City of Manila

Manila Cathedral: the church with 8 lives

There are a lot of interesting places to see in Intramuros, but perhaps one thing that would stand out in this part of the city is the imposing structure that is the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception AKA the Manila Cathedral, the seat of power of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila.



Given the vast influence of the Roman Catholic Church especially during the Spanish colonial era, it is but fitting that its seat in power in the capital city should be the most imposing of them all. Before Rizal monument, the Cathedral was the original “Kilometer 0” where all will begin, so to speak. Even today, as a sign of respect to the heritage of Intramuros, it is decreed under law that no building in the Walled City should exceed the height limit which is the height of the cathedral itself, up to its belltower.


However, the Manila Cathedral we see today is not the same church seen over the years. In fact its history has been marked by constructions and destructions caused by various catastrophes:


Manila Cathedral 1.0: (1581-1588) damaged by fire; destroyed by typhoon

Manila Cathedral 2.0: (1591-1600) destroyed by earthquake

Manila Cathedral 3.0: (1641-1645) destroyed by another earthquake

Manila Cathedral 4.0: (1681-1751) became structurally unsound due to typhoons & earthquakes; had to be demolished

Manila Cathedral 5.0: (1760-1852) destroyed by earthquake…again

Manila Cathedral 6.0: (1858-1870) destroyed by earthquake…for the nth time

Manila Cathedral 7.0: (1879-1945) casualty of war during the Battle for Manila

Manila Cathedral doors 2
more than just some random artwork, the sculptures on these doors actually depict the history of the Manila Cathedral itself, from the time it was first built (the top left image) to its destruction in World War II (the bottom right image)

The present cathedral we see is the 8.0, as it was decided that the cathedral will be rebuilt on its original site, as it had always been the case, rather than relocate to the suburbs like what the other original Intramuros institutions did after the war. Designing the new cathedral fell in the hands of Fernando Ocampo, the same architect behind Escolta’s Calvo Building and the UST Central Seminary, who decided to draw inspiration on the architecture of Cathedral 7.0 that was designed by Vicente Serrano.


Work began for Cathedral 8.0 began in 1956 and was completed two years later, when it was reopened on the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness the cathedral is dedicated to, on December 8, 1956 with the blessing of the then Manila Archbishop Rufino Cardinal Santos. (the same fellow under whom the hospital in San Juan is named after)

the ceremonial cement trowel used for the laying of the cornerstone of the Manila Cathedral 8.0 (from the collection of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila)

The cathedral is divided by several “chapels” on the side dedicated to some Catholic personages, as the cathedral is illuminated thanks to the natural light beaming through the stained glass artwork done by visual artist Galo Ocampo. (not sure if he’s related to the architect though)

galo ocampo
some examples of the works of Galo Ocampo in the cathedral, from the rose window to the various windows depicting seals, persons, and events in the life of Christ and Mary as observed by Catholics

It’s interesting to note that there’s a crypt found underneath the Cathedral floors where some of the Manila archbishops were buried, including Cardinal Santos and Jaime Cardinal Sin. It has also served as funeral venue in recent years (a rare occurrence for a non-prelate funeral to be done here) for the funeral rites of former Pres. Corazon Aquino in 2009.

the one behind the person on the podium is the cathedra, or the archbishop’s chair; thus a church is known as a cathedral if it serves as the bishop’s or archbishop’s seat of power
in the pre-Vatican II days especially, this place called the pulpit is where the Catholic priest gives his sermon; the pulpit in the Manila Cathedral is adorned with four sculptures showing the traditional representation of the four Gospel writers of the Bible

A recent addition to the Cathedral complex is the Bell Garden complex which houses the ground belfry where the Cathedral’s Seven Big Bells are kept after being moved from the tower belfry nearby as a safety measure to ease the tower of its load. The ground belfry itself used to be the former location of the tower belfry of Cathedral 7.0 that was destroyed by earthquake.



One thing also to note is the presence of pineapples throughout this building. It is said that the pineapple symbolizes not only the tropical environment of Manila but also the Manila Cathedral’s dynamic history that will persevere throughout the ages. Thus, if ever Cathedral 8.0 goes down sometime, whether we like it or not, we will get to see another one rise in its place. I guess, regardless of our religious beliefs, the story of the Manila Cathedral represents the Filipino spirit each one of us has and should live by, to pick ourselves up and rise again in spite of how great our fall may be.


Acknowledgements as well to the book Ciudad Murada by the Intramuros Administration and Traveler on Foot

© The Urban Roamer

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