The Dominicans Come to San Juan
The Dominicans arrived in the Philippines in 1587, 15 years before coming to San Juan. They had founded the Santo Domingo Convent in what we now call lntramuros. Soon after, their missionary work among the Chinese began in Binondo. They had accepted also and began in earnest the work of evangelization in Bataan, Pangasinan and the Cagayan Valley. They had attempted several times to enter China, but without success. In that same year, 1602, they were able to send missionaries to Japan, some of whom would eventually die martyrs and are now canonized.
The heavy work and the hot climate were taking their toll on some of the Fathers who had been working here for several years already. Some of them were rather old when they arrived in the Philippines. The question arose whether it would be proper and in consonance with the vow of poverty to have an R and R house (repose or rest and recovery) for the Dominicans working in Manila and in the provinces who might be in need of special care. Some were in favor of it, some against it. Eventually it was decided that it would be in order, as long as three conditions were met: 1) the land would have to be donated, since they could not afford the luxury of buying it, 2) it should be in a healthy place, with climate cooler than Manila and 3) not far from the capital and readily accessible.
The Donation of Captain Cuenca
Captain Julian de Cuenca heard about the plan of the Dominican Fathers. He had been in Mexico before coming to Manila, where he had been befriended by the Fathers there. He thought, as well as his wife, that that was the time to show his gratitude and that of his family. He offered to donate to the Dominicans a plot of wooded land (nearly three hectares) in his “hacienda” along the San Juan River for the purpose they were contemplating. Then it was not “San Juan del Monte,” but was an “encomienda” which was part of the realm of Santa Ana de Sapa.
The three conditions required were met. It was donated, it was in a place higher than Manila and, therefore, of better climate, and not too far away from the city (“one legua” or five kilometers to the east); besides, it could be reached easily by “banca” or river boat: up the Pasig river, then entering into the San Juan river, and finally landing on the “embarcadero” constructed by Captain Cuenca in the junction of the San Juan river and the Maytunas creek.
The First Church and Convent
So, the offer was accepted with gratitude and the work began. In a matter of a few months the house and the small church or chapel of San Juan del Monte (St. John on the hills) were built, exactly in the same place where they are now. At first it was a “filial house” of Santo Domingo convent, from where it was administered, even if there were a Father and a Brother in residence to attend to those who came for R and R (rest and recovery).
A few years later, in 1616, the house became independent from Santo Domingo convent. A religious house on its own right, it came to be known as the “House of San Juan Bautista del Monte.” Three Fathers were assigned there in 1617: Fathers Huete, Oriol and Samaniego.
The Chinese Insurrection
Unfortunately, the ﬁrst convent and church were not to last long and would have a premature and tragic end. A few years later (1639), the Chinese insurrection took place in Manila. When the rebels were defeated by the Spanish-Filipino troops, they retreated to the Antipolo mountains, passing on their way there by San Juan. For some time, they occupied the convent and the church and, when they decided to proceed towards the mountains, they put to the torch the convent, the church and the few houses in the vicinity. The buildings went up in a column of smoke which could be seen from far off for several days.
The 1st Reconstruction
In 1641, the prior of Santo Domingo in Intramuros, the famous Fr. Sebastian Oquendo, decided to rebuild the convent and church of San Juan. There was an initial difﬁculty, since the title of ownership had been burnt and Captain Cuenca was not any more the owner of the property from which the donation had been made to the Dominicans. Fortunately, the new owner, Captain Gaztelu, had no difﬁculty in admitting that the property donated to the Dominicans by Captain Cuenca belonged legally to them. He even added another donation of his own “a piece of land so that the said prior could build an orchard or huerta and had it fenced together with the former property around the convent.” He was indebted to Fr. Oquendo for favors granted and also “to the religious who lived in and looked after the convent of San Juan, who celebrated Mass the whole year round, heard the confessions and administered all the sacraments to the people of their estancia and also to themselves (the Gaztelu) whenever they retired to their property.” So the new title was notarized, and the convent and the church were rebuilt, now better and stronger than before, using solid materials (adobe) that could be found in the area.
The Image of the Santo Cristo
The church suddenly became a “Santuario,” and one of the best in the country at that! Fr. Oquendo thought that the new church was the ideal place to transfer the image of the “Santo Cristo” which had been sculpted, following the instructions of the saintly Fr. Bartolome Martinez, for the Parian church and that, after the Chinese insurrection, had been kept in the church of Santo Domingo convent in lntramuros. The image was too big for niches in the conventual church, since it was “nine palmos in height” or 1.80 meters. The venerable image was brought to the reconstructed church in San Juan and placed in the main altar, displacing St. John the Baptist who had previously occupied the place of honor. And lo and behold! “No sooner the Santo Cristo was placed on the hills of San Juan that he immediately began to perform prodigies” and from then on the place was called the “Santuario del Santo Cristo”. Attracted by the devotion to the venerated image of the crucified Lord, many devotees from Manila and the neighboring towns came in pilgrimage to San Juan. Soon after, on April 14, 1643, the Confraternity (“Hermandad del Santo Cristo”) was established, counting among the founding members some of the most important people in Manila. The “Hermandad” was approved by Pope Innocent X on March 4, 1648.
The convent and the “Santuario” building were improved with the passing of time. Fr. Peguero, who was vicar of San Juan, tells us that the Santuario was “the biggest in the Islands and the refuge and consolation of all.” According to him, “it was built on a mountain of solid rock and, thanks to that, it had not been damaged by earthquakes. It has been repaired well recently. It is all— the convent and the church—of stone quarry, and both are strong, firm, beautiful and devout. All in all they are the most perfect structures (of their kind) that exist in the Philippines.” He goes on ‘to describe the_“Santuario” more in detail: “|t is all painted al oleo enjaspe (imitation marble) from the floor to the ceiling and adorned with many Latin and Spanish verses and texts from the Holy Scriptures. There are three altars with artistic and proportionate ‘retablos.’ It has five rich ‘ternos’—some better than others—and six ordinary ones. It has not much silver, but what it has is enough for the service of the altar.”
San Juan Destroyed
Unfortunately, all this glory and splendor would be destroyed in 1763. The British had occupied Manila. The city was raped and all its churches vandalized. The convent and the “Santuario of the Santo Cristo” and many houses in the vicinity did not fare any better. They were ransacked then set to the torch by the soldiers. Many thousands of pesos were lost, not only by the convent and the “Santuario,” but also by the people of San Juan who had brought their belongings to the convent “bodegas,” hoping that they would be safer there.
The 2nd Reconstruction
After this great tragedy, reconstruction had to be started all over again. The work began in 1777 and the task was entrusted to a certain Fr. Jose Miguez. He was determined to do it properly, as the “Santo Cristo” and the people of San Juan deserved nothing less. He solicited and received generous contributions from different donors and, once again, the convent and the “Santuario del Santo Cristo” rose from the ashes. The devotees, in great numbers, continued to visit it regularly. Fr. Miguez remained as vicar of San Juan for many years, even after the work of reconstruction had been ﬁnished, perhaps as a reward for a job well done! He was not a historian, unlike Fr. Peguero, and he did not leave an account on how the new convent and “Santuario” looked. Most unfortunately, he has not told us what happened to the venerated image of the “Santo Cristo”: whether it was the same old one or a replica of the one that was enthroned in the “Santuario.” One thing is sure: the “Santuario” remained to be known as the “Santuario del Santo Cristo” and the devotees continued to visit and venerate the Cruciﬁed Lord there. The “Santuario” and the convent rebuilt by Fr. Miguez were, fundamentally, the structures that could be seen up to modern times, except for some repairs and improvements carried out after the earthquake of 1880 and after the occupation of the Katipunan
forces in 1896-1897.
A Parish for San Juan
San Juan had been from the beginning part of the Franciscan Parish of Sta. Ana. When in 1863 the new Parish of San Felipe Neri was erected in Mandaluyong, San Juan was attached to it. The San Juan residents must have felt somehow slighted and ill-at-ease having to be under Mandaluyong in spiritual affairs and tried to become an independent parish. They petitioned the then Archbishop of Manila Dr. Don Gregorio Meliton Martinez, that the town be given a parish of its own and that for several reasons: the importance of the town (which has been a municipio since long ago), the number of people living there and the distance from San Felipe – the roads are not in very good state most of the time and some of the parishioners have to do an hour’s walk to go to church in Mandaluyong.
They requested that the Santuario del Sto. Cristo of the Dominican Fathers, so closely associated to the town, be elevated to the parish rank. It is big enough to serve the purpose and thus, neither the diocese nor the town will have to incur the high expenses that normally are associated with the construction of a new parish church and convent.
We do not know if the local authorities spoke with the Dominican Fathers before they elevated their petition to the archbishop. The move was bitterly opposed by the Franciscan Fathers. Father Huerta himself wrote the position paper for the Franciscans. To separate San Juan from Mandaluyong and create a new parish, he says, “would be like stealing from a poor man.” The move was not enthusiastically supported by the Dominicans, always afraid of doing anything that might make sour the relations with their Franciscan brothers, ever so cordial, because of the little town of San Juan. So, to the disappointment of the San Juan people, the case was dropped for the time being. It would take some time before the convenience of having a parish in San Juan would be taken up again by the ecclesiastical authorities.
A Parish for San Juan, at Pinaglabanan
In 1892, San Juan ﬁnally succeeded in having its own parish but not in the Santuario, as it had been requested by the people of San Juan twenty years before. The Archbishop of Manila, Father Bernardino Nozaleda OP who succeeded another Dominican, Father Pedro Payo OP, in the Metropolitan See, approved the creation of the new parish for the town of San Juan, and a new church and the parochial house built in the section of town now known as Pinaglabanan, where The center of the poblacion had been moving, along the area then simply called Camino de Mariquina, on the grounds of the Santo Cristo hacienda, donated for that purpose.
The new parish was placed under the advocate of San Juan Bautista and, like the former mother parishes, Sta. Ana and San Felipe Neri, the new one was also entrusted to the care of the Franciscan Fathers. The image of San Juan Bautista, who for a long time now had not presided over the main altar of the Santuario was transferred to the new parish church named after him. The royal decree of erection was signed by the Vice-Royal Patron on July 15, 1894.
The Santuario Becomes a Parish
The reasons that moved the Archbishop to take this step (the erection of the new parish) were, in his own words: the insistence of the people of San Juan, for several years already that the Santuario be made a Parish, the great increase in population and the request of the Parish Priest of Pinaglabanan himself, Father Artemio Casas.
During the mid-ﬁfties, then Parish Priest Father Patricio Rodrigo OP conceived the idea of enlarging the Parish Church. San Juan was becoming more populated and the present church could not cope with the many parochial activities. Fully backed by the parishioners, Father Rodrigo launched the ﬁrst all-out-campaign to raise money for his pet project. The people of San Juan responded generously and enthusiastically. However, when Father Rodrigo left to take charge of his new assignment at the Santisimo Rosario Parisl” at UST, the project remained untouched for many years.
The Present Santuario
With the growing population and the needs of a modern parish, it had been felt for many years that a more spacious and comfortable church was required. Although it was accepted by all in principle, the project had to be translated into a reality. One of the first questions to be answered had to do with the actual location of the church within the compound. Should it remain in the place where it was or should it be transferred somewhere else? Another question begging for a reply: since a new church would be built, should it follow the old classic lines of colonial-looking architecture or should a more modern and functional design be adopted?
The questions became academic and moot since they were promptly answered by the Philippine Historical Society. lt being a historical place, the church could not be altered or substantially changed. At most, if enlarged, it had to keep the extemal look of the old Santuario. And so it was done. The work was entrusted to Mr. Felix Imperial, architect, and to Mr. Agustin Gosingco, engineer and constructor, under the direction of the hen parish priest and superior, Father Gerardo Manzanedo, who was entrusted with the responsibility of raising the necessary funds, with the help of the leaders of the parish and the community of San Juan. There were about 5,000 people in the parish when it was newly created in 1942; there were more than 40,000 when the cornerstone for the new amplified church was laid on February 16, 1963. His Eminence Rufino Cardinal Santos, the first Filipino cardinal, presided over the ceremony, while Mrs. Eva Macapagal, first Lady of the Land, acted as the madrina, and Mr. Isidro Rodriguez, Governor of Rizal province, the padrino.
The new church was planned to have a sitting capacity of approximate- ly 1,500 (there are at present 139 big narra benches). In order to keep its colonial look, all the church walls are covered, outside and inside, with the local stone called adobe. One more tower has been added to the original one, and two main doors (there is no central door) have been opened in the front vestibule, which is ornated with 8 niches occupied by statues of Dominican saints; six wide side doors have also been added; most of the doors are made of the wood removed from the old sacristy and church; there is a simple, short crucero or transept; to the side of the sacristy, joined to the dbside or apse, are two chapels — one used as baptistry and the other as mortuary chapel. An inner staircase leads to the image of the Santo Cristo, which serves as retablo or altar-back. The apse is decorated with a painting of relative merit by a young local artist, Mr. Ireneo Robles, representing the Resurrection of Our Lord “witnessed” by some personages, whose faces belong to some local people prominently involved in the reconstruction of the church. The stained-glass windows, with artistic and colorful representation of the stations of the cross and the Holy Rosary mysteries, are the work of the well-known artist, Mr. Cenon Rivera, and were locally made by Kraut Art and Co. The artesonado (ceiling) is made of iron, covered with painted plywood and adorned with rosetones de escayola or plaster decorations; from the ceiling hang two rows of ten iron chandeliers, of Spanish style. “Arte Espaﬁol” was respon- sible for all the iron work in the church. The sanctuary floor and the communion rail are of good quality marble and the altar stone, 6 tons in weight, is of pure Chinese granite, brought from the New Territories’ quarries in Hong Kong. ‘ It took more than 10 years — and the efforts and generous contributions of many people — to complete the new and imposing church, Worthy of the Santo Cristo. The dimensions of the new Santuario are as follows: 64 meters long (besides another 6 meters of vestibule), 24 meters Wide in the aisle and 34 meters at the transept. Those Who contributed to the building of the new church were too numerous to be mentioned here, but it can be said that all the families of San Juan, the prominent as Well as the humble, can honestly and sincerely say that it is their church.
- “Glimpses into the History of San Juan, MM”
By Fr. Eladio Neira, OP
- Interview with Fr. Rafael Carpitero, OP
- 75th Diamond Jubilee of Santuario del Sto. Cristo Souvenir Magazine.