Born within the walls: University of Santo Tomas in Intramuros

The year 2011 marks the quadricentennary of the Philippines’ oldest university continuously in existence: the University of Santo Tomas. Throughout its history, it has truly come a long way to become one of the country’s leading educational institutions.

But this journey would not have been possible in the first place had it not been in the will of Manila’s 3rd Archbishop Miguel de Benavides that he would bequeath his library and property for the establishment of an educational institution. It would be 6 years after his death in 1605, that this dream was fully realized with the founding of what was then known as the Colegio Seminario de Santo Tomas del Nuestro Señora del Santo Rosario dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Miguel de Benavides

Benavides, who himself is from the Dominican Order, wanted the school to be located near the Dominican church and convent that is to be the Sto. Domingo Church and Convent which was located at the time within the walls of Old Manila AKA Intramuros. The seminary college would thrive to become a university in 1645, and for almost 300 years, the university would oversee a growing student population and opening new degrees of learning.

the old UST campus in Intramuros

Right across the campus, the Dominicans built a sprawling plaza aptly named Plaza Santo Tomas with its centerpiece landmark added soon after: the monument of Fr. Benavides that was erected in 1889.

Plaza Santo Tomas in the 19th century; UST is located on the left of the photo with Santo Domingo Church in the background

By the time of the university’s tricentennial, it was clear that UST’s Intramuros campus could no longer meet its growing needs. A decision was made to move to a bigger campus up north to what was then a hilly terrain in Manila’s Sampaloc district called Sulucan Hills. In 1927, the Sampaloc campus was opened with most of the university’s population and programs making the move there. Only the classes in Civil Law and Medicine would remain in Intramuros.

It would be the destruction brought about by World War II in the Philippines that would put an end to presence of UST in Intramuros as the bombs destroyed the historic campus into rubble as with most of Intramuros. The Dominicans never bothered to have the Intramuros campus rebuilt. Instead, they decided to rebuild some of these relics to be transferred to the Sampaloc site: namely, the Benavides monument and the old campus’ arched entrance that would later be known as the Arch of the Centuries.

Intramuros mostly in ruins after World War II; the old UST campus there was not spared

Today, an office building belonging to a controversial bank now stands where the old University of Santo Tomas once stood. It is unfortunate that no visible marker can be seen to let people know about the history there. Don’t even get me started on the inappropriateness of the architecture of the building there.

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BF Condominium Bldg. now standing at the site of the old UST

While Plaza Santo Tomas looks a bit good now with renovation being done there in recent years, it is even in a worse shape as now this once quaint open space in this part of the walled city is now being obscured by vehicles and food stalls which ruin the view.

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But at the very least, it is a nice touch to see a replica of the Benavides monument in Plaza Santo Tomas to serve as a marker of sorts that will remind generations that a history that is continously being told for 400 years and beyond began to unravel in that very spot.

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replica of the Benavides Monument at the present Plaza Santo Tomas

Acknowledgements to Wikipedia and the book Ciudad Murada by Jose Victor Torres, a copy of which you can get through the Intramuros Admistration.

© The Urban Roamer

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