cathedral is rather plain with the exception of the side chapels which has mosaics and other religious works of art. This is the only church in the country that I know of that is fully air conditioned.  Like San Agustin, it is also popular church for weddings. Some say it takes about a year to have the San Agustin church reserved for weddings and apparently, its more or less the same with the cathedral.

A few days before holy week of this year, it was mentioned in the news that the Manila Cathedral would be closed for structural repairs. Apparently besides the safety issue and its maintenance, the ground on which it stands needs to be stabilized as it was reported that the cathedral was sinking.  It would be closed for a year and the church that would act as a cathedral during this time would be San Fernando de Dilao Parish also known as Paco church.

"The Manila Metropolitan Cathedral was solemnly consecrated on December 7, 1958 before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a tribute to Our Lady under whose guidance and patronage the Cathedral of Manila was able to reign as queen of the Walled City , refuge of Manila ’s denizens, and symbolic seat of the Catholic Church in Manila ." from

The post war rebuilt Manila Cathedral by Fernando Ocampo. The photo must have been probably taken less than a decade after the cathedral was rebuilt since the dome still looks new and has not acquired any patina yet.

Noted Philippine architect Fernando Ocampo was behind the rebuilding of the Manila Cathedral after the war

The present cathedral's exterior although being similar to the previous pre-war one, has a modern looking bell tower and a more slender (I prefer this one) dome.

Interior of the cathedral

The Manila Cathedral is the seat of the Catholic church in the country. It is the premiere church. A Papal Bull was issued by Pope Gregory XIII establishing the diocese of Manila in 1579. On August 14, 1595, Pope Clement VIII elevated it into an archdiocese with 3 dioceses suffragan to  Manila. These are Nueva Caceres (Bicol etc.), Nueva Segovia (Cagayan, Ilocos etc.), Cebu.  Jaro  was also made into a diocese but  only in 1865.

La Purisima Inmaculada Concepcion de Nuestra Senora, patroness of the cathedral

Interestingly, the first bishop of Manila was the Dominican Domingo de Salazar who came together with the Jesuit rector, Antonio Sedeño in the country in 1580. Bishop Salazar was said to have scouted the banks of the Pasig river to look for building materials and it was Father Sedeño who initiated building in stone.

The cathedral of 1858 before being destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1863. This neoclassical design was probably the one that was referred as being made by Nicolas Valdes.

This was what replaced the (previous photo above) cathedral that was destroyed in the earthquake of 1863. After a few years later, it was replaced with the one above in 1879. It will stand for about 60 years before being destroyed by war.

The interior of the pre-war Manila Cathedral

The pre-war cathedral had a painted interior

The Manila Cathedral is probably the most resilient structure in the country. It has been destroyed by fire, typhoons, earthquakes and the last one, by war. Only to be re-built each time on the same spot. There were 7 churches in Intramuros and it was only San Agustin that escaped destruction and the cathedral was the only church that was re-built on its former site.

Ruins of the Manila Cathedral after the Battle of Manila (courtesy of an on-line auction site)

Some of the residents of Manila protested the demolition of the remaining walls of the cathedral (courtesy of JT Pilot)

This almost did not happen since the religious orders who had their churches and provincial houses in Intramuros destroyed by the war, instead of rebuilding them, moved out of the walled city to build in other areas such as in Quezon City. Manila ’s clergy also wanted to do the same thing.   Even   Archbishop Michael J. O’Doherty and Archbishop Gabriel Reyes considered the idea of transferring   to Mandaluyong.  And if that had pushed through, it would be one of those misnamed or misplaced places in Metro Manila where the Manila Cathedral despite its name, would have been located in another municipality or city.

Fortunately and thankfully, through the efforts of Archbishop Rufino Santos, the cathedral was to be rebuilt on its former site. It would be difficult to imagine Manila and Intramuros today not having the cathedral.


Powered by Cincopa WordPress plugin

One of the important events that the Catholic church hosted in the country was the 1937 International Eucharistic Congress. Shown is a (stamp) souvenir card with the stamped/embossed image of the Manila Cathedral that was struck from the original die of the official medal issued to commemorate the event.

Powered by Cincopa WordPress plugin

A rare view of the back of the cathedral and a section of Intramuros. To the right side of the photo can be seen the neo-gothic church of Santo Domingo with its square dome. Photo courtesy of Time Inc./LIFE

Manila has had 32 Archbishops. Among them are:

Domingo de Salazar, O.P. (1581-1594) – Manila’s first bishop

Ignacio de Santibañez, O.F.M. (1596-1598) – Manila’s first archbishop when it was made into an archdiocese.

Miguel de Benavides, O.P. (1603-1605) – responsible from establishing the University of Santo Tomas. 

Francisco de la Cuesta, O.S.A. (1707-1722) – was archbishop when Governor General Bustamente was assasinated. Acted as gov. gen. for about 2 years after the assassination of Bustamente.

Manuel Antonio Rojo del Rio (1758-1764) – was archbishop when the British invaded and sieged Manila. Surrendered Manila to them.

Gregorio Meliton Martinez (1862-1875) – was archbishop during the Cavite mutiny of 1872 

Bernardino Nozaleda, O.P. (1889-1902) – archbishop during the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine – American War. He was the last Spanish archbishop of  Manila.

Jeremias Harty (1903-1916) – first American archbishop of Manila.

Michael J. O’Doherty (1916-1949) – archbishop during the war and the Japanese Occupation of the country.  

Gabriel M. Reyes (1949-1952) – the first Filipino archbishop of Manila and of Cebu.

Rufino J. Cardinal Santos (1953-1973) – archbishop of Manila and the first Filipino cardinal. He was responsible in having the Manila Cathedral reconstructed and on its former site. 

Jaime L. Cardinal Sin (1974-2003) – probably the most well know archbishop of Manila in recent memory.  Instrumental and considered one of the leaders of  the 1986 EDSA Revolution. 


Powered by Cincopa WordPress plugin

Souvenir folder to commemorate the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1970

The Manila Cathedral was also visited by two popes. Pope Paul VI in 1970 and Pope John Paul II in 1981.

I remember one of the biggest religious event in the country was the beatification of Lorenzo Ruiz  (now declared a saint) by Pope John Paul II when he visited the country in February 1981. Fortunately I was brought along to see this momentous event.

The cathedral became a a minor basilica through Pope John Paul II as stated here: “The Manila Cathedral is the only church in the country to become a minor basilica through the Holy Father’s  own motion—motu propio—a personal decision that came without any prompting from any other source.” from

The front doors or portals of the cathedral are bronze and the main door tells the history of this very important Philippine church.


Powered by Cincopa WordPress plugin


I'm not sure as to what was the structure to the right of the cathedral. Whether it was a house or functioned as an office. But the lower ground floor seemed to have survived the war. COMELEC will make this their office for a number of years until it burned down a few years ago. If one clicks on the photo, one can see the name of the street being Postigo. This leads to the small Intramuros gate with the same name.

The burnt out remains of the COMELEC office. Sections of the walls on the ground floor are thick. Possibly adobe and remnants of the previous structure that used to stand here and was destroyed during the war. Currently, the site is a parking lot.

















Resources and links:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>