City of Manila

Monastic Manila: A Glimpse of the Cloister of the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat

Monasteries are rarely seen in the city as they are usually located within quiet, serene environments so that those living there can concentrate better in their prayer or meditation. Especially if so the city is as both vibrant and chaotic as the City of Manila, particularly in the neighborhood of Mendiola and University Belt where protests, traffic, and students are a common sight.

It is therefore interesting to see the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat still located in the city, managing to stick around despite the changes going on around it.

If the name sounds familiar, that is because it is a monastery run by the Benedictine Order, the same order that runs the Abbey Church of Our Lady of Montserrat and San Beda University. That’s right, all three institutions are located within the same Benedictine compound/property along Mendiola Street and have been there since 1926. Along with San Beda, the Abbey used to be located in the same Arlegui address before it moved to the present Mendiola address.

Unlike the Abbey Church and, to some extent, San Beda, the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat itself is a place that is rarely glimpsed by the public. Which is understandable, considering that it is the private place where the Benedictine monks live and pray. Oftentimes, the most one can afford to see the Abbey is a glimpse at the Abbey Church’s right side where the metal grills keep the two areas separate.

There are some occasions though where one can get a glimpse of at least a portion of the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat. Particularly during the annual Fiesta of the Santo Niño which the Abbey and the university celebrate. If you’re lucky, you get a better view of the garden and the halls leading to the monks’ quarters. There is also a small cemetery there where many deceased Benedictine monks were buried.

Perhaps the most cherished part of the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat quarters is the Chapter Room, a sort of chapel where the Benedictine monks would meditate and pray by themselves. Those who are fortunate to step inside would find themselves transported into one of those prayer rooms of centuries-old monasteries in Europe. And reportedly, that was the vibe the Benedictines who conceived of the Chapter Room were going for.

The Chapter Room features some intricate design patterns, as well as furniture and icons that are more than a century old at the very least. Most notable among the is the Marian icon the Our Lady of Montserrat, after whom the abbey and the church was named. This is actually the original statue brought by the Benedictines when they arrived in Manila in 1895.

If you get a chance to step inside the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, you get to understand why the Benedictines have stuck around in this part of the city for almost a century now. Despite the changes outside, alongside the chaos as well, the abbey has been a place of respite and refuge that has nourished the monks who have lived there for generations. And for a foreseeable future, it seems the Benedictines will still consider this abbey as home.

Acknowledgements as well to Hecho Ayer

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