Sunday, February 22, 2009

Worshipping in Style at the Old Sto. Domingo Church

This account came from an American tourist to the Philippines, a certain George A. Miller, in the country's American colonial heyday. The book he wrote, 'Interesting Manila', chronicled the life and times of the City as it was before the traumatic destruction of World War II. Here he describes a scene from the pre-war, Neo-Gothic masterpiece that was the Santo Domingo church, home of the beloved and revered image of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, and often cited as one of the grandest-- if not the grandest-- church in all of Manila.

The Church:

One of the most impressive and interesting of all the Manila churches is old Santo Domingo. The exterior with its embattled towers and climbing buttresses is stately and massive. The view from the Ayuntamiento is striking, and the old Gothic windows of the semicircular apsis have a strong ecclesiastical flavor.

If there were nothing of Santo Domingo but its doors it would still be worth going to see. The interior is Gothic, being the only example of the kind in the city, and with its beautiful marble bases and altar steps, its choir and altar railings of worked brass, its colored glass and curved pulpit(said to have cost four thousand pesos), it readily weaves a spell of magic over the beholder. Its sacristy contains many objects of beauty and interest and the mellow tinge of time lends a halo to the whole pile.

My first experience in a Manila church was at High Mass in Santo Domingo at the early hour. There were sixteen hundred candles shining in the gloom of the old sanctuary, and a thousand worshipers were kneeling on the polished floor. Among the high arches gathered the smoke of the incense, and way up in the dome the morning sun streamed red and gold through the colored glass.

The chanting of the priest reverberated through the aisle like the noise of a cataract, and the answer of the prostrate people was like the murmur of many waters upon the sand. Then the great organ with its thundering reeds made the old pile ring and shout like some strong giant in sport, and in the succeeding silence the people waited in awe for what might follow. What did follow was the chanting of the boy's choir without accompaniment, and the effect from the high gallery was as if the voices came from everywhere, the very stones had suddenly become vocal and joined in the acclamation.

At last it was over, and the multitude filed slowly out past the great marble basons, and there remained only the flickering candles, the fragrant incense, the glittering altar and the slanting sun-beams of orange and purple. What a place for reverie, what a spot for romance! What shades of the forgotten past knelt behind the "dusty" images, and hovered among the pointed arches!

With all its painted pillars and glaring colors the old church has a fascination about its rich tone and its gothic lines that holds one, Whatever it may be, it is a church, and it weaves over the visitor the spell of the old gothic motive, that insistent pointing upward that lifts men's heart to the sky.

The Pipe Organ:

The guardian of each church are liberal in their praises of of their particular organ, as is natural. Perhaps the best organ in the city is the one in Santo Domingo. It contains a fine "double open diapason" on the pedals with the longest pipe reaching up eighteen feet above the floor. Like all the old organs it is rich in reeds and the full organ is something terrifying in the empty church. The European plan of placing the heavy reeds in a horizontal row just above the player's head has the advantage of getting the most noise out of a given number of pipes, but it must be a boiler-factory experience for the organist. The organ referred to contains some dozen stops on each manual and has three or four "mixtures." Rough as the effect may be, when the full organ is used as support for forte passages with full choir, the result is impressive and has a tonal dignity that can not be disregarded. What such effects must be upon the native worshiper, with his susceptibility to impressions alike of sights and sound, may be better imagined than discribed.

The Bells:

A good story might be found in almost any of these places if the bells could speak that which they have seen, and therefore should know, but while bells are talkative enough, they have discreet tongues and tell no tales exept those they are hidden by their lords and masters. Now bells are doubtful members of the family of music makers, and Manila bells, as they are hung and rung, have little claim to anything except discord and crashing noise. Cowper sang of the soft music of village bells that fell at intervals on the ear in cadence sweet, but evidently he had never been in Manila at six o'clock p.m. There are half a dozen really fine bells in the city but they are never heard to advantage, because of the impertinent raps and clatter of the small fry that clang simultaneously and incessantly whenever their elders essay to speak. The largest bell is in the tower of Santo Domingo, and, being too big to swing, is rang with a hammer. If properly struck its tone is rich and full, but is rarely heard.

The destruction of Intramuros eradicated a large part of Manila's Catholic patrimony. An anecdote about the post-war Dominicans, who were discussing plans to build a new Shrine out of the confines of Old Manila, said that they wanted absolutely no reminder of the past, save for the image of the Virgin. The present day Santo Domingo church in Quezon City, while beautiful, simply cannot hold a candle next to its much lamented predecessor.

1 comment:

christopher said...

What a loss, and not just the church. Can you email me? I've got a question for you regarding the PI.