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Manila is the city of many churches. her skyline, seen from the bay, is an outline of domes and cupolas, and above all surrounding buildings blaze the corrugated roofs of her Christian temples. China has her walls, India her pagodas, her carved shrines and gilded images, but the distinguishing feature of Manila is her churches. She alone, of all the cities of the East, is rich in the sanctuaries and symbols of the civilized world.
To the chance tourist in Manila these churches are objects of little interest except in their external outlines. For the interested visitor, however, a surprise is in store and he will find that the bare exteriors enclose a world of intense interest to every lover of things historical and human.
The European may be pardoned for lack of interest in buildings that are young beside the hoary monuments of Barcelona or London or Rome, but to the American the three centuries of Saint Augustine and the Recoletos seem very respectable, and for anyone there is enough of interest to brighten many an otherwise monotonous day of tropical ennui.
Who, with the faintest trace of historical instinct in his make up, can fail to be interested in such monuments of toil and sacrifice of generations dead and forgotten? Beautiful these old churches were in their scars and moss and vines. Many have been spoiled by fresh coats of paints; but who can sit silent in their vaulted aisles without hearing from those stained and mellow walls, whispered prayers of priests who long since have vanished, and shadow chants of acolytes who have joined the choir invisible?
The exact number of these churches it is impossible to learn. Even in the walled city, there are so many sanctuaries and chapels that the count never results twice alike, and in this air of old Spain, who cares how many there be?
Most of the churches now standing are modern in construction, but the restorations were in strict keeping with the originals, and aside from the matter of sentiment the interest is not diminished by the fact that the earthquake of 1863 sadly marred most of the best churches of the city.
To those who are able to read the lines between the altars and the arches the individual characteristics of the different orders are reflected in the churches they have built. The austerity of the Augustinians seems to hang about the somber shadows of the old church and the sincerity of life of the great order finds fitting expression in the building of genuine stone with no plaster nor make believe in its construction. Such building has stood for three centuries and such character will stand forever.
The higher culture of the Jesuit is nobly expressed in the most beautiful of all the churches of the Philippines, and the Gothic arches of old Santo Domingo are the purest type of that most striking of all forms of church architecture.
Like all other things worthy of time and study, these old churches do not yield their secrets to the rapid transit visitor seeking only for some new sensation. The mellow lights of alcove and cloister and the fragrant incense of historical associations must be wooed with sympathetic heart and understanding mind, or little is learned. Both the churches and their gowned guardians present a sphynx-like front to the chance inquirer, but once the visitor is recognized as one who desires to learn, the keys are produced and the treasures of antiquity are reverently brought forth.
That much of the most interesting of this vast amount of material is inaccessible to women is unfortunate, but such in the case , and the men of the party will have to go alone if it is desired to see more than the church.
A fitting monument to the labor of thousands of native workmen are the heavy walls and great area of land covered by these buildings of the centuries when men wrought for other reasons than the wages received. It is unlikely that wages for labor were any considerable item of expense in this buildings, but we may pause before the works of an age that induced men to toil for the hope of heaven, and the fear of hell; for with all our achievements we of the twentieth century can not do that.
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