The Grace of Makati’s Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church

Hidden behind the dominating Guadalupe billboards and the emerging skyscrapers in nearby Rockwell, not to mention the urban congestion that has befallen the area, lies Makati’s centuries old gem. It is considered to be the oldest Catholic church located in the city and has become a cherished Makati landmark. You can even see it represented in the city seal.

The Makati city seal; note the image of the church in the foreground

This has long been an awaited feature on the Urban Roamer and finally, we are going to roam this landmark up close. Of course, I am referring to Makati’s graceful landmark that is the Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church.

First off, a bit of nomenclature matters. While the Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church is located in the area of Guadalupe in Makati (technically, it’s Guadalupe Viejo or Old Guadalupe), people make the mistake of naming it Guadalupe Church. While it was known before as Guadalupe Church (something we’ll get to later), today, the one being called as the Guadalupe Church now refers to a more recent structure, built in 1951 and known officially as the  in Guadalupe Nuevo (New Guadalupe) just across Guadalupe Viejo. Also, the Our Lady of Guadalupe that used to be venerated at the Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church is not the one we know from Mexico but actually from Spain. Again, we’ll get to the story later.

the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Spain, the Marian image the NSDG church was originally dedicated to (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church (which I will refer to from time to time as NSDG because it’s quite a nameful) has a long and interesting history, going back to 1601 when the Augustinian missionaries established their presence in that rocky, hilly terrain near the Pasig River banks. This would be the Augustinians’ second mission in what is now Metro Manila, after having established themselves in Manila and began building what is now San Agustin Church.

Work immediately began on building a church and monastery atop the hillsite. It was during construction that the Augustinians and the Spanish authorities discovered the potential of the hilly terrain: it was a rich source of stones that can be used in the construction of the church as well as other structures that were to be built in Manila. Thus the hills became a quarrying site (eventually known as the Guadalupe Quarry) as ovens and factories began operating in the area to make tiles, bricks, and large earthenware, fulfilling the needs of a growing city and the suburbs as well.

The modern skyline as seen from the church with Rockwell Center in the background. In the Spanish colonial period, the area surrounding the church, including Rockwell was a quarrying area

It was actually originally intended for the church to be dedicated to the Marian image known as the Our Lady of Grace (Nuestra Señora de Gracia). But due to the request of many devotees, by 1603, the church was now dedicated to the Marian image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. No, this Our Lady of Guadalupe is not the more popular Marian image based in Guadalupe, Mexico but the Marian image located in a town in Spain also called Guadalupe, where the Mexican Guadalupe actually got its name from. Also, the Spanish Lady of Guadalupe is very different from the one venerated in Mexico. with a darker skin tone and dressed in so much gold.

The modern altar of the church, with the image of the Our Lady of Grace at the center

The NSDG church and monastery would be completed by 1630 but it suffered from significant damage caused by an earthquake in 1658. Repairs were made over time but a century later in 1762, British forces attacked Manila and they occupied and looted the church-monastery complex. However, the 19th century would not be a fortunate year as far as the structures are concerned. An earthquake in 1884 reduced a portion of the complex to shambles and the original Spanish Lady of Guadalupe to be destroyed. And before repairs could be done full blast, the Philippine Revolution broke out in 1896 and the complex was occupied by the Filipino revolutionaries. The complex was a site of heavy fighting between the Filipinos and the Spanish forces, then the American forces by 1899. As a result, the structures suffered from fire and artillery and the structures remained in ruins for many years.

The original church and monastery shortly after the Philippine Revolution/Philippine-American War (photo courtesy of the Churches, Basilicas, and Cathedrals of the Philippines Facebook group)

For years, it seemed the NSDG church-monastery complex was left unused. The next documented use of the complex was in World War II when the Japanese forces used the complex as a military garrison and headquarters. Ironically, World War II did not actually do much damage to the complex but what happened after the war. You see, as you may recall, the Battle of Manila left most of Manila in ruins, including the Manila Cathedral 7.0. The Archdiocese of Manila already made it a priority to rebuild the Cathedral and were scouring for places to find the materials needed in the rebuilding. One of those places they eyed was the complex itself. In particular, the Archdiocese was looking to use the stones of the hollowed Augustinian monastery. So the order was given to demolish the monastery and have the stones taken from the demolished monastery to Intramuros to be used as materials for the construction of what would be Manila Cathedral 8.0. To this day, some people consider this act the greatest tragedy that have befallen on this landmark.

At the same time, the growing (mostly Catholic) population of the old barrio of Guadalupe and the fact that Guadalupe no longer has its own Catholic parish prompted some administrative and ecclesiastical changes. On the administrative side, Guadalupe was to be divided in two new barrios, eventually barangays: Guadalupe Viejo or Old Guadalupe in the west where the NSDG Church is located and Guadalupe Nuevo or New Guadalupe in the east, divided by that wide stretch of highway we now know as EDSA. It would be in Guadalupe Nuevo where a new church would be built in 1951, dedicated also to the Our Lady of Guadalupe. This time, the Lady of Guadalupe in question would be the one of Mexico, where devotion to the image has grown in the 20th century. In 2010, the church became a national Catholic shrine at par with the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran.

Nevertheless, the Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church would rise again as work began to rebuild the church from its ruined state. Finally, the restoration works were completed in the 1970s and has served the needs of the Catholic community of Guadalupe Viejo since then. Also, it has become a popular venue for weddings as well, thanks to its architecture and its high-altitude location, congested surroundings aside. In addition, the Augustinians built a new monastery beside the church, albeit with a different orientation and its architecture more modern. A shame they decided not to at least recreate the old monastery’s design.

the restored church and the modern Augustinian monastery

Whatever elements the interiors of the church had before can no longer be seen in its present interiors since, understandably, many of these element have long been gone. As such, the interiors of the present church may seem too simple and does not reflect the long history it had. It has been said though that there are plans to restore some interior elements of the old church like the choir loft on the second level.

Regardless of what it has gone through over the course of centuries, the Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church stands today as an example of our history that has managed to survive the odds and remain a landmark for generations to come.


Acknowledgements as well to the National Registry Of National Historical Commission Of The Philippines Markers, Wikipedia, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila

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