A Manila Church

Boston Transcript

There stands in the old walled city of Manila a church whose rare beauty should win it a place among the famed temples of the world, says an exchange. It is the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, and, as the name would indicate, was erected by the Jesuit fathers. The ten years that elapsed between 1879 and 1889 wore consumed in its construction, and a success that was truly artistic crowned the effort of a decade. The exterior is neither imposing nor artistic, but it was upon the interior that effort was centred, and few structures in the world can boast of the perfect harmony of effect there attained. Practically the entire interior is done in the native hard woods of the Philippine Islands, that have been carved by master hands. A remarkable fact in connection with the work is that it was all done by natives. The designs were all made in Europe, but every credit is due the workmen who so closely followed their methods. This incident illustrates a peculair trait in the Filipinos. They lack the originality, but are wonderful imitators. Give their carvers a model and they will duplicate to perfection. Let their painters see a picture and they will copy it to the minutest detail. Permit their musicians to hear a composition and they will reproduce it on their own instruments. Probably the most artistic piece of carving in the church is the pulpit. It is a massive affair affixed to one of the giant columns close to the rail. On its sides are a series of panels upon which have been carved scenes depicting important Scriptural events. The pulpit has a beautifully carved base, and upon the outer side of the balustrade are the figures of saints. The figures have all been perfectly carved, and there has been a wonderful regard for detail. Proportions are perfect, and the effect is at once harmonious and artistic. A prodigious amount of labor was expended upon the pulpit. Rev. Father Francisco Simo, one of the rectors of the church, under whose direction much of the work has been done, relates that the carving of the base of the pulpit consumed two years, and that the balustrade occupied nearly as much time. Next to the pulpit, the ceiling, which is entirely of carved wood, attracts the most attention. There are a series of intricate designs that show the genius of art and the skill of the carver, and the effect is admirable. The columns, capitals, and arches have been done in wood, and they too, enhance the beauty of the church. The altars — one main and two side — are also of wood, and show splendid specimens of the skill of the carvers. The floor is likewise of wood, and the sheen of its polish serves to heighten the general effect. Most of the wood used is molave, best of all the fifty varieties of hard wood that grow in the Philippines. It is capable of resisting any of the insects that attack wood, and neither heat nor water affect it. Steel is the only thing that will outlast it. It is so hard that the fashioning of it is very difficult, but the excellent results obtained make it worthy of the effort. The art of wood-carving has long been taught to the Filipinos, and the traveler in their islands sees many samples of their work. It has reached its greatest perfection at the Jesus College at Mania, and the work in the Jesuit church is incomparably the best so far done. Twenty-three years ago the students of the college sent an elaborate piece of carving to the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, and with it won first prize.

The architecture of Manila may be truthfully said to be relieved of mediocrity by the churches, and that of St. Ignatius Loyola is the greatest of them all. The cathedral—a massive structure of the Byzantine period — attracts attention on account of its size and the fact that its foundation stones were laid in the sixteenth century, but neither interior nor exterior are particularly pleasing. Another remarkable church in the old city is that of St. Augustine, built way back in 1570 from a design drawn by a nephew of the architect who planned the famous Escurial in Madrid. For over three hundred years it has defied the earthquake and typhoon, and the original walls still stand as a monument to the builders. The design is rather of the Tuscan order, but modern additions have changed and almost obscured the original lines. The church of Santo Domingo is another imposing structure. It has an exterior of florid Gothic and an interior of nearly perfect Gothic, but the latter is marred by some impossible coloring and some inartistic statuary. The same complaint may be properly made of any of the score of churches in the city and surroundings, with the single exception of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola. When the tide of American travel sets toward the Philippines, and when Manila is included in the itinerary of the globe-trotter between Singapore and Yokohama, this really remarkable structure will win its place in the world of art.

Editorial Comment
November 30, 1899

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