Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sites in the Book: San Augustin Church

"You don't happen to know Ave Maria, do you?" 
Click photo to see large version.

If walls could talk, then I would press my ear against the San Augustin Church. It is one of Manila's oldest structures, and still stands relatively intact since it was built in 1586. With its history, this is nothing short of a miracle. 

Take a look at the photo on the left. See the little red circle? What you see is the only building left standing in the destroyed walled-city of Intramuros: San Augustin. All the other buildings (including the Manila Cathedral and 5 other churches) were pulverized into dust during the Battle of Manila. 

But that's just part of the story. The site was consecrated as a house of worship in the 1570s. This was the time of Spanish conquistadors, whom strutted around wearing iron armor in the tropical heat. Manila wasn't much more than a wooden fort on the bay, and most of the invaders spent their time searching for gold, or converting the native Filipinos into Catholicism. Business was good; they decided to stay. Entombed in the church are some of the city's founders: Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti. They lie here still in Baroque splendor.
San Augustin has witnessed and survived Chinese pirates, looting by the British in 1762, earthquakes, floods, riots, fires, assorted plagues, and the Spanish-American War in 1898. (The peace treaty was signed here.) But its real trial-by-fire came during World War Two.

18 February 1945: Most of the Japanese Army has retreated into the walled-city. They are surrounded by the American Army, whose high powered shells are ripping into Intramuros. Homes, schools, hospitals- everything is exploding and crumbling to dust. The Japanese are killing any civilian they see: men, women, children, infants. Not satisfied, they enter churches and hospitals, massacring everyone in sight. They come to San Augustin Church, where many people have taken refuge, and round up some 125 men, including 37 priests. They are marched a few blocks to the front of Manila Cathedral. There, they are forced into underground air-raid bunkers and buried alive. Only six would survive.

Somehow, (by God or Good Luck) San Augustin remained standing. Even the magnificent trompe l’oeil has ceiling survived. The church still functions today, and is the place to go for a big, fat, Filipino wedding. If you’re ever in Manila, come take a look at this jewel of a Baroque church and the adjacent museum. And remember, you are on sacred ground.
B/W photos courtesy of John T. Pilot.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Retro Filipino: Pinoy Kollector

Not all of the great sites will pop up on the first page of a Google search. Sometimes you have to dig for it. In my continuing research for The Yellow Bar, I have run across a few pages that deserve to be seen. One of them is the Pinoy Kollector blog by a nice fellow named Edward. He has a fascinating photo album of his Philippine memorabilia collection. It's a delicious hodgepodge of antique post cards, photos, movie stills, cigarette advertising, coins and paper money, toys, games and all sorts of Filipino pop culture items from the last century.

The young lady on the left is one of a whole bevy of Filipina beauties on postcards that he is featuring this month on his site. You'll have to see them to believe them! Enjoy.

Click here:  Pinoy Kollector

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sites in the Book: Malate Church

"Auntie," I said, "Get ready to run."

A mere twenty steps away from the the Aristocrat Restaurant is a small park that borders the Malate Church. This baroque-style church and open area have enjoyed the same view of Manila Bay since the sixteenth century, when it was built by the Augustinian friars. The Malate district was originally a small fishing village, but as the years passed it was swallowed up by the city of Manila. At the time of the Japanese invasion, the area was a very fashionable suburb, consisting of Filipino elites, American colonists and even some old pensioners from the Spanish days. Imagine tree-lined streets, gardens and fashionable mansions. 

Malate Church 1930s
In the 1940s, the parish was run by Irish priests and the church services were in English. These priests (who, like most chaplains were not interned by the Japanese) were instrumental in helping the imprisoned foreign nationals in Bilibid and Santo Tomas prison camps, providing food, medicine, news, and of course, spiritual guidance. 

Horrible things happened here in February 1945. The Malate district was caught between the battling Americans and Japanese. (Now imagine this beautiful neighborhood being bombarded from both sides: burning houses, trees with their leaves blown off, and screaming, panicked families searching for safety...) Many residents fled to the Malate Church, hoping for sanctuary.  They would not find any.  Periodically, the Japanese would enter the church, round up all the males in the square, and take them all away, never to be seen again. This included the Irish priests, who are believed to have been bayonetted to death along with the others. 

Malate Church and it’s neighborhood were hammered by the Battle of Manila. The church caught fire and burned down. However, the original walls survived, and it was reconstructed in the 1950s. It is hard to imagine the original Malate district these days; most of the area is now filled with business buildings, bars and high rises. But if you poke around its streets, you’ll still find some old and elegant suburban houses from days gone by.

Click on photos to see larger size. B/W photos courtesy of John T. Pilot.