City of Manila

Manila’s Pontifical and Royal campus (Part 7: the Main Building)

Among all the landmarks that one can see today in the campus of University of Santo Tomas, none perhaps would be as more well-known and beloved as the structure known as the Main Building, the first and the oldest structure that was built in UST’s current campus in Sampaloc.

Plans for its construction began in 1920, but its actual construction began 4 years later as its architect, a Dominican priest-engineer named Roque Ruaño was fine tuning its details so it would be able to withstand any powerful earthquake that may occur, as inspired by events, earthquakes in particular, in Japan during that period. Thus it became also known as the country’s first earthquake-proof structure when it opened its doors to the students in 1927.

the architect of the Main Building: Fr. Roque Ruaño

Then came the Second World War, as Japanese forces took over the country by 1942. The Japanese then rounded up the non-Filipinos, Americans and other nationalities allied with the US in particular and were brought to UST, thus becoming known as the Santo Tomas Interment Camp. Most of these prisoners were taken to the Main Building; the rest were spread out to other buildings existing in the campus during that time.

liberation of prisoners at UST’s Main Building (courtesy of Wikipedia)
markers commemorating UST’s history

Thus it was important for the Allied forces to free these prisoners in UST. The opportunity to secure their freedom came in February 3, 1945 as American troops and Filipino guerillas launched an offensive at the UST ground as Japanese artillery tried to fight the enemy that came with battle tanks that broke through the campus gate. In the end, Allied artillery overcame the Japanese forces, leaving the Japanese no choice but to let go of UST in exchange for allowing them to return to their units based in the southern part of Manila.

On February 3, the combined forces of US soldiers and Filipino guerilla troops, armed with tanks crashed through the España gate of UST to free those imprisoned there
a gunfight ensured between Japanese and Allied forces, taking significant casualties. Among them was a Filipino guerilla officer and writer Manuel Colayco who died at the gates as he was shot by a sniper

After the war, the Dominicans were looking into giving some more character to the concrete edifice. They turned to one of their faculty in the College of Architecture, an Italian sculptor who has made a name sculpting figures like the ones in Metropolitan Theater: Francesco Monti. Monti then proceeded to adorn the top of the main buildings with sculptures of various figures, symbolizing the school’s intellectual and spiritual aspirations, in the same manner that his sculptures gave an exciting look to the Metropolitan Theater. Between 1949 and 1953, a total of 15 statues were installed on top of the Main Building.

the Tria Haec (“These Three” in Latin) statues of Faith, Hope, and Charity symbolizing the virtues espoused by the university
at the left of the Tria Haec: Vincent de Beauvais, (Dominican monk and writer of Speculum Maius, THE encyclopedia of the Medieval era) bishop-theologian St. Augustine, and St. Raymond of Peñafort
at the right of the Tria Haec: the Dominican philosopher-theologian Albertus Magnus flanked by 2 other philophers: Aristotle on the left and Plato on the right
facing the Lacson Avenue side: writer-playwrights Lope De Vega, Aristophanes, and Moliere
facing the P. Noval side: writer-playwrights Calderon de la Barca, Sophocles, and William Shakespeare

It is interesting to note that the original plan was to have 30 statues in total to be installed on top of the main building, but it was scrapped in 1953. Thus, as you can see, there is some sense of incompleteness as not all branches of discipline have not been represented, like for science, music, and visual arts.

next, inside the Main Building acknowledgements to the website of the University of Santo Tomas and Wikipedia © The Urban Roamer

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