Not many people know that the San Beda University Manila campus grounds in Mendiola Street houses not only the academic institution that is San Beda University. It is also the site of a monastery. To be specific, it is a monastery of the Benedictine monks who happen to be the ones administering the university.
Nevertheless, both the monastery and the school share a common spiritual center: the church known as the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, more popularly known as the Abbey Church in San Beda.
The church was originally constructed between 1925 and 1926, around the same time as the San Beda campus was being constructed as well. Much like the rest of the campus, the Abbey Church was designed in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture. That being said, the church itself was designed by Swedish architect George Asp in a way similar to a famous Gothic structure in France: none other than the Notre Dame de Paris Church itself.
The church was dedicated to the Our Lady of Montserrat, the dark Marian icon depicting Mary and the child Jesus that is venerated in the Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery in Spain’s Cataluña region. The monastery is also a Benedictine monastery, whose administration first conceived the idea of establishing a Benedictine mission in the country in the late 19th century and from which the country’s first Benedictine monks hailed from.
In contrast to the exteriors though, the church’s interiors evoke a more neo-Baroque style that is reminiscent of the old European churches, with its high vaunted ceiling and walls replete with Medieval-inspired artwork.
Most of these artworks are the works of Spanish painter Dom Lesmes López and Benedictine Brother Salvador Alberich. The paintings were made between 1931 to 1939. Alberich did the decorative designs while Lopez did many of these paintings such as the depiction of the 16 allegories on the virtues, theology and the Church which can be seen on the ceiling;. “The Apotheosis of the Holy Name of Jesus” on the sanctuary (altar portion); panels on the Nativity of the Lord on both sides of the nave ceiling; and the Stations of the Cross on the upper walls of the nave.
The most recent addition to the Abbey Church is the painting on the rear wall side. This side used to be just empty space but in 2012, the Benedictines decided to have something added there. For this project they tapped a notable Italian painter Francesco Giannini to do the artwork. The result is a depicting the history of the Benedictines here in the Philippines, along with images of Benedictine and other Catholic saints.
The Abbey Church at San Beda today serves not only as a spiritual core of the San Beda campus and the Benedictine community there. It has also become the Catholic center of the Mendiola area itself. It especially becomes alive during the fourth weekend of January when the San Beda community celebrates the feast of the Santo Niño or the Infant Jesus of Prague and during Holy Week. But it still retains a quiet charm fit for solitude that has managed to keep itself intact in spite of the times.