Remembering Pre-War Santo Domingo: A Beautiful Church

Santo Domingo Church of Pre-War Intramuros was a structure that symbolizes all the institutions (religious orders, businesses, schools, government agencies, etc.) that decided to leave the Old City for good after the traumatic experience of the war. It is a reminder and symbol of Intramuros’ once centuries-famed glory, which was instantly reduced to rubble in only a couple of days.

Santo Domingo Church was the Mother Church of the Dominican Order in the Philippines. At the time of its destruction, it was actually already the fifth Santo Domingo church with the four preceding churches destroyed either by fire or earthquake. Being the shrine of the revered and beloved image of Nuestra Señora del Santissimo Rosario de La Naval de Manila, it was a shrine that was a favorite of Manila’s devout and also the muse of many artists, historians and writers, the most famous being National Artist Nick Joaquin, an avid devotee of La Naval and the Church of Sto. Domingo.

Built in the Neogothic tradition by the famous architect Felix Roxas y Arroyo, the fifth Sto. Domingo began construction in 1864 and was completed in 1868 (Torres, 51, 2005). Its dramatic façade was the subject of many reviews precisely because of its grandeur and magnificence. Supported by two rectangular bell towers towers, the main façade boasted of arched, Gothic windows and several niches, one of which, housed the very first wooden image of Our Lady brought by the Dominicans from Mexico in 1587 (Torres, 52, 2005). Accentuated by lancet windows and tracery, the facade achieved a distinctly Gothic aura that was also well-reflected in the church’s amazing interiors.

Inside the spacious church, one would have noticed the black-and-white tile flooring of the church and the spiraling columns of the church. The materials used for the columns were “carved from molave, acle and ipil wood. The vaults were made of zinc and galvanized iron with batikuling moldings.” (Torres, 51, 2005) The ceiling was also ribbed just like any Gothic cathedral from Europe. Ribbed ceilings, in effect, give off a webbed ceiling with intricate designs and dramatic pointed arches. Such a design gives off an impression that the entire congregation was being lifted up to the heavens. The church also boasted the biggest crystal chandeliers imported from Europe among all the churches of Intramuros(ibid.). Many of its carved wood features were done by the celebrated Isabelo Tampingco and his atelier.

There was also the eye-catching pulpit of Sto. Domingo. A jewel on its own, it was an elongated Gothic pulpit with fine details intricately carved on its surface. Around the surface of the stairs leading to the pulpit, small panels featuring saints were carved. The pulpit was topped with a pointed canopy, which was embellished with Gothic motifs. Adorning the pulpit above the canopy was a small niche that housed a saint. Pattered after the pulpit of St. Stephen’s Cathedral from Vienna, Austria, the design of the pulpit was supervised by Fray Joaquín Sabater, OP, a professor of Fine Arts from the Universidad de Sto. Tomás (ibid.)

But of course, nothing would be more impressive in any church than its main retablo. Likewise, Sto. Domingo’s large main altar didn’t fail to impress and vivify the congregation. The main altar would boast of thousands of lit candles during solemn rites and was really a treat to see. There were four niches inside the Gothic retablo: one in the center, one at its left, another at its right and one on top of the central niche. The saints that occupy these niches would usually be interchanged. The main altar was wide but also dramatic in its slope ascending to the ceilings. Accentuated with pointed details and arches, it was the gem of the church. The main retablo of Sto. Domingo was also said to have most number of gold and silver ornaments among all of Intramuros’ churches (ibid.).

Unfortunately, Sto. Domingo Church was the very first casualty of Intramuros during the Second World War. It was reduced to rubble in 1941 after being a direct hit of Japanese bombs when the new invaders came just days after they bombed Pearl Harbor. Luckily, the miraculous and beloved of Nuestra Señora del Santissimo Rosario was spared because it had been kept in the church’s vault. Throughout the Japanese occupation and even after, only the outer walls and a part of the façade was left standing, all of its interiors gone forever. In 1954, a new Sto. Domingo was built in Quezon Avenue in Quezon City and since then, the feast of La Naval has been celebrated there. On the other hand, the Dominicans sold the Intramuros property to the Philippine American Insurance Company in 1946. Afterwards, it was sold to the Far East Bank and Trust Company. Nowadays, a Bank of the Philippine Islands branch occupies what was once the beautiful church of Sto. Domingo.

Along with other institutions, Sto. Domingo has left Intramuros, selling its original plot of land to different companies. Since the departure of these institutions, various structures have been built that do not reflect the original structures that once stood there. Likewise, after the War, countless immigrants and settlers decided to settle in the abandoned palaces, churches and mansions of Intramuros. It then became apparent, only in the 1960s, that there was an urgent need not only to restore Intramuros but to maintain it. Thus, the Intramuros Adminstration was born.

Reference Material: Torres, Victor. 2005. Cuidad Murada. Quezon City: Vibal


About hechoayer

Things made yesterday still influence us until today. Things made today will influence us tomorrow. Things of the essence such as faith, culture, food, music and values should never disappear nor eroded by the times. Instead, these must be recorded, lived and shared. Something made yesterday - hecho ayer - can be tomorrow's saving grace. Never ignore the past.
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7 Responses to Remembering Pre-War Santo Domingo: A Beautiful Church

  1. Eds Jimenea says:

    i hope the original church of sto domingo be rebuild in intramuros together its original design and interiors. also i pray to bring back all churches that was lost in intramuros. intramuros is the true culture of filipinos and we must rebuild all buildings lost in this filipino magnificent city.

  2. Fortunato Nolasco Grandeza III says:

    do you know anything about the “Otton church” or “Oton” in one of the Visayas islands, i read something about it before, i cant remember where, it says there that it was once the most beautiful..

  3. jose says:

    Respecto a la restauración de Intramuros, yo creo que ustedes deberían pedir ayuda a Alemania. Como ustedes, Alemania sufrió una guerra de aniquilación. Ciudades enteras han sido reconstruidas.
    Para ver de lo que son capaces de hacer los alemanes, vean como restauraron hace muy pocos años la catedral de Santa María de Dresde.
    Además los alemanes tienen mucho dinero y se lo pueden permitir.
    Para Filipinas podría ser también una oportunidad para captar turismo alemán. Como los alemanes perdieron sus colonias -que de todas formas eran nuevas-, no están identificados realmente con ningún país.

  4. Reblogged this on Catholic Aesthetics and commented:
    A beautiful church. Gone forever.

  5. Pingback: Miracles of La Naval II: A Boy Brought Back To Life! | Catholic Aesthetics

  6. Pingback: Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila |

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