The Jesuit House of 1730

Jesuit House of 1730
Jesuit House of 1730 in Cebu City, 2015 (Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc Collection)

Present name: Jesuit House of 1730, Museo de Parian / Location: Parian district of Cebu City, between Zulueta and Binakayan Streets in the compound of Ho Tong Hardware

The house was written about in 1938 by William Repetti, Jesuit scientist, historian and archivist of the Philippine mission, in Pictorial Records and Traces of the Society of Jesus in the Philippine Islands and Guam Prior to 1768. Repetti put together the book by gathering oral data and working closely with field researchers, like Fr Gissel, who took photographs for the book. In 1987, René Javellana published an article about the house in Philippine Studies. Except for these scholarly notes, the house has remained largely unknown because it is hidden inside the warehouse of Ho Tong Hardware, whose main office is a stone’s throw away at Colon St, the oldest street in Cebu. The house came to public attention in 2010, when it was opened as Museo Parian.

The identity of this house goes back to the presence of the Jesuits in Cebu as early as the 16th century. In 1595, Jesuit superior, Antonio Sedeño, appointed vice-provincial that same year, sent Pedro Chirino from Leyte to Cebu to facilitate the establishment of a central house for the Jesuits missions of the Visayas. The Jesuits acquired a house through a donation by residents of Cebu. According to Chirino, this house was in a pleasant site near the sea. This first house may not have been in the Parian because a 1699 map of Cebu depicts Jesuit properties clustered around the site of the Colegio de San Ildefonso and lots between the Cebu cathedral and the Convento del Santo Niño, not in Cebu’s Parian

In 1605, the Philippines was raised to the status of a province in the Society of Jesus. By the mid-1600s, a vice-provincial of the Pintados (the Visayans) was appointed to better supervise the missions. He lived in various provinces in the Visayas but Cebu was his customary place of residence. In Cebu, the vice-provincial lived in different houses but his customary residence was the College of Cebu. However, starting in 1654, the Jesuit catalogues of personnel no longer list the vice-provincial under the College of Cebu; presumably he had a residence of his own.

Repetti states that around 1701, the Jesuits built a house in Cebu’s Parian. In 1730, another house was built close to the site of the earlier house, between present-day Binakayan and Zulueta Sts, to replace the earlier house. The Binakayan house is what is called the Jesuit house of 1730. Most likely it was the residence of the vice-provincial of the Pintados. An annotated copy of Repetti’s Pictorial Records in the Archives of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus has marginal notes from an unknown source doubting whether the ruins identified by Repetti were really of the earlier house of 1701.

In 1768, the Jesuits were expelled from the Philippines. What happened to this house until the late 1800s, when the Alvarez family acquired it, is uncertain. When the Alvarezes owned the house, the family lived on the second floor of the house and part of the ground floor was used as horse stables, because the family was into transportation. In the 20th century, the stables would become garages for motor vehicles.

In the 1950s, the house was rented to Sergio Osmeña and became Club X, an exclusive club for Cebu’s elite. Around 1964, the Sy family purchased the house from the Alvarezes and later converted it into a warehouse of Ho Tong Hardware. The Sys breached the perimeter wall on Zulueta St to make it possible for trucks to approach the warehouse but also added to the height of the original perimeter wall made of coral. The house was hidden and forgotten.

In 2008, the present owner Jimmy Sy, who inherited the house from his father, began restoration of the old house and opened it to the public. The house is being restored as resources are available, the whole project funded privately by Mr. Sy. By 2010, the house was opened to the public.

Recently, the Jesuit attribution of the house has been questioned because a document from the 19th century indicates that the Villa family had made a house available to the Jesuits in Panting, defined in the Rivera y Mir map of Cebu as an area in the Parian bounded by Mabini and Zulueta Sts and the Estero del Parian. It has been suggested that the Villas owned the house identified as the Jesuit house. Jose S. Arcilla acknowledges that the Jesuits who returned to the Philippines in the 19th century used a house of the Villas. He writes: “In 1878, they [the Jesuits] leased the house of the Villa family for 25 years, favoring its location for use as a procurement and rest house for the missionaries in Mindanao. But, in 1883, it was closed” (Arcilla 2013, 12). Mojares, however, locates the two Villa houses on Mabini St, rather than on Zulueta and Binakayan, where the Jesuit Residence (8) is located, beside the Rodriguez residence (7) (Mojares 1983, 58).

As to whether the house is Jesuit or not, internal evidence indicates that it is. The house is significant architecturally because its date of construction is known, indicated by a plaque inside the house. This plaque has a crescent moon, beneath the year 1730. The moon motif has been used in Jesuit seals as representing the Virgin Mary.

The house serves as benchmark for colonial construction, whose dates are often unknown and established by educated conjecture through comparative studies. It is also significant because the house uses many elements that are clearly Chinese in origin. First, the house has a sweeping roof ridge, generally reserved for temples, palaces, and wealthy homes. Second, the sweeping curvature ends in a space for a bagua. This is a device representing the eight trigrams of Daoism and is attached to houses to ward off evil. In the absence of a proper bagua, a shiny porcelain plate was used in the Philippines. Third, the house uses the Chinese bracket system for the roof structure. In this system, lintel and post construction of ever-diminishing dimensions are placed on top of each other to create height. The bracketing system is visually appealing and becomes a decorative element in the construction.

What is known as the Jesuit house are really two two-story limestone houses attached by a bridge. The first of the building, which has a two-story wall of limestone, which Javellana has labeled as House A, with the second house with a second story of wood as House B. The houses are enclosed by a limestone fence, whose entrance bears the monograms of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph at the lintel. The supporting columns of the cut coral perimeter wall also had emblems of the Society but these have been vandalized or degraded over time. The main door of the house, close to Binakayan St, also bears the monogram of Jesus and three crossed nails, the seal of the Society.

Old maps of Cebu indicate that the original property attached to the house reached Estero del Parian but at present, that property ends abruptly a few meters from the gate at Binakayan, divided by a coral stone wall from other houses. This perimeter wall was probably built in the late 19th century when part of the original property was sold.

In the restoration of the house beginning in 2008, the base of the tower indicated in the sketch in Repetti was discovered. It is the first floor of what now serves as a kitchen in House B. The kitchen was built by the Alvarezes. An earlier ceiling with degraded polychrome painting was also discovered with the cleaning and restoration of one of the bedrooms. The painting dates to the 18th century, another feature of the house that enhances its significance.

Also discovered in the course of consolidating the foundations and post of the house—which has been subjected to rot because of a rising water table—are numerous shards of pottery, local as well as Chinese, Japanese and Indo-Chinese trade ware. Remains of animals, like chicken and fish, have been found. A jawbone of a horse has also been recovered. Most important are two coins bearing the insignia of China’s Wanli emperor (1563-1620), 13th emperor of the Ming Dynasty. The finds recovered through rescue archaeology suggest the site of the 1730 house is a rich archaeological site, probably inhabited as early as the 16th century.

The lower story of House A has been converted to a museum with two galleries: the Sugbu gallery, which tells the history of the Parian; and the Pedro Chirino gallery, which is about the Jesuits in the Philippines, especially Cebu. Under House B, a third gallery on colonial construction is being prepared.

The upper story shows the lifestyle of the Cebuano elite, exemplified by the Alvarezes, who donated old photographs that speak of an era—the late 19th and early 20th century. It houses Mr Sy’s collection of colonial antiques. Jesuit House of 1730!

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer

Originally posted 2000-11-22 02:05:07.