IT surprises people to know that the Santo Domingo Church, easily one of the biggest and most important centers of faith in Catholic Philippines, was not originally in Quezon City, where it now stands as a definitive landmark. The original Santo Domingo used to be in Intramuros. According to the CCP Encyclopedia, the church was “one of the jewels of the treasure chest that was Intramuros.
Intramuros was of course “the city of 10 churches,” and Santo Domingo’s relocation from there to “Extramuros” owes as much to the vicissitudes of war as well as the postwar expansion outside of Manila-to new horizons, new frontiers-much like the missionary spirit of the Dominicans and the other great religious orders, who braved the jungles and dangerous territories of the Philippines to make of the islands a vast green temple of Christ, an unbreakable rosary of the Blessed Mother.
The Quezon City church, in fact, was the sixth Santo Domingo Church. The first Santo Domingo was erected in 1588 from nipa and cogon, frail materials that naturally gave way to the elements, particularly to fire. In fact, the first church was gutted by fire in 1603, prefiguring the fiery history of the Dominican order in the Philippines.
Not fire, but seismic turbulence, however, greeted the next Santo Domingo structures, which were destroyed by earthquakes in 1619, 1862 and 1863. Each time the church was toppled, the Dominicans erected a more magnificent church, defiant as ever. The neo-gothic church that replaced the one toppled by the earthquake of 1863 was particularly noted for its majesty, easily the grandest in a district known for its grand churches.
It was this neo-gothic structure where Jose Rizal attended mass before boarding a ship to Spain to continue his studies. It was this structure that particularly impressed the new American colonizers. In the 1915 “Guide to Manila Catholic Churches” published by Norton, the church was described as “unusually attractive” with “a brilliant radiance”:
“Highly agreeable is the first impression of this church, with wide nave, groin vaulting; narrow side aisles separated by pillars, set wide apart (that) gives a very airy appearance… (with a) pulpit of fine workmanship, of molave and other rare native wood… (and in the chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary), the gallery of tracery work noticeable; and you are facing a beautiful altar where is standing in surroundings of artistic splendor, the image so famous in history, and now venerated as the patron of the islands.”
For nearly a century, the gothic church withstood earthquakes, the Philippine revolution and the American invasion. But alas, it did not survive the Second World War. On December 27, 1941, Japanese planes bombed Santo Domingo and laid it to rubble. But when the Dominicans cleared the debris, they recovered the image of Our Lady of La Naval, the icon of the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary that got its name after the Spaniards and Filipinos defeated the vastly superior invading Dutch armada in the 17th century. The image would later head the procession to symbolize Santo Domingo’s relocation from Intramuros to Quezon City.
After the war, the Dominicans proceeded to build a new church in Quezon City. During the La Naval feast and procession on October 10, 1954, the church was inaugurated. The image was taken to her new altar, and the Santo Domingo Church was also canonically erected as the National Shrine of the Holy Rosary in the Philippines.
In building the new church, the Dominicans commissioned their protege, architect Jose Ma. Zaragoza, who built the church according to the Moderne style that had been prevalent in the 1930s and 1940s, around the time he was an architecture student at the University of Santo Tomas.
His choice was radical. The Moderne style, which was short, was mainly employed in residential structures, in contrast to the earlier Art Deco, which was tall and used in commercial buildings. Thus, while the orientation of Art Deco was vertical, that of the Art Moderne was horizontal.
But the Santo Domingo was anything but short. Like any church structure, its initial thrust at spiritual magnificence was directed upwards, to the heavens. But because of the horizontal orientation of Moderne, the structure appears box-like and massive.
But Zaragoza’s most important innovation was to combine the Moderne style with Spanish colonial architecture. In a nod to history, he designed the church in accordance with the Spanish Catholic mission style, attaching the priory of the Dominicans to the church and making the complex the headquarters of the Dominicans in the Philippines, much like the Santo Domingo in Intramuros, when it was the nerve center of Dominican evangelization in the islands.
The new Santo Domingo is the biggest of the Santo Domingo series. Compared with its predecessor, it is 18 feet wider, 13 feet longer, and 28 feet higher. Measuring 85 meters in length, 40 meters in width and 25 meters in height, it is easily one of the largest churches in the Philippines.
The church is spacious. The total floor area is 3,400 sq m, enough to accommodate more than 7,000 people. Its width gives it a cavernous and magnificent appearance. It has two lateral naves, each with a five-meter width. Despite this, there is no column at the center for support, a construction feat even today.
The facade is notable for its massiveness and its clean lines. At the foot of the 44-meter tower is the relief of St. Dominic, carved by the Italian sculptor Francesco Monti. At the top of the entrance is a dramatic bas-relief of the Battle of La Naval, also by Monti.
Inside are beautiful stained-glass windows by Galo Ocampo, depicting the old 15 mysteries of the rosary. The windows are large, measuring some 21 sq m. A huge mosaic of St. Dominic constitutes the simple but imposing altar. The mosaic consists of colored stones imported from Italy and inlaid to form a big picture of the founder of the Order of Preachers.
Another series of windows has the pictures of the leading saints of the Dominican order, including St. Vicente Liem de la Paz, the protomartyr of Vietnam and an alumnus of Santo Tomas and Letran, and the Dominican martyrs of Indo-China, Japan and China.
The late National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco depicted important incidents in the life of St. Dominic in colorful murals at the cupola. Eight in all, the murals in the cupolas measure three meters wide by nine meters long.
On the corners of the cupola are the figures of the four evangelists, done in vivid brown tones by Antonio Garcia Llamas.