December is upon us once more. A time yet again for yuletide cheers, festive weddings, and everything else in between. To kick off this most anticipated month of the year, the Urban Roamer features today a Catholic church that is not only a favorite venue for masses (especially as simbang gabi is approaching) and weddings but has grown to become a prominent contemporary landmark in the metropolis in its own right, shaping the landscape, at least in the part of the city where it is located.
Today, let us explore and learn a bit more about that Catholic realm at the heart of upscale Makati, the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park.
The story of how Santuario de San Antonio came to be began during the postwar years. World War II and the Battle of Manila in particular practically reduced most of Manila’s Intramuros district to rubble, including the structures located in the Franciscan-owned complex located at the eastern part of Intramuros, right where the Mapua Institute of Technology campus is currently at. It destroyed the two churches in the complex: the San Francisco Church ran by the main order (First Order) of the Franciscans and the Chapel of the Venerable Third Order ran by the Franciscan Third Order. When the smoke cleared, the Franciscans opted not to rebuild the churches and moved elsewhere in their separate ways: the Third Order relocated to Sampaloc while the main Franciscan branch first settled up north at the Santuario de San Pedro Bautista in Quezon City, where the Philippine province of the Franciscan mission was established while looking at building a new church as well, dedicated to the prominent Franciscan and saint Anthony of Padua.
The opportunity came by the 1950s as the foundations and the plans were being drawn to redevelop the old grassland property of the Zobel de Ayalas in Makati into a premier district, with the area east of the highway we now call EDSA to be developed as an exclusive residential village. In July 1951, the Ayala Corporation donated about 2 hectares of land to the Franciscans for the construction of what would be a new Franciscan church, serving as the spiritual successor to the old San Francisco Church.
The church, built in the Californian Mission style, would be completed and blessed on December 8, 1953 and was given the name Santuario de San Antonio. Underscoring its status as San Francisco’s spiritual successor of sorts, a surviving relic from the old San Francisco Church were relocated here: the more than a century old statue of St. Anthony which used to be located in the patio of the old San Francisco Church, now relocated to the central plaza between the church and the multipurpose hall.
Then there are the contemporary gems that can be seen inside the church. Most notable among them are a pair of paintings located near the church entrance on opposite sides. One painting depicts the stigmata or the wounds of Christ received by St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order and the other is that of St. Francis and another preaching to the birds. Based on the paintings done in the 13th century by the Italian artist Giotto for the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, these paintings were actually done by a National Artist, the famed painter Fernando Amorsolo.
In 1975, the church was elevated to the status of a territorial parish by the Archdiocese of Manila, which means it now has a territorial jurisdiction of its own, which in this case would be the Makati posh villages of Forbes Park, Dasmariñas, and Urdaneta. When you think of it, it is interesting to realize here that a Catholic religious order founded on the principle of poverty is overseeing a parish comprised of upper class villages, where some of the most powerful and moneyed families reside. As such, the Santuario de San Antonio has been the subject of both admiration and criticism as it represented, to some at least, the socio-economic divide that has continuously plagued the country, not to mention being a modern bastion of Catholic power and influence in society. The irony of it all indeed.
Nevertheless, it has become a popular venue not only for attending Catholic masses, but also to hold Catholic weddings. In fact, it remains one of the top Catholic churches of choice to get married as many couples have made their vows of marriage within the understated grandeur of this church’s hall over the years, especially weddings of couples belonging to some of the country’s most influential families.
Regardless of the perception it has been getting, the Santuario de San Antonio remains an important landmark in the metropolis today as a religious center of the most upscale community and as a spiritual successor to a heritage long gone.