City of Manila

The church and the community of the archangel-soldier

The late 16th-early 17th centuries which marked the beginnings of Spanish rule in the Philippines, in Manila in particular, also marked the influx of migrants to this newly-Christianized city. Most of these migrants are Japanese refugees fleeing from the persecution of Christians by Japan’s shogun government. (who eventually closed the country from foreign contact) They eventually settled in what is now the area of San Marcelino in northern Ermita. To meet the needs of this new community, the Spanish Jesuits decided to erect a parish for them. By 1611, the church was finished and the parish established, dedicated to the archangel-soldier St. Michael or San Miguel. It has been said that St. Michael was chosen to attract the community which was mostly composed of samurais or the warrior class of Japan.

The community of old San Miguel soon grew that it became a nightmare for the Spanish military stationed in nearby Intramuros as it was feared such communities can be a threat in case of an invasion. Their fears were justified when in 1762, the British invaded the city in the course of the Seven Years’ War Britain was fighting with Spain and France. So in 1783, the church and the community found itself “relocated” up north across the Pasig River, on what was then a marshland with some summer houses built in the area, including the one which was called Malacañang.

Today the community which is now the district of San Miguel still exists in its present location, with a “newer” church building built in 1913, said to be financed by the affluent Roxas de Ayala family. The structure itself though holds an important piece in the history of the Archdiocese of Manila, as it served as the temporary cathedral of the Archdiocese of Manila from 1946-1958, during the rebuilding of the present Manila Cathedral.

Officially though, the church is known as the National Shrine of St. Michael and the Archangels. So this church is not only dedicated to St. Michael but to the other 6 Archangels as well of Christian tradition: Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Sealtiel, Barachiel, and Jhudiel, though their representation is not as prominent as that of St. Michael.

Perhaps one of the most striking sight in this church is the large bronze sculpture depicting St. Michael slaying a dragon which represents the Devil, done by sculptor Florante Caedo, who also did the sculpture of Chino Roces at Mendiola Bridge andthe sculptures at Himlayang Pilipino cemetery.

It is also good to note that the architecture of the church blends well with the atmosphere of San Miguel and the villa-type structures that still dote the district’s atmosphere. The church also has an advantage of being located just right across the Pasig River itself, which perhaps influenced the villa-type structure of the parish office.

Today, the San Miguel Church still stands as a monument of a colorful past in this part of the city, a monument that has stood and hopes to continue standing the test of time and progress in the metropolis.

acknowledgements to Traveler on Foot blog for the additional reference for this entry.

© The Urban Roamer

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