City of Manila

A Path to Martyrdom: Rizal in Fort Santiago

Today, the nation marks the 112th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Philippines’ National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. (technically, he is not officially declared a national hero, but that’s another story) As it is during Rizal Day, many will surely commemorate this day by a visit Rizal Park or any of the Rizal-related places and shrines throughout the country, one of them surely would be the Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago.

Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago

This Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago used to be barracks of the soldiers who were stationed in the old Spanish fortification of Fort Santiago. Today, it is a quaint little museum that is home to some Rizal memorabilia like his writings, art works, clothes, even a portion of his skull.

“Triumph of Science over Death” a sculptural work by Rizal, which may be familiar being a large-scale replica standing in the UP Manila campus
the case which holds part of Rizal’s skull

To put some context here, during the last quarter of 1896, the Philippine Revolution was in full swing, throwing the Spanish colonial government in disarray. In an effort to quell the rebellion, the Spanish government went on a full offensive, arresting any suspected supporters of the revolution to be either exiled or, in worse cases for many of them, be executed in the killing fields known as Bagumbayan.

Rizal at the time was on a ship to Cuba as he had volunteered to serve as doctor there as a revolution was also taking place there. But upon orders of Manila, Rizal was ordered to be arrested and brought back to Manila to be imprisoned, awaiting trial. While there are some dungeons in Fort Santiago where some were imprisoned, it was decided to have him imprisoned in a cell inside the barracks, which was itself a former pantry.

Rizal’s first cell in Fort Santiago

The trial of Rizal lasted from December 3 to December 26. Despite the strong case Rizal’s side presented, it was expected that the verdict would not be in Rizal’s favor. This fear among Rizal’s family and supporters was enforced when a new Governor General by the name of Camilo Polavieja was named on December 13. As soon as he assumed office, Polavieja wasted no time in ensuring a guilty verdict on Rizal. Sure enough, Rizal was found guilty by the court and was ordered to be executed by firing squad on the morning of December 30.

Rizal would only learn of the verdict on December 29, of which he made no protest. He was then transferred to the chapel where he would remain for the next 24 hours.

the chapel which was converted as a prison cell where Rizal spent his last 24 hours

During these last 24 hours, there have been rumors that he issued a retraction of his Masonic, anti-Catholic pronouncements, that he married Josephine Bracken. One thing is certain that happened during that time was that he gave his sister Trinidad an alcohol burner of sorts when she, her mother Teodora, and other family members visited him in the cell. This alcohol burner had “something in there” as Jose told her sister in English. This “something” would turn out be Rizal’s priceless gift not only to his family but to his motherland as well. It was a beautiful, yet untitled poem which we have come to know now as “Mi Ultimo Adios,” the last farewell.

For a man who truly loved his country until his dying breath, it was the greatest farewell present one can ever give.

the path of Rizal’s walk from his cell to his execution site in Bagumbayan
the Jose Rizal painting done by National Artist Botong Francisco in the Rizal Shrine, Fort Santiago


In related news, this year also marks the centennial of the relocation of Rizal’s remains to the Rizal Monument in Rizal Park. To give you a brief background about this event, you can refer to my past entries about this here and here.

Acknowledgements as well to Traveler on Foot and

© The Urban Roamer

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