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.

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