Bell tower and dome of the Manila Cathedral.

The Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, informally known as the Manila Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic basilica located within the walled city of Intramuros in Manila.  The cathedral serves as the seat of the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila, currently Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the de facto Primate of the Philippines. The cathedral was originally a parish church owned and governed by the diocese of Mexico in 1571, until it became a separate diocese on February 6, 1579 upon the issuance of a Papal bull Illius Fulti Praesido by Pope Gregory XIII.

The cathedral originally started as the Church of Manila and was officially established in 1571 by a secular priest, Padre Juan de Vivero, who arrived in Manila Bay in 1566. De Vivero, the chaplain on the galleon of San Geronimo, was sent by the Archbishop of Mexico, Alonso de Montúfar, to establish Christianity as the spiritual and religious administration in newly colonized Philippines. De Vivero later became the vicar-general and the first ecclesiastical judge of the city of Manila. Spanish Conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi chose the location of the church and placed it under the patronage of Santa Potenciana. The first parish priest of the church was Padre Juan de Villanueva.

Bronze statue of Carlos IV of Spain erected in 1824 as a tribute for his introduction of smallpox vaccine in Philippines; bell tower and portion of facade of Manila Cathedral in background.

When the church was raised to a cathedral in 1579, a new structure made from nipa, wood and bamboo was constructed in 1581 by Bishop Domingo de Salazar, the first Bishop of Manila. The new structure was consecrated on December 21, 1581, formally becoming a cathedral. The structure was destroyed by fire in 1583, which started during the funeral Mass for Governor-General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa in San Agustin Church that razed much of the city.

The second cathedral, which was made of stone built in 1592, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1600. Construction of the third cathedral consisting of three naves and seven chapels, was started and blessed in 1614. It was toppled by another earthquake which shook Manila in 1645. The fourth cathedral was constructed from 1654 to 1671 and was severely damaged in 1863 by a very strong earthquake that also damaged the palace of the Governor General of the Philippines. In 1880, another earthquake toppled its bell tower, rendering the cathedral towerless until 1958. The seventh cathedral was constructed from 1870 to 1879. It was solemnly blessed in December 1879. The cross atop the central dome is a reference point of astronomical longitudes of the archipelago.

Plaza de Roma with the bell tower and dome of the Manila Cathedral. After renaming it Plaza McKinley after U.S. president in 1901, it was renamed again in 1961 Plaza de Roma to honor the sacred college of Cardinals in Rome after the elevation of 1st Philippine Cardinal Rufino J. Santos.

In 1937, the International Eucharistic Congress was held in the Philippines in which the cathedral played an integral part in promoting eucharistic beliefs. Both a cathedral stamp and medal was struck in commemoration of the event and was made by the official manufacturer of medals for the Congress of the Philippines at the time, the sculptor Crispulo Zamora. Alas, the cathedral was again destroyed, reduced to rubble by the bombing in 1945 during the Battle of Manila.

The present cathedral was constructed from 1954 to 1958 during the tenure of Cardinal Rufino Jiao Santos and under the supervision of the notable Filipino architect Fernando H. Ocampo. Pope Paul VI made an apostolic visit and celebrated Mass in the cathedral in 1970. Pope John Paul II issued a papal bull Quod Ipsum on April 27, 1981, elevating the shrine to a minor basilica through his own Motu Proprio. In the same papal bull, he reiterated that the Pope Paul VI’s papal decree of June 6, 1968 be eternally preserved and enforced to the merits and titles of the cathedral as its own basilica.

Sculptured doors depicting the various episodes in the history of the Manila Cathedral opens to the Plaza de Roma with the bronze statue of Carlos IV of Spain.

The cathedral’s 50th restoration anniversary was celebrated in 2008, highlighted by the second Manila Cathedral Pipe Organ Festival from December 2 to 10, organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

Inside the nave and under the dome of the Manila Cathedral.

In February 2011, the Archdiocese of Manila relocated the bells of the cathedral to the ground level to prevent tower collapse as exhibited in the past earthquakes. In January 2012, the cathedral replaced the bells, personally cast by blacksmith Friedrich Wilhelm Schilling of Heidelberg Germany in 1958. According to the new marker installed by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, the newly installed bells are the largest bells actively used in the Philippines. A total of seven Carillon bells were permanently installed in the ground level of the belfry weighing at 17 metric tons.

The cathedral underwent repairs for earthquake retrofitting and subsidence prevention in 2012. During this time, the San Fernando de Dilao Church was designated as the temporary official church of the Archdiocese of Manila. Cathedral officials estimated that the Manila Cathedral would reopen by February 2014. However, Msgr. Nestor Cerbo stated that the Cathedral will do so on March 25, 2014 with some added features and changes including installation of CCTV cameras, improved audio-video systems, and improved interior and exterior lighting.

The facade of the Manila Cathedral in the walled city of Intramuros.

Until next time!

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