Walking along Mendiola may seem quite odd for many strangers to the area. I mean, it really isn’t known for anything except that a couple of schools are located along the said street leading to Malacañang Palace (the Presidential Palace) and that it used to be the place to hold rallies and riots. Filled with students on weekdays, it’s a pretty sleepy street on weekends and holidays. However, many fail to realize that a gem has been silently standing along the historic street – the Abbey of Our Lady of Monteserrat.
Dedicated to the Black Madonna of Montserrat, Spain, the San Beda church is the mother church of the Benedictine monks in the Philippines. Completed in 1925 by the Swedish architect George Asp, this school chapel also serves as a shrine in honor of the beloved Sto. Niño de Praga whom the students of San Beda college are taught to have a devotion to. The chapel’s ceilings are filled with painted scenes from the Bible completed by the Spanish Benedictine monk Bro. Lesmes Lopez, OSB. He was also assisted by Bro. Salvador Alberich, OSB.
As one enters the quaint college abbey, one’s attention is immediately caught upon seeing the striking and magnificent painting of the Apotheosis of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the crowning feature of the sanctuary.
Although lilliputian as compared to the great Gothic abbeys of Europe, this neo-Gothic college chapel is an irresistible house of worship because of its charm and the warmth the emanates from its stunning sanctuary. As one enters, the painted biblical scenes surrounding church and the statues of angels holding lamps seemingly lead the visitor closer and closer into the sanctuary. And alas, upon reaching the altar area, there is nothing else to do but to allow one’s self to be beholden by the marvelous retablo and painted apse, tastefully decorated with gold paint and neo-Gothic details.
It is for me a one-of-a-kind structure here in Metro Manila, its originality and mystique adding a divine flavor to a secular, not to mention, drab street. We should be so thankful it was spared the horrors of war, lucky to have survived the “Liberation” unlike the many beautiful churches found in Intramuros.
San Beda Abbey is one of the few structures left in the area that testify to San Miguel’s once-fabled glamor as Manila’s “millionaires’ row”. Indeed, behind the small iron fence and unassuming, in fact, deceiving, facade of the church lies the Benedictine monks’ perhaps greatest contribution to Philippine cultural heritage and architectural tradition.
This church was hecho ayer.