The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (AKA Manila Cathedral)

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That’s a pretty big mouthful, but basically what I’m talking about here is the church that’s designated as the command center for the Archbishops of Manila.  To be precise, these esteemed gentlemen:

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A few posts ago I showed some photos of the cathedral in in Antipolo.  It’s pretty nice, but the Manila cathedral was designated as a Minor Basilica for a reason.  It’s got great architecture and a LOT of history, as you can see from the picture above, which shows archibishops dating back to 1573.  We went through it rather quickly, because it was as hot as an oven in there, but on a cool day we could go back and spend a few hours reading all of the information that’s put out on display.  A quick history is that this church was originally established by the Spanish during the colonial period.  It originally fell under the diocese of Mexico, but eventually gained its own authority and power structure.  The building itself has, in part, survived multiple wars, a massive fire and an earthquake.  It’s been rebuilt a few times.

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The exterior and interior of the building are in pretty good shape.  There was some quiet renovation work going on while we were there, but it didn’t detract from the overall experience.  I’m not Catholic, but it was still inspiring to be in such a sacred place with over 400 years of history, so we took a few moments to offer up prayers before leaving to continue our self-guided tour of the Intramuros area.

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This is a view of the cathedral from the main entrance towards the chancel.  It’s a pretty big area.

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If you walk to the front and then turn and look above the entrance, you’ll see the pipe organ.  A plaque I read said that the first Catholic missionaries to the Philippines brought musical instruments with them, including a portable box organ which was probably destroyed in a major Manila fire in the 1500s.  It didn’t say exactly when the pipe organ was put in place, but it said that for almost all of the cathedral’s history, there’s been a Master Chantre, some of which were specifically named as organists.

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Just after taking this photo, a young guy walked in, embraced this cross and began to pray silently.  I’ve noticed that Catholics place a lot of importance on symbols, images and things as objects or focal points of prayer.  It seems bizarre to me, because there shouldn’t be an object between yourself and God.  On the other hand, I suppose something that inspires (properly placed) devotion can’t be all that bad.  Being in the cathedral was a strong reminder and incentive for me reflect as well.

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This is the “La Pieta”.  I didn’t read the plaque, so I don’t understand the symbolism behind the statue, but it’s well made.

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This is an image of Our Lady of the Philippines located in the Manila Cathedral.

I’m looking forward to visiting this cathedral again.  We were a bit short on time and just happened to see it while on our way to Fort Santiago so we rushed through.  I may create an additional post about this cathedral in the future, since it’s such a wonderful and rich landmark in Manila.

Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Antipolo

Exterior front of Antipolo Cathedral

I’m not sure if this cathedral is actually the center of town, but it certainly feels like it for me.  It’s where we usually get off the tricycle when riding into town from our neighborhood.  We catch the FX to Manila nearby.  The town hall is within sight of the front steps and the area is often host to a number of local celebrations and events like this ballroom style dancing that I saw and recorded a bit of in 2008:

http://www.youtube.com/v/4L2g5hQ9C54 

Alter area of Antipolo Cathedral

The main cathedral is simple, by Catholic standards at least (compared to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City), but it still manages to convey a majestic, reverent atmosphere that reminded me to remove my cap when I passed through the doors.

Parishioners at Antipolo Cathedral

The pews inside are occupied by quite a few people at any given time of the day, but it’s especially jam packed on Saturday nights when mass is held.

Stained glass window at Antipolo Cathedral

Stained glass window at Antipolo Cathedral

These are some photos of the stained glass windows in the cathedral area.

Statues of Saints at Antipolo Cathedral

Statues of Saints at Antipolo Cathedral

And these are some of the statues of saints that are arrayed around the outer wall of the main chamber.  In the first image, you can see a woman laying her hand on one of the statues and praying.

People praying at a Jesus statue at Antipolo Cathedral

This is a very stylistic interpretation of Jesus carrying the cross, which people are laying hands on while offering prayers.

People lighting candles as offerings at Antipolo Cathedral

Burning candle offerings at Antipolo Cathedral

There are also areas where candles are lit.  I don’t understand the exact significance of these candles, except that they’re meant as symbolic offerings.  I suppose they’re used to ensure that the person’s prayers are heard?

This cathedral is known particularly as a place for travelers to pray for safe journey.  I was told by my wife, who grew up in the area, that it’s common for people to make a ‘pilgrimage’ there before embarking on international trips to pray for safety.

The thing I found most peculiar about the cathedral is this sign:

Antipolo Cathedral Car Blessing Sign

If you look towards the bottom right you’ll notice that there are services for car blessings.  My wife says that during this service the priest will sprinkle holy water on the car as a blessing against accidents.  Call me cynical, but this immediately brought to mind a time when the Catholic church would sell a blessing or an indulgence for just about anything, if you could pay the right price, especially with the name and logo of a bank at the bottom of the sign.

The Philippines is a VERY Catholic Country

When I think of the US, my first thought is that, for the most part, it’s a Christian country.  There are churches everywhere.  In even the smallest towns, there’s at least one church.  However, the idea and enforcement of a separation between church and state has made the religious nature of the country a lot more toned down than it is in the Philippines.

Everywhere you look in the Philippines there are reminders that you’re in a Christian country, and definitely a Catholic Christian country.  (For the purposes of this blog I’m not referring to the southern islands, which has been a stronghold of the Muslim faith for hundreds of years).  There are crosses and churches, religious graffiti, art, statues, pamphlets, and even religious themed custom paint jobs on vehicles, among other things.  This is especially true when you get outside of the Metro Manila area, like Antipolo, which is the town just north of Manila where I’m currently residing.

Since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and their 300 years of colonial rule, the Catholic religion has been very deeply embedded into the Filipino society.  I’m sure there are varying degrees from family to family, just like there are in other countries, but people in the Philippines are overwhelmingly Catholic in the way that Arabic countries are overwhelmingly Muslim.

Sometimes, this overwhelming Catholicism can border on the bizarre, or creepy.  At Muslim mosques, the call to prayer is announced from the minarets five times per day.  I remember the first time I heard it in Kuwait.  It was a bit unsettling, but beautiful in a way.  I sometimes stopped to listen to it when I was in Kuala Lumpur.  There’s something similar in the Philippines, or at least at the church in the neighborhood I’m staying in.  Every day at roughly 3 PM, you can hear the sounds of children chanting the rosary over and over, using loudspeakers mounted to the church.  It has a Children of the Corn vibe to it, especially since it echoes off the surrounding hills.  From what I’m told, these children are lured in to perform this task with promises of food and treats afterwards.

I’ve even heard tales of religion supplanting medicine in the Philippines.  Some people prefer to call a priest rather than a doctor when a person is ill.  The priest comes to perform an exorcism to get rid of the bad demons that are causing the sickness.  I don’t want to stray too far from the topic, but if God gave us wisdom to create medicine to heal ourselves, then isn’t it a bit rude to reject it and simply pray for miracles?  Anyhow, I also found a bottle of Holy Water in the medicine cabinet, right next to the headache pills and band aids.  Seriously.

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