Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral
Prewar Cathedral of San Vitalis in Cebu City (Leo Cloma Collection)

Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral – The Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Cebu , Archdiocese of the Sagrado Nombre de Jesus, Cebu City / Built ca 1734-1834; reconstruction completed 1959. Renovated 2009 / Renovation Architects: Jose Zaragoza, Maxwell Espina

Cebu is considered the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines since the first Christian settlement was established here by the Spanish colonizers in 1565. San Vidal is the patron of the city. In 1578, seven years after Manila was declared a capital of the colony, Pope Gregory XIII created the Diocese of Manila, which encompassed the entire archipelago. On 14 Aug 1595 Manila was raised to an archdiocese and three dioceses were created as its suffragans: the Santisimo Nombre de Jesus in Cebu, Nueva Segovia in Lal-lo, Cagayan Valley, transferred to Vigan in the 18th century, and Nueva Caceres in Naga. Until 1865 the Diocese of Cebu included all the Visayan islands, Mindanao, and the Marianas. In 1934 Cebu was elevated to an archdiocese with the dioceses of Calbayog, Jaro, Zamboanga, Bacolod, and Cagayan as its suffragans. The Cebu Archdiocese is dedicated to the Santos Angeles de la Guardia.

Although the cathedral was reconstructed after World War II, its facade and walls go back to the 18th century.

The construction of the first church began on 10 August 1595. Originally made of wood, bamboo, and nipa, it was later provided with stone walls. Bishop Juan Lopez’s report to the King of Spain in 1665 described the sorry state of the cathedral because its roof was made of nipa. The bishop appealed to the king for assistance and on 28 October 1670, the request was granted. The king assigned 10,000 pesos for the cathedral given in tranches over ten years.

In 1689 Bp Diego de Aguilar began the construction of a larger building, but the project was discontinued for lack of funds. His successor Bp Miguel Bayot began an entirely new structure, but again this did not go far beyond the initial stage. In 1699, government architects were assigned to assess the cost of a new cathedral with master mason Juan de Ayco as head and assisted by master carpenters Jeronimo Quibon and Jacinto Caba.

Describing the building under construction as nothing but a barn, and finding it too small, the new bishop Sebastian de Foronda discontinued the project. In 1719 new plans were prepared by the military engineer Juan de Ciscara who had been summoned from Manila. Ciscara designed a large church with a wide nave and ample lateral aisles, a truncated transept, the main altar at the transept, an altar de perdon (altar of pardon) behind the main altar, and a coro baxo or bajo (choir stalls) at the center of the nave. Two bell towers flanked the facade. While 40,000 coral blocks had been hewn and 10,000 sacks of lime prepared for the new cathedral, the project was stopped because the building was sitting on soft and wet soil. Furthermore, work on the project was suspended when funds had to be diverted to military campaigns against the Moros.

Construction began in 1734 but was interrupted four years later. In 1741 the new bishop Protasio Cabezas ordered resumption of the work. Later Bp Lino de Espeleta appealed to the king saying that 90,000 pesos was needed to finish the cathedral. He reminded the king of the promise of previous monarchs to fund the construction. Lack of resources and labor stopped the project. It would begin again in 1784. The facade was completed in 1786. Ready for occupancy by 1811, the cathedral was consecrated. The finished building was a departure from the Ciscara plan. Major renovations were undertaken in 1829, as portions had to be demolished because it posed danger to people. In 1836 Bp Santos Gomez Marañon designed and built the bell tower. By 1863 repairs became necessary but were not immediately undertaken because of the government’s unsympathetic response to the project, but two years later, the government sent Domingo de Escondrillas of the Public Works Office to draw up plans for repair and for widening the cathedral. The government allotted a sum of 66,546 escudos on 10 December 1865. Records indicate that the cathedral had been improved by 1886.

The last Spanish bishop of Cebu, Martin Garcia Alcocer, wanted to demolish the old cathedral and build an entirely new one but the plan was overtaken by the Philippine Revolution of 1896-1898.

From 1910 to 1934, during Bp Juan Gorordo’s administration, further improvements were made. Under his term, the cathedral was finally completed. In 1939 Cebu’s first archbishop Gabriel Reyes initiated major renovations, among them the enlargement of windows, the installation of stained glass, and the marble finishing of the altar. The project was undertaken by Engr Gavino Unchuan and his team of architects. In 1940, the cathedral was reconsecrated by Abp Reyes on the eve of World War II. By 8 December 1941, the Philippines was plunged into war.

In 1945, in the last days of World War II, the cathedral was destroyed by American bombs. Only the walls and facade survived. Architect Jose Zaragoza was commissioned to rebuild the cathedral. The reconstruction was completed in 1959 under Abp Julio Rosales.

The cathedral was then renovated during the term of archbishop later cardinal Ricardo Vidal (1982-2010) by the addition of galleries along the nave to allow for more space for churchgoers. Also renovated was the sanctuary, dominated by the monogram of Jesus’s name. A closed circuit TV system was installed for the sake of churchgoers who because of the crowd could not see the sanctuary.

In preparation for the Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Cebu in 2009, Msgr Roberto F. Alesna and his team of six assistants went on a campaign to restore the cathedral. This involved upgrading and rewiring the electricals, replacing the termite infested wooden trusses of the roof with a steel structure and clearing the plaza of obstructions and redesigning it. The cathedral walls were cleaned and made ready for a new coat of palitada (primer). The cathedral was given a new coat of paint, new retablos based on the designs of the early 1900s. A 12-bell modern digital carillon was imported from Singapore and incorporated with older bells to make a 15-bell chime. The outer perimeter of the cathedral was enclosed in a wrought iron fence.

Like many churches in Visayan coastal towns, the Cebu Cathedral is made of blocks of coral stone. The building is 74 m long and 18 m wide. The walls are 12.35 m high and 1.5-2.5 m thick. The facade is 21.36 m high. The two-story facade is crowned by a pediment that has been described as a trefoil. Its outline suggests rather a truncated triangular pediment with curved ends, and a central section rising and swelling into a semicircle. The focal points in the pediment are the IHS in bas-relief, and below it, an oculus or eyelike window, which is flanked by blind circular openings. The surface is richly embellished with bas-reliefs that include floral forms and a pair of Chinese griffins or kylin. The two-story portion of the facade is divided into three vertical sections. The central section is flanked by coupled columns of tall bases. Above the arched portal is a rectangular window. Each lateral section has a rectangular window on the lower story and a hexagonal opening on the upper story. The cornice over the portal is broken, providing space for the coat of arms in low relief. The bell tower is square in plan on the first story, and has chamfered corners on the second. The uppermost story is a regular octagon in plan, with arched openings on all sides. The domed roof of the tower is encircled by a balustrade and crowned by a lantern.

Adjacent to the cathedral is the old convento or rectory for the cathedral rector and canons, to be distinguished from the Episcopal Palace or palacio, which was then directly in front of the cathedral in a lot presently occupied by Patria. The convento is an oversized bahay na bato (stone house), with its characteristic zaguan and the upper floor reserved as living quarters. The convento is conjectured to have been constructed during the time of Bp Santos Gomez Marañon, who rebuilt the cathedral. The convento served at one time as the teacher training center of the University of San Carlos. On its ground floor opened a chapel for the personal parish for Chinese in Cebu, later known as the Sacred Heart Parish on Jakosalem St. From 1950s, the building returned to its original use as a convento. In the 1960s it served as the local barangay office and housed parish offices.

Boarded up since the 1980s because a new rectory had been built beside the cathedral, the convento assumed a new function in 1995, when Msgr Virgilio Yap was asked by Cardinal Vidal to establish a small museum in it. However, Msgr Yap became ill before the opening and died shortly after. The museum closed thereafter. In 2001, the cardinal revived the idea of a museum. Dean Melva Rodriguez-Java of the University of San Carlos was appointed restoration architect. During the renovation, rotten wooden posts were replaced and the new posts embedded in cement footing in order to last longer in a waterlogged soil. The original level of the floor and foundations of the wall were uncovered. After restoration, the Cathedral Museum of Cebu was opened in the old convento in 2006.

On 15 October 2013, an earthquake with an epicenter in Bohol affected Cebu. During the tremors, the bell tower of the Basilica of the Santo Niño collapsed partially. The cathedral, the new convento and the old convento, now a museum, were spared with minor superficial rather than structural cracks.

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer

Originally posted 2010-11-22 00:28:59.