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Convent Curios

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The convents of Manila present bare and uninteresting exteriors and in a way represent the life of their inmates. In the twentieth century they show the ideals and habits of the seventeenth, and most travelers pass them by with little thought other than that a lot of valuable property is being used with little returns.

Such an estimate disregards the historical value of the old buildings and their contents,and they may after all serve a purpose in the cultivation of that keen appreciation of historical values that comes only after personal contact with the spirit and product of the past.

The study of sixteenth century monasticism from books may be profitable, but to visit sixteenth century institutions in actual operationis an invaluable introduction to the literature of the age of the Renaissance. The convents of Manila represent the architecture of three hundred years ago, they contain the books, the paintings, the bells, the furniture, the mode of dress and the habits of life of an age that was in full vigor when Columbus discovered America, and that has elsewhere given place to the modern motives of life and thought.To drop back into the past and find it living and maintaining its daily succession of duties prescribed five hundred years ago is an experience not to be neglected, and worth coming some distance to find.

A little monastery life would be an excellent antidote for some of the ills peculiar to the twentieth century. No feverish unrest penetrates those six foot earthquake-proof walls of stone and mortar. No nervous prostration is written on the faces of those robed and gowned padres who complacently look out from the upper ventanas of sunset.

Some shrewd medico will sometime recommend convent life for a new form of rest cure, and then we will all spend our vacations going about with bare feet and white robes,which is perhaps as near to an angelic appearance as some of us may hope to come. If we could lengthen our belts to match those of the padres, we might be compensated in part however.

The individual padre is hard to segregate from the whole. He wears the face of a graven image and seems as imperturbable as the Rocky mountains, but he is really a very peaceful placid sort of man who is well fed and good natured and gives the visitor the impression of having left his religion where he maintains that it belongs--in the church. In every convent in Manila I have found men who were courteous and went to no end of personal trouble to tell me what I wanted to know and show me what I wanted to see; provided of course, it were on the list of things seeable and tellable. For there's the rub! The paintings, the cloisters, the bells, the books, the carved furniture, the organs and the altars, these are full of interest and beauty, and they are to be seen for the trouble of asking, but back of the temporal things that are seen to be unseen things of the inner life and spirit of the church and the Order, which is the permanent force and hidden power of the whole institution; and this the visitor does not see, nor ever will be shown.

The first impression of a visit to one of these convents is that of surprise and pleasure at the beauty of the inner cloisters and courts as contrasted with the sombre exteriors. The monastery life is turned inward and the houses were built to shut out the world. The rumble of traffic and the strife of the street never penetrate these shaded paths by the quiet fountains, and if houses made with hands could be sobuilt as to shelter their pilgrims with peace, these great walls should serve their purpose well.

The inner cloisters are much alike. Some are wider and some are higher and some are cleaner, but all have the Roman arch, all give the fine perspective of retreating colonades, and all are hung with old paintings of saints and martyrs.

The paintings are a various lot. The oldest of them are almost completely obliterated by the sears of time, the tropical heat and moisture being exceedingly destructive of pigment and canvas. Colors are faded to an indistinguishable brown and as for dates , there are none. No inmates knows how old they are, and, in fact, none ever thought to inquire. Sufficient unto the day is the statement that they represent the great souls which have served the Order. Some of the subjects are not good to look upon just before bedtime, though that would probably make no difference to a nerveless monk with with his rwo hundred and seventy -five pounds of avoirdupois, but before these hallsare turned into rest cures some some of the the paintings will have to be turned to the wall. The sight of twenty martyrs crusified in a row impaled upon a stake, or of a bishop with his head half cut off, smiling down on the steaming blood, is bad for the nerves. One might get used to it in time, and time itself is rapidly covering these horrors from the eyes of men. Nearly all the paintings are portraits of Church officials, or scenes of persecution, and are representations of events associated with the history of the Order to which they belong.

There are some stairways that are worth seeing. In the convent of the Recoletos is a fine old stairway with granite steps, and carved pillars, unique and interesting as the work of three hundred years ago. The great broad steps with their gentle rise and solid construction underneath have a strenght and permanency that is unsurpassed by modern buildings, having the polish of marble and the glitter of gold.

The Augustinian convent is by far the most expensive and complete of any in the city, or perhaps, in the islands. Behind a most barren exterior is a group of magnificent buildings containing rooms and quarters for hundreds of monks, and inner courts beautiful with verdure and so far from the streets that perfect quiet is unbroken by any noise from the world. The great staiway is the finest in the city, and surmounted by a high dome built of hewn stone and giving a delightful effect of space and coolness. The cloisters are broad and roomy and a sense of great comfort pervades the whole pile of buildings. The refectory is a fine old hall with room for a hundred and fifty seats at the great tables,and with its raised dais and life size crucifix takes the visitor back to the days of yore with that suddenness and completeness which makes such an experience so refreshing.

The old padres are no believers in all work for Jack or for the priest, and every convent contains its big recreation hall on the upper floor of the building with plenty of ventilation and a fine outlook above the city. One of this halls is a hundred and fifty feet longand with its naked beams and its aged inmates puzzling over a game of chess with knitted brows and pipes in hand, would furnish a subject for the brush of a Rubens or a Titian. Some artists will yet immortalize himself and his subjects by putting on canvas the life of these old halls and their picturesque occupants.

A good story might be found in almost any of these places if the bells could speak that which they have seen, and therefore should know, but while bells are talkative enough, they have discreet tongues and tell no tales exept those they are hidden by their lords and masters. Now bells are doubtful members of the family of music makers, and Manila bells, as they are hung and rung, have little claim to anything except discord and crashing noise. Cowper sang of the soft music of village bells that fell at intervals on the ear in cadence sweet, but evidently he had never been in Manila at six o'clock p.m. There are half a dozen really fine bells in the city but they are never heard to advantage, because of the impertinent raps and clatter of the small fry that clang simultaneously and incessantly whenever their elders essay to speak. The largest bell is in the tower of Santo Domingo, and,being too big to swing, is rang with a hammer. If properly struck its tone is rich and full, but is rarely heard.

For the uninitiated and one unfamiliar with the Spanish tongue, the way of the explorer is hard. Inquiry at the door of the convent is met with bows and smiles; but without the linguistic key very little information is gained. Once the purpose of the visitor is understood there is no difficulty in getting access to the halls and a little friendly interest has opened the heart of many a custodian of the treasures which to him seemed of little value. Some of the Orders have a priest or two with a fair knowledge of English, and when these men are found the way is easy.

The most interesting feature of all the convents is their libraries These are most rigorously guarded and vary in size and scope, but all contain much material.

The value of this material depends upon the purpose for which it is sought. In everything that is modern, they are almost wholly lacking, but one does not come to the Philippines to find modern libraries. Much of the material is worth little from an historical or a literary standpoint, as the gist of the records has been extracted and republished in modern form, and the purely ecclesiastical works are of little value to-day.

But this libraries abound in high interest for the antiquarian and if they were mre accessible any one with a reading knowledge of Spanish might discover some materials of great hitorical value. The "Bullarios" or bull of the popes, for instance, are all accessible in modern printed form but here are the old editions of this works as they were first printed and the leather and paper and ink marked with the year 1551 have an interest of their own.

The materials on which these old books with their curious letters and yellow pages were made quite put to shame the paper and ink of modern manufacture. The paper of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries is so fine and strong that it may well last for a thousand years yet. Some of the old volumes are printed in two colors, and show a painstaking care that has been rewarded by results that are still strong after three hundred and fifty years of time. Many of these older volumes have been rebound, the original backs and some of the pages having been eaten by the annae. The new bindings, and practically all bindings now extant, are of the indestructible pergamino or rawhide, that is proof againstants,moths,rust and rough handling, and seems the ordained article for this climate.

Nothing is more surprising than the excellence of the work that was done tediously from wooden types upon old hand screw presses at great expense of muscle and time.

Some of these old volumes are so rare as to bring the visitor under a mighty temptation to break the tenth commandment and look with covetous eyes upon the treasures If now -- but what's the use!If they were for sale they would not be here, and if they were not here they would be very high priced, and if they were high priced they would be manufactured to order--with any date that the fancy of the maker or the cupidity of the buyer might suggest. If we are to have the genuine thing we have to pay the price of finding it at original sources and look with guarded eyes upon relics, any one of which would be a prized treasure in an American library

The range of languages found is not wide. The Franciscan library has little except Latin and Spanish, with a very few books in English and a half dozen Greek. The Augustinian library contains a longer list, representing Hebrew, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, German,French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, and many of the leading Malay dialects, including all the principal languages of the Philippines.

The subjects are much the same in all these libraries. The works of the fathers are of course well represented. The Franciscan shelves are divided into twenty classes alphabetically distinguished, and the departments include apologetics, history, exposition, dogmatics, theology, mysteries, ecclesiastical predicables, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, grography, civil-law and the complete history of the Order of St. Francis.

There are about twelve thousand volumes on these shelves. The library of the Recoletos contains about nine thousand volumes; that of the Augustinians eleven thousand, and the Dominicans have eighteen thousand. Most of the collections contain several copies of the celebrated "Flora de Filipinas" by Fr. Blanco and his co-laborers. This work is in six volumes and an index and is a remarkable piece of scientific research. The best edition contains two volumes of colored plates of the flora of the archipelago, and the press work, done in Barcelona, is of the best.

It is surprising that there are not more works purely Philippine, but the monks were no exception to the rule that no time nor place seems great while passing, and there is sufficient data for extensive historical research, if it were available.

It is very evident that these libraries are little used by those for whom they exist, and to whom alone they are accessible. The printed pages are all of the past, and there is little that would be an aid to any purpose other than that of research. Of the real value of the books it is not strange that the guardians have little idea; their education has not been of the sort that appreciates other than ecclesiastical value. On the wall of one of this book rooms hangs a framed proclamation in the name of the "Sancta Papa" announcing that the pain of ex-communication will be pronounced on any member of the Order who allows any other than a priest of that Order to make use of the books of the library. In this same place ,however, I was shown every courtesy and treated with the greatest of kindness.

The whole air of these libraries is that of a museum rather than an intelectual workshop. Most of them are closed except at certain stated hours and there is little evidence that they are used even then.

When I first asked to be allowed to see one of the archives, I was informed that even the padres themselves were allowed to use the books only under certain closely guarded conditions; and for an outsider it would be impossible. This last, however,I afterwards found to be a mistake.

The furniture of most of the libraries is very plain, the empty shelves of part of the reading room of the Recoletos bearing witness to the fact that in the troublous times of the insurrection many books were sent for safe keeping to Spain.

In one place there hung a large map of the islands, and the padre, who was superior of the Order, showed me a small island four days from Manila, where he had spent six long years as parish priest. The little mountain in the sea contained two thousand souls, every one of whom, he said, was his friend. Into the little harbor, the old Spanish steamer came once in six months if the weather were favorable; if not they could wait six months more. The people lived on rice, camotes, bananas, chickens and eggs and other natural products; and it was all very cheap. As the old man described his years exile, his face lighted, he became excited, and with a fervor that was eloquence itself, he told of the toils and hardships of his ministry. The birds there were beautiful,the trees and the mountains and the bays were all muy bonitos. There was good hunting, and fishing, and food was very plentiful. It was all beautiful, and when I asked him how he would like to go back there to live he emphatically declared that nothing suit him better. When I came away he assured me of his everlasting friendship and invited me to call often.

The convents are interesting and the padres are picturesque to look at, but after much time spent in seeing things the visitor at last leaves with a feeling that he has seen only the outer shell of a something that he can never fathom from the outside nor understand by sightseeing methods. The mills of the great Church grind slow, and they grind some strange grist, which is no concern of this book.


WATER life gives Manila some claims to the title of "Oriental Venice." The general level of her streets is but a few feet above water, and should some earthquake lower the plain ten feet, or some tidal wave raise the water in the bay, there would be a permanent or temporary reproduction of conditions in the famous Italian city.

When the big flood of July, 1904, occured, this very thing did happen and men went everywhere about the streets in bancas carrying passengers for any fare they might be able to collect.

There is however, plenty of material for Venetian scenery without waiting for a flood or an earthquake, and the traveler has not far to go to find bits of water and landscape that make the soul of an artist stop to gaze and rejoice that he is in Manila. Some of the estero windings with zacate-laden bancas and brown-limbed boatmen are thoroughly Oriental and characteristic of the leisurely life of the tropics

There are five divisions of river life: the shipping behind the breakwater belongs to the deep sea; the lower Pasig harbors the inter-island merchant marine; The Pasig above the bridge of Spain is the terminus and general rendezvous of the lake traffic, the large canals and esteros of Quiapo, Binondo, and Tondo float a large burden of provincial freight and the smaller esteros serve as distributers of produce and building material all over the city.

Any map of Manila shows a network of these canals that reaches nearly every part of the city. So obvious was the usefulness of these waterways in the days of primitive methods of transportation, that they were used for nearly every class of freight, and often passengers were wont to travel about the city in slender bancas propelled by the banquero who was as much a part ofthe household force as the cochero. So much were the esteros used that a Spanish royal decree was passed, and is yet in force, by which no building is allowed within ten feet of the bank of an estero.

Manila's bridges have a history all their own. The mother of them all is of course the old Puente de España that crosses the Pasig below the post office. The original bridge at this point was built of pontoons some time between the years 1590 and 1600. It was first known as the "bridge of boats," and later the :puente grande." During the rule of Governor Niño de Tabora, about 1630, this structure was replaced by a solid stone bridge which has stood until the present time, The old bridge has been extensively repaired several times after various big earthquakes, notably those of 1824 and 1863. Twice since the American occupation it has been widened to accommodate larger traffic, and now the electric trolley chases the carabao carts across the oldest bridge in the islands. This bridge is the only structure in the Philippines standing in good repair that is entitled to rank with Fort Santiago in point of age and long usefulness, and the church of San Agustin.

Before the new Santa Cruz bridge was built the congestion of traffic on the lower bridge was at times formidable. The line of carromatas used to extend away back down Bagumbayan drive and people sometimes had to wait an hour for a chance to cross. The cochero of former days had a habit of driving from the bridge down to the Escolta at a full speed, on the principle that it was a dangerous place and the sooner through it the better. This led to so many accidents that an ordinance was passed prohibiting any one from leaving the north end of the bridge except by the road down the bank of the river to Calle Rosario.

The estero bridges are nearly all of stone, built in solid arches, and most of them are of long standing. As a rule they take their names from the streets on which they are situated, but the larger ones are named in honor of some saint or celebrity. The bridge at the end of the Santa Mesa car line, known as the San Juan bridge, is famous because it was here that the first gun of the insurrection against the United States was fired on the fourth of February, 1899. The situation was getting rapidly worse, and at ten o'clock that night a drunken insurgent officer drew the fire of an American sentry. Immediately the insurgents fired a volley upon the American picket line and the battle of San Juan bridge was on. The old bridge stands unharmed by its exciting history, its three strong arches bidding fair to span the stream for many years to come.

The river population of Manila is a class by itself. Over fifteen thousand people liveon the cascos and lorchas that ply the waters of the river and its tributaries, all within the city limits.Thousands of children are born, grow, live and die on this floating cargo carriers, and never dream of any other world than that which floats about them and is towed or poled from place to place.

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