The Church of Santo Domingo
When I first saw this photo of Sto. Domingo at the American Historical Collection at the now very lonely Old Rizal Library, I was completely taken aback.I kept asking myself (as well as the lovely assistants there) if this church was really in the Philippines. I can’t help but grapple with the simple answer to my question: Yes, it used to be in Manila.
For four centuries, the church of Sto. Domingo stood inside the walled city of Intramuros. Four preceding churches were built on its site, all destroyed by either natural calamities or fire. The last church builty was designed by Don Felix Rojas/Roxas, Sr. and was inaugurated in 1868. It was a beautiful church in the neo-gothic style and was the toast of the Dominicans in the Far East.
As the Mother Church of the Dominican religious corporation, which had extensive land holdings that included Laguna, Pangasinan, Ilocos and Batanes as well as a shipyard in Hong Kong, it was a grand display of the power of the Order. It had soaring pillars inside and the two towers that flank the church give on-lookers a certain chill. I myself, looking at the photo, felt intimidated by the sheer “pointiness” of the structure.
Inside, the congregation would be overwhelmed by the gothic interiors. The church was reputedly one of the biggest inside the walled city and had large gothic-inspired furnishings. The retablos were gilded and were a sight to behold.
However, if there was one retablo most visited in the old Sto. Domingo, it would have been the retablo that kept the ivory image of Nuestra Señora del Santissimo Rosaro de la Naval de Manila. Carved in 1593 and given by Gobernador General Luis Dasmariñas, the image became an iconic statue of Our Lady when it was believed to have interceded for the Spanish and Filipino defenders against the heavily armed Dutch invaders of the 1600s.
The church, however, became the very first victim of the war, being bombed out by the Japanese in December of 1941, only days after Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, the image of La Naval was kept in a safe and was carefully transported by the Dominicans to their univerisity, the University of Sto. Tomas located outside Intramuros.
Today, Sto. Domingo is located along Quezon Blvd, a humongous structure that doesn’t give any trace of the old Sto. Domingo. To this day though, devotees as well as tourists can still look forward to what used to be Manila’s most celebrated and anticipated, alta sociedad fiesta, the feast of La Naval, held every First Sunday of October.