In 1578, the Franciscan friars established the first mission church outside the protection of Intramuros. It was named Sta. Ana in an effort to place under the patronage of Mary’s mother a former Tagalog kingdom settled in that area near the Pasig. Eventually, the friars decided in putting up a stone church and in 12 September 1720, the Archbishop of Manila, no less, Fray Francisco de la Cuesta, OSA, laid the corner stone. The stone church was completed in 1725 and has since gone through minor structural changes.
The church of Sta. Ana sits on a hill at the end of Plaza Calderon on what used to be the site of the burial ground of the former Tagalog Namayan kingdom. Built with adobe covered with rose-colored paletada, the stone church is one of only two churches in downtown Manila spared by the atrocities of the Second World War. It has been extended through the years but much of its interiors are still intact. Two side retablos have been removed but the elaborate churrigueresque main retablo, which features 12 niches for the images of the saints and Our Lady is still found where it has always been located for the past 300 years. Buried under the sanctuary is the heart of the Archbishop of Manila, Fray Pedro de la Santísima Trinidad Martinez y Arizala, OFM as well as the body of the dedicated priest Fray Vicente Inglés, OFM who brought the image of our Lady that would make the sleepy town famous throughout the archipelago. High above the transept is a captivating dome featuring 16 paintings of holy men and women as well as two balustered galleries.
At the other end of the church is the baptistery, located below the choir loft. It has been recently restored through the combined efforts of rich patrons such as Doña Imelda Ongsiako Cojuangco of the Cofradía de la Inmaculada Concepción as well as the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, the Cofradía de la Nstra. Sra. De los Desamparados, the Franciscan Friars of the Philippines and the Sta. Ana Parish Pastoral Council. The retablo found inside the baptistery now sports a pinkish hue and an original painting of the Baptism of Christ was restored and brought back to use. Unfortunately, in years passed, many assets of the church, such as its pulpit, side altars and other old and precious artifacts have been sold to finance faulty renovations that led further to the church’s deterioration. One such example was the forceful removal of the protective, natural paletada that exposed the adobe stones of the church. However, alarm flags have been raised and to this day, the many restoration and conservation projects aimed in keeping the integrity of Sta. Ana church are in place.
In the 1960s, excavations were conducted in its inner patio after children playing in the patio were seen holding shards of pottery and china, which would later affirm the historic past of the area and the important role it played in commerce conducted in that side of the Pasig. The artifacts are now in the National Museum.
The church of Sta. Ana, however, wouldn’t be made famous among Manileños and other Filipinos if it weren’t for an image of Our Lady, which it houses to this date. In 1717, aboard the galleon Sto. Cristo de Burgos, the image of Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Abandoned) arrived with Fray Vicente Inglés, OFM and was brought over to the parish church of Sta. Ana. Three years later, Governor General Francisco de la Cuesta, OSA, who was also Governor General during those years, presented a gold and crystal bastón de mando to Our Lady.
This beloved image of Our Lady of the Abandoned, which is a replica of the original one found in Valencia, Spain, is kept in what is reputedly the only Camarín de la Virgen in the Philippines. The camarín is literally a dressing room but what makes this dressing room unique is the priceless art and sheer uniqueness that identify it. Found behind the main retablo of the church, the camarín can be reached by devotees after climbing 20 wide granite steps where countless devotees, camareros and religious have passed to pay our Lady a visit in her chamber. Before entering the room, the doorway to Mary’s room is guarded by painted images of Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Gabriel the Archangel.
The dressing-room is beautifully decorated with blue and white Chinese tiles decorating its floor and a wonderful ceiling painted with different images portraying scenes in the New Testament. These paintings are said to be as old as the church and have been restored lately through the efforts of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, cultural workers, concerned members of Sta. Ana parish and community as well as the Franciscan order. The walls too, which have gilded pilasters and cornices, have been restored. Even the lights inside the room are being replaced with lights that are energy efficient and harmless to the paintings.
However, the main feature of the camarín would be none other than Our Lady herself. Found on a raised pedestal, which is said to be from none other than the galleon Sto. Cristo de Burgos itself, the image of Nstra. Sra. De los Desamparados is kept in the urnacilla, a small octagonal compartment with glass walls through which the statue can be seen. From the urnacilla, her long hair cascades to the realm of the camarín where devotees kiss and venerate Our Lady of the Abandoned. Her face can be reflected to the camarín by two oval mirrors found inside the urnacilla. Guarding the image inside are carved reliefs of Saints Peter and Paul and traditional partners in mission, Saint Dominic of Guzman and Saint Francis of Assisi. On top of our Lady is the Holy Spirit spreading its light in silver rays. Above the urnacilla is a huge silver corona imperial crowning the store-room of Our Lady in much glory and grandiosity.
Indeed, these features of this unassuming church of Sta. Ana are a town’s and more importantly, a nation’s cultural treasures. From its historically significant location, to the findings in its patio, as well as the church’s age and unique camarín de la Virgen, the church of Sta. Ana is testament to the colorful history and heritage of the Filipino people, graced by many a beautiful buildings, rituals and legends that make our experience as a people unique and worth being proud of.
*I toured Sta. Ana with my classmates in sociology and anthropology class for our requirements. The lovely and accommodating Ma’am Sylvia Lichauco did us the honors of introducing us to the beauty and potential of Santa Ana as a historic town. She leads the Lola Grande Foundation and is a member of what is Santa Ana’s considered royal family, the Lichaucos.
Historical details taken from:
Laya, Jaime C. The Queen’s Dressing Room, Manila’s Hidden Treasure . “Bayang Santa Ana, Naglalakbay sa Patnubay ng Birhen Maria at San Francisco: 2008 Fiesta Souvenir Program.” Manila: 2008