Malate district in Manila has gone through so much in the last 100 years or so. From being once part of the city’s so-called “Millionaire’s Row” in the prewar years to the district’s destruction as well as much of the city during World War II into becoming a beloved evening hangout that’s had its share of ups and downs.
Regardless of those transformations and the changing fate of this fabled district, there is one constant that has managed to weather them, becoming a beloved Malate landmark in its own right. Today, the Urban Roamer checks out this storied structure that is the Our Lady of Remedies Church, also known as the Malate Catholic Church.
This Catholic church traces its origins to the church built by the Augustinian friars from 1588-1591 and was dedicated to the Marian image the Our Lady of Remedies or the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios in Spanish. (after whom also the street beside it was named after) The Marian image was enshrined in the altar in 1624, brought from Andalusia, Spain by Fr. Juan de Guevara. It managed to survive a great earthquake which struck in 1645 but it had to be demolished in 1661-62* on the orders of the Spanish Governor General at that time, Sabiniano Manrique de Lara, as sort of a precautionary measure in the face of the threat of an invasion by the Chinese general Koxinga who was ruling neighboring Taiwan at that time, drawing lessons the Spaniards learned during the Limahong invasion in 1574.
Koxinga planned to attack Manila and drive out the Spanish forces there after the Spanish colonial government refused to pay tribute to him. At the same time, Koxinga had this long-term vision of invading mainland China to drive out the Manchu dynasty ruling the country at that time and restore the previous Ming Dynasty, which Koxinga has placed his allegiance to. Thus, some have theorized that Koxinga may have planned to turn the Philippines as yet another military base from which he could dispatch forces to invade the mainland. However, Koxinga died in 1663 so the planned attack on Manila did not materialize. With the country spared, authorities began rebuilding Remedios Church later that year using the same stones and bricks of the first church.
More than a century later, another invasion came about, this time a successful one in the form of the British forces which landed in Manila in 1762. The church played an important role such that it became the base of operations of the British from which they launched their successful attack on the city center in Intramuros, managing to drive the Spaniards out and occupied the city for the next two years.
Malate Church 2.0 was severely devastated by an earthquake in 1863. It was however rebuilt beginning the following year thanks to the efforts of the parish priest at that time, Fr. Francisco Cuadrado. The upper part of the facade would be completed years later between 1894 to 1898. However it suffered severe damage during World War II in the Battle of Manila in 1945 as Japanese forces burned down the church and the convent, leaving only the facade and the walls intact. In addition, the battle left thousands of Malate residents dead, as well as some of the Columban priests who were administering the church. Thus, outside the church, one can see a Memorare sculpture dedicated in their memory.
Work proceeded in rebuilding the destroyed parts of the church, including the roof and the main altar, which was completed by the 1950s. But as the 21st century dawned with the climate of the city changing as well over the last 50 years or so, the church faced another challenge as its storied facade that has managed to survive over the years is being threatened. A study conducted in 2009 noted five areas of concern: surface material losses, which include pulverization and disintegration, surface scaling, biological and woody growths, water seepage, and detached adobe components or falling debris. Not to mention that the church faces the Manila Bay, which makes it even more exposed to the elements coming from the water during harsh weather.
With these challenges facing Malate Church, a 5-year campaign was launched as part of a greater effort to help restore the endangered parts of the church. The campaign, called “5-5-5 March of the Thousands,” called upon not only the Catholic faithful of the district but other concerned groups and individuals to help raise funds in the ongoing restoration project being done through the help of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and Escuela Taller, an institution dedicated in doing heritage conservation works.
It is good to know that there is a level of awareness among all parties concerned regarding the importance of Malate Church as an important heritage landmark that has been part of our history. With that, there is reason to be optimistic that the outcome of the ongoing rehabilitation efforts would yield positive results.
*Note: some sources I read date this as 1667, which is an error considering Koxinga died in 1663 and De Lara stepped down as Governor General later that same year, making the 1667 very improbable.
For more information on the church and the ongoing restoration efforts, check out the official site of Malate Church at www.malatecatholicchurch.org.