Share this page:
There are ruins everywhere in the Philippines, some imposing and some squalid, and some better ruined than restored. But the queen of all the ruins and the capital of all the broken cities of the past is the old monastery of Guadalupe. Situated on a hill above the river, the site commands a wide view in all directions, and is thoroughly typical of the retreats chosen by the builders of the famous European monasteries. Here were once the life and interest of countless multitudes who thronged these altars and confessed at these shrines. It needs but the historical background to revive the spirit of the fifteenth century propaganda, and people these shadow shrines with shades of soul long since departed.
If the visitor is world-weary and seeks a lodge in some quiet wilderness he can find it at Guadalupe. Here no clanging gong disturbs the sacred echoes, and no rumble of traffic awakes the sleeping dead.
But like the faded flower her beauty has departed, and kind nature with tender sympathy has drown over her face of mourning a veil of green to hide her scars and cover the naked bones in her crypt.
Many and varied have been the fortunes of the historic spot. In 1601, 310 years ago, the foundations were laid under the direction of Fr. Antonio Herrera, son of the Spanish architect of the famous Escurial.
The church and convent were of massive construction and so well-built that the walls still stand as the great builder left them. They successfully withstood all the heavy earthquakes of three centuries and have lived through practically the whole of the known history of the Philippine Islands.
Many years were occupied in finishing the first walls and they were several times afterwards extended, and some of the buttresses were greatly strengthened.
It requires but little historical vision to see the old monks toiling over their scant clad converts, laboriously raising stone by stone the solid walls.
"These walls," said the missionary architect, "shall stand for ages to come that the generations following may look on them and worship God."
In the old days this church was famous as the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the original image of which was brought from Estremadura, in Spain, and reigned in great state for many years on the Guadalupe hill. Multitudes climbed the stone steps up the hill to the big stone court in front of the façade, and on many a fiesta day the walls echoed with the murmur of the multitude and the laughter of the little children at play.
The church itself was a striking example of Doric architecture, having massive buttresses to support its vault which was all of hewn stone. In 1880 some of these external supports gave way and the vault fell, after withstanding all the earthquakes; but in 1882 Father José Corugedo set about the work of restoration and repaired all the damaged portions of the building.
The old monastery was famous for its great library and its archives containing many relics and articles of great ecclesiastical interest and value. Here were many manuscripts of scientific works on Philippine subjects, many copies of the "Flora de Filipinas" by Father Blanco, a number of unpublished works, documents containing data of great historical value and other literary treasures, all of which were most carefully guarded from careless hands and profane eyes.
When a religious order occupies the same monastery for three centuries a strong community life is developed. Every foot of old pathway has its associations and every window ledge and corner seat its traditions and memories, and over it all is woven the mellow fragrance of things that are old. It is not strange that men who spent their days here lived with faces toward the past.
Linger as we will among the memories of the days of glory we must come to the story of the destruction of the beautiful buildings and all their gathered treasures. Much as we should like to omit this chapter of the story, it is history and has its place.
The zeal of the American volunteers carried them far beyond the established line at San Pedro Macati, to Guadalupe and even to Pasig and Pateros. Who is responsible for this is another question, but on the fourteenth of February, 1900, the insurgent forces were concentrated against the isolated Americans, and while "the troops were not repulsed," it was deemed good tactics to fall back on Guadalupe and the troops were quartered in church and convent. During the night the insurgents massed their forces in the jungle in front of the church and waged a furious battle from the daylight till noon, When the Americans, supported by the artillery and the gunboat Laguna de Bay, on the river, advanced and droved out the enemy returning of course to their position at Guadalupe.
The insurgent general, Pilar, now secured as reinforcements the famous 23rd regiment of Aguinaldo, and on the 17th the battle was on in earnest. All day and the next also, the harassing fire continued, and on the morning of the 19th, after a lively skirmish the insurgents were driven back, the church and convent were fired, and the Americans fell back to their original position at San Pedro Macati.
It was more unfortunate that the church was ever occupied at all , as it was an untenantable position of no advantage whatever. It is also regrettable that it was thought necessary to burn the monastery which would have been needless but the premature occupation of the place and consequent concentration of rebel forces at that point. The military records of Fort Santiago show that there were four companies of the first California volunteers at the church when it was burned and abandoned, and that the total casualties occurring at Guadalupe were 8 killed and 42 wounded. But regrets will not restore the ruins, and for all the treasures of learning and toil as well as the results of time, the flames had neither fear nor mercy.
The present condition of the ruin is very unsatisfactory. A dense growth of brush covers all the approaches and fills the cloisters. It is almost impossible to photograph any part of it by reason of the obstructions, and even the paths last made are hard to find. The visitor's first impression is that of great strength in the heavy walls which show in great numbers the holes made by the bullets of the insurgent soldiers. With in the church may be traced the remaining lines of the decorations of the old walls, but little is left to mark where the altar once stood.
The two-story colonnades of the inner court are beautiful in their moss and vines, and the perfectly formed arches lift their heads in mute appeal to the open sky. Below, men have played false with the long-suffering servants of stone; above there is justice and vindication. The old stone stairway still stands in good condition and is striking in the midst of broken walls. By spikes that some one has driven into the walls one may climb to the top of the church wall and from there walk about the entire ruin. The view from the western gable is one of the finest in the valley. The sunset from the old upper windows must have been a joy to behold. The inner court contains the old cistern which is yet in perfect order and filled with clear water. It probably held rain water from the clean-tiled roof in the old days, and with its cement floor, walls and vault left little to be desired.
Perhaps no spot is of more real interest than the crypt standing back of the apse of the church. It is partly above ground, the vault of hewn stone is still in good repair, and contains riches for forty-three bodies. There is every evidence that it was fully occupied, though the spaces are now all empty and the broken floor is strewn with the human bones. There is no spot in any of the ruins that seems so utterly old and dead and musty as this crypt. Only a heart of stone can be untouched by the grewsome damp of this chamber of death. Shall these bones live? Shall the dead past again be reproduced in a new monastery?
Men have traveled far to find a spot so beautiful or a ruin so romantic. There is little that we of the modern kind build that will last through three centuries, or stand in stately grandeur as does this broken monument of a crumbling empire. The desolating winds have dealt kindly with these veteran walls; may they do so with us!
We wind our way down the tangled slope and turn for one last look behind. There against the blue sky stands the naked walls, the pointed gable, the broken arch. Within those lengthening shadows rests the spirit of the past, breathing in silent slumber till some resurrection morn when all the broken arcs of earth shall join in
Heaven's perfect round.
Share this page: