Thursday, March 13, 2008

Santo Domingo Church: The Dominican Home In The Philippines

Santo Domingo Church is known as the home of the richly robed and beautiful image of the Virgin Mary called 'Nuestra Senora de La Naval' or Our Lady of La Naval. After almost four centuries of residing inside the walls of Intramuros, the church and the main home of the Dominican Order had to move to Quezon City where it stands today. It was because of the destruction of the original structure during World War II that the Dominican fathers decided to relocate the church into another place.

The church that can be found in Quezon City is actually the sixth Santo Domingo Church. The first one was erected in 1588 out of nipa and cogon but this was ravaged by fire. The next few churches got toppled by earthquakes and other natural calamities which had made the Dominicans to outdo the last structure by building an even more magnificent church each time.

After the war, a new church was built in Quezon City. It was inaugurated on October 10, 1954 during the La Naval feast and procession. The La Naval image was taken to this church and Santo Domingo was canonically erected as the National Shrine of the Holy Rosary in the Philippines.

The new church was commissioned to architect Jose Ma. Zaragoza, an architecture student from the University of Santo Tomas. He built the church according to the Moderne style which was prevalent in the 1930s and 40s.

The Moderne or Art Moderne style is identified with Art Deco. They differ in overall appearance but both styles share stripped down forms and geometric-based ornaments. Art Moderne has a distinctive streamlined or wind-tunnel look. This effect is emphasized by the use of curved window glass that wraps around corners.

The Moderne style is a radical choice because it is mainly used in residential structures whereas Art Deco is used for tall structures like commercial buildings. Another distinct component is their orientation. Art Deco has a vertical orientation while the Art Moderne is horizontal. Thus, Moderne style is used for short structures.

Santo Domingo is anything but short. Like any church structure, it has an initial thrust in an upward direction in order to pay tribute to the magnificence of the heavens. But because it has the horizontal orientation of a Moderne structure, Santo Domingo appears box-like and massive.

The important innovation in the church’s structure relied on Zaragoza’s decision to combine Moderne style with Spanish colonial architecture. He designed it in accordance with the Spanish Catholic mission style wherein the priory of the Dominicans was attached to the church. This made Santo Domingo Church the headquarters of the Dominicans in the Philippines.

This new Santo Domingo is considered as the biggest because compared to its predecessors this church is 18 feet wider, 13 feet longer, and 28 feet higher. Moreover, the church is regarded as one of the largest churches in the Philippines measuring 85 meters in length, 40 meters in width and 25 meters in height. The church is spacious wherein the total floor area is 3,400 square meters, enough to accommodate more than 7,000 people.

The width of the church gives it a cavernous and magnificent appearance. It has two lateral naves or the main gathering area for the faithful, each with a five-meter width. But there is no column at the center for support which is considered a construction feat even today.

The fa├žade of the church has notable appearance because of its massiveness and clean lines. There is a relief of St. Dominic at the foot of the 44-meter tower which was carved by Italian sculptor Francesco Monti. He also did another bas-relief at the top of the entrance which depicted the Battle of La Naval.

The inside of the church is lined with beautiful stained-glass windows by Galo Ocampo. They depict the old 15 mysteries of the rosary. The windows measure some 21 square meters. Another series of windows consist of pictures of the leading saints of the Dominican order can be found. This includes St. Vicente Liem de la Paz, the protomartyr of Vietnam and an alumnus of Santo Tomas and Letran, and the Dominican martyrs of Indo-China, Japan and China.

There is also a huge mosaic of St. Dominic which constitutes the simple but imposing altar of Santo Domingo. This mosaic is composed of colored stones imported from Italy.

Santo Domingo has a cupola or the dome-shaped ornamental structure located on top of a larger roof or dome. This copula is often used as a lookout or as a source of ventilation. It has depictions in colorful murals of important incidents in the life of St. Dominic done by late National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco. There are eight murals all in all and they measure 3 meters wide by 9 meters long. On the corners of the cupola are the figures of the four evangelists, done in vivid brown tones by Antonio Garcia Llamas.

Aside from the main altar dedicated to St. Dominic, there is an altar house for the La Naval on one wing and another altar for St. Martin de Porres, the mulatto saint of the poor.

The Santo Domingo Church to this day with its history and majesty is seen as a timeless showcase of artistry and spirituality as seen in the structure and the various important artifacts that are housed inside the religious institution. - JOANNA NICOLE BATAC

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