Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sueño Dorado

In the days before the Second World War, there was no more celebrated church in the whole of Manila than the Jesuit run San Ignacio, located at the heart of Intramuros. It was the masterpiece of that order: though considerabl less formidable in size than the monumental San Agustin, or the perpetual malcontent that is the Manila Cathedral, San Ignacio commanded the attention of all who set foot in its venerable halls. Upon entering the church, one is struck by the unparalleled beauty of the High Altar: built in the more sober and restrained incarnations of the Spanish Baroque, the central niche housed an image of the Immaculate Conception, carved with exceptional detail by the legendary Isabelo Tampinco. Tampinco would later on be known as the Philippines' answer to Francisco Salzillo of Spain-- the images he carved were so beautiful and lifelike that one would think them real people, locked in stasis for all time.

The church's carved ceiling was famed throughout the whole country as one of the few examples of the artesonado style, and, if old stories are to be believed, was heavily plated in gold. The Stations of the Cross, and other pious images, notably of the Immaculate Conception and Saint Ignatius, for whom the church was named, were all done by Tampinco. Such was the grandeur of the church, that it even became a status symbol to visit it. No wonder it was the favorite church of the elite to have their children baptized. From 1889, when it was first built, San Ignacio remained a repository of the very best that Filipino skill and artistry had to offer.

In 1945, at the height of the War, San Ignacio was destroyed during the liberation of Manila. It lasted a little over 56 years, and sadly, nothing survived the destruction, save the memories of the remaining few privileged enough to have been able to gasp in awe at its magnificence. The Jesuits have always referred to this church as their "Sueño Dorado", or golden dream. It is saddening to think that San Ignacio--its ornate halls, flamboyant altars, magnificent vestments and incomparable beauty-- is now only but a dream, a memory ossified and preserved, but nothing more.

Perhaps the biggest irony here is the fact that this church was run by the Jesuits, that famous, often vilified and suspected order, who have basically become the archpriests of the "Spirit of Vatican II" mentality. San Ignacio was free from any sign of kowtowing to heretics: it was Catholic Triumphalism at its gaudiest and most powerful, as only the Spanish Baroque can deliver. Nowadays, it would be an almost surreal sight for a modern day Jesuit church to equal the splendor of San Ignacio. Nay: it would be an impossibility.

We have all experienced a 'falling out' one way or another. We have all, in one way or another, had our dreams broken, and we are tempted to just say sometimes: It is only a dream, and nothing more. Sadly, this attitude has been at the center of Catholicism for quite some time now, made especially evident by the Council. But did not God speak to the Old Testament prophets in dreams? Did He not tell Joseph to flee into Egypt through a dream? I'm not saying you should get your diviner's kit, light up some scented candles, and try to 'prophesy' using your dreams; that's sorcery.

The kind of dream that I am talking about is our aspirations, prayer, desire and trust-- trust in the providence of God and His eventual victory. We need to realize that God helps only those who help themselves. Afterall, what use is His grace if we only end up rejecting it? Are we really asking Him to help us in our time of need, or just telling Him to do it for us?

A golden dream. It is not lost forever-- we have but to look for it, search for it, find it, and live it. And although San Ignacio, that most glorious of Old Manila's temples of God, has been reduced to a pile of slag and rubble-- its foundations remain, and are only awaiting new materials, new labor and new commitment for its old glory to return.

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