Pilgrim's Knapsack

Pilgrim's Knapsack

Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City


The Facade of Santo Domingo Church

The Church of Santo Domingo in Quezon City was my home for less than eight years as a student-brother. Every ordination that I have witnessed in that Church brought tears of joy to my eyes. There had been times when I used to walk at the center aisle after dinner, imagining that one day my dream will be fulfilled. And that happened on November 30, 2007, my ordination to the priesthood. Every Filipino Dominican holds this Church dear to his heart as a sacred place of formation and ministry. A glimpse of history will make us appreciate more the mother house of the Order of the Preachers in the Philippines. 

The Ceiling and Cupola of Santo Domingo Church

The Spanish Dominican Province did not have a specific territory in spite of its name. It was uniquely a missionary Province for the evangelization not only of the Philippines but also of the other countries of the Far East. While the other Provinces had several convents as their basic nucleus headed by their respective priors, theProvincia del Santisimo Rosario de Filipinas had only one convent, the Convento de Sto. Domingo in Manila under an elective prior. 

Bishop Domingo de Salazar, OP

On August 6, 1587, some Dominican Fathers started the construction of a wooden Church along the marshy and mosquito-infested land in the south bank of the Pasig River. The first Bishop of Manila, the Most Rev. Domingo de Salazar, OP (†1594) bought this property from a certain Spanish gentleman named Don Gaspar de Isla for tres sientos pesos(P300.00). He donated another tres mil pesos(P3,000.00) for the building of the first Church. As a general rule, Spanish Dominicans dedicated the first house to their Founder and Patriarch, St. Dominic, whenever they started a new mission. 

The 4th Sto. Domingo which was destroyed by an earthquake.

Unfortunately, the original Church lasted only for over a year. In 1589, its ceiling suddenly collapsed. The second Church was made out of stone but was devastated by a great fire on April 30, 1603. The third Church did not stand the strong earthquake of Nov. 30, 1610 either. Out of the ruins, a fourth temple of stone arose. As a preventive measure against earthquakes, it had a wooden vault and three aisles. But after 250 years, the greatest earthquake in Philippine history occurred on June 3, 1863 that destroyed the Church along with 249 buildings and a dozen other Churches. The Church crumbled and yet, in the midst of the catastrophe, the image of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary survived all these destructions. 

The Gothic 5th Syo. Domingo
The hopes of the faithful took shape in 1867 when Don Felix Roxas presented a plan for a new Church worthy of the Lady of the Holy Rosary. It was Gothic in style and was meant to be a mixture of beauty of form and massiveness of construction. But no architectural design adapted for the geological conditions of the country would ever stand the wrath of war. The Church was bombarded on December 27, 1941 during the Second World War. The image of Our Lady of the Rosary survived as it was taken to a safety vault of the convento shortly after the outbreak of the Pacific war, and was recovered in the evening of December 30, 1941 after the debris had been laboriously cleared. As Fr. Pablo Fernandez, OP recounted in his sworn statement:

The Ruins of the Gothic Church after the bombing.
On December 27, 1941, I was in the library of San Juan de Letran College. At 2:00 o’clock I heard a great explosion caused by a bomb that undauntedly had fallen in a nearby place. Judging from the commotion and noise, I calculated the place must be Saint Dominic Convent and I was not wrong in my calculation. Sometime later, several men, who came from the Intendencia Building, told us that Saint Dominic’s Church had been bombed. One of these men was wounded and another was awfully stained with blood although he was not hurt.” 

Paintings of the Evangelists by Llamas

After the war, Dominican authorities searched again for a fitting home for the Queen of the Rosary. Our Lady’s devotees expressed their love to her with their generous support. In October 1952, the cornerstone of the proposed sixth Church was laid by the Most Rev. Peregrin de la Fuente, OP, Prelate of Batanes-Babuyanes in its new site in Quezon City. This one is a structure totally different from previous ones in Intramuros. It was built not on the same spot where it used to stand up time and again, but in a place some seven kilometers from the old site. On October 10, 1954, on the occasion of the Church’s inaugural blessing, the Archdiocesan Marian Congress of Manila made the year’s La Naval procession its concluding act. 

Stained glasses by Galo
The Congress proclaimed Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in the Philippines and the procession’s highlight was the translation of the venerated image from the chapel of the University of Sto. Tomas to its new shrine. The Most Reverend Rufino J. Cardinal Santos presided over the rites, assisted by notable persons of the Order of Preachers, the Philippine hierarchy and government officials. The Church was put under the care of Fr. Pedro Tejero, OP, the new convent’s prior.

Story of La Naval by Monti

The sixth Church is bigger in dimension than the last one in Intramuros. Despite its width of thirty (30) meters extending to fifty (50) at the transept, accommodating a standing capacity of 7,200 persons; there was no column at the center for support, and not a few considered this a feat in construction engineering pioneered by Mr. Alberto Guevarra. 

Basrelief of St. Dominic by Monti
It followed the architectural style of Spanish colonial moderne as envisaged by Don Jose Zaragoza; the facade was decorated with pre-cast carvings showing an episode of La Naval de Manila at the belfry’s lower portion, crafted by Professor Francesco Monti, sculpture-mentor at the University of Sto. Tomas’ Fine Arts Department.


The interior of the Church had its own artwork as soul-stirring as it is majestic. Below the cupola were murals painted by Mr. Carlos “Botong” Francisco depicting different episodes in the life of St. Dominic and pre-fabricated sculptures of the Biblical figures of the four evangelists done by Professor Monti, above which were paintings of the evangelists in vivid brown tones crafted by Mr. Antonio Garcia Llamas.

The Interior
 Wherever one stays inside, stained glass windows painted by Mr. Galo Ocampo meet the eye. They portray the fifteen (15) mysteries of the rosary, Dominican holy men and women, and some highlights of the battle of La Naval.


When the Virgin was transferred in 1954, the construction work of the church was on going.

La Naval side altar
For this reason the community Fathers deemed necessary to transfer the image to an improvised chapel, in the Sala de las Cofradias (Guild’s Hall), at the entrance of the interior cloister of the convent. That was the venue where the community gathered together to pray the Divine Office, the rosary and celebrate the morning masses. Large numbers of faithful came to this chapel to see the miraculous image closely and enjoy her sweet and merciful look.

When the construction was finally completed and the altar of the Virgin had been covered with marble brought from Italy, the image was transferred to its throne, located then at the right side looking towards the main altar. On the left side altar there was the beautiful and inspiring carving of the Cristo del Santo Entierro, a very popular confraternity in the church of Intramuros.

At this stage, the apostolate and pastoral activities started being organized. The schedule of masses was established, both on weekdays and on Sundays and Holydays of obligation.

The Cupola
The attendance to those Eucharistic celebrations was truly massive from the very beginning. The confessional boxes were approached by a large number of penitents coming from all over the Archipelago. The Third Order and the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary were re-established. Also the Holy Name Society, with its national headquarters. Another confraternity that was revived with powerful vitality was the one of the Santo Entierro y Virgen de la Soledad: Former members returned to the bosom of the Confraternity, which held annually with great solemnity of the Santo Entierro on Good Friday. It can be said that the apostolic activities of the church were, from the very beginning, intense and spearheaded for a promising future. 

Photo by Estan Cabigas, official La Naval photographer

The Church is now more than half a century old. Only time will tell if this sixth shrine will be the one that would claim the title as the perpetual and final home of La Naval and her Order of Preachers. Fires, Earthquakes and War never hindered the faith of the devotees. Like the proverbial phoenix, Santo Domingo Church always rises from its ashes.


The Corridor of Sto. Domingo
1.      The first Sto.Domingo Church was made of wood, nipa and cogon grass. From the 16th century up to the present, there have been six constructions of the same church. The sixth Sto.Domingo Church in Quezon City is the largest and the only construction outside Intramuros. 

2.      Sto. Domingo Church occupies a lot of  four hectares, bounded by Quezon Avenue (front), Sto. Domingo Street (left side), Biak-na-Bato street (right side), and Pi y Margal (rear). It is 1.8 miles from the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila.  

3.      Sto. Domingo Church is 58 meters in length; 30 meters in width at the entrance, increasing to 50 meters at the transept; and 44 meters in height. There are two lateral naves, each with a 5-meter width.

4.      Compared to the old (5th) neo-Gothic Church in Intramuros, Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City is 13 ft longer; 18 feet wider; and 28 ft. higher.

5.      In spite of its width, there is no column at the center for support, a feat of the construction engineer.

6.      Sto. Domingo Church is the tallest of all churches in the Philippines.

7.      The total floor area of the church is 3,400 sq. meters with 7,200 person standing capacity. Actually, its sitting capacity is good for 2,000 persons.

8.      There are five aisles at the central nave and two more aisles at the transept, making a total of seven aisles.

9.      The architectural style utilized in the construct\ion of Sto. Domingo Church is called Spanish Colonial Moderne.

10.  There are three main doors across which murals are engraved. The murals depict the devotion to the Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in the Philippines. On the sides, thee are 13 doors.

11.  All in all there are 15 huge stained-glass windows. Five on the right side show the five joyful mysteries;  seven on the left side illustrate five sorrowful mysteries and two glorious mysteries; and the three in the façade depict the three other glorious mysteries. These stained-glass windows were done by Galo Ocampo.

12.  Eight smaller windows (3 meters wide by 9 meters long) are above the copula. These windows have colored murals showing the important incidents in the life of St. Dominic. The murals were painted by Carlos Francisco.

13.  On the corners of the copula are the figures of the four evangelists. The pre-fab ornaments used in these figures were prepared by noted sculptor Monti.

14.  Another series of windows have the pictures of the leading saints of the Order of Preachers., like St. Vicente Liem de la Paz, Dominican martyrs of Indo-China, Japan and China.

15.  The Sto. Domingo Church has natural ventilation. Its white plywood ceilings are perforated so that the warm air escapes through these louvers placed between double roofings, and fresh air comes in through the wide doors to replace it.

16.  Contrasted against the white ceilings are the colored tiles from Belgium and Spain.

17.  Inside the Church, there are 2,000 forty watt fluorescent lamps which is not visible. The device used is indirect lighting system.

18.  The dome is illuminated by 1,000 watt floodlight. Neon lights at the cove above the altar brighten the place during mass.

19.  All lights are operated by the switches in the sacristy which were regarded as high-tech during the 1950’s.

20.  When any bulb gets out of order, it can be changed without the use of a ladder. One has to repair it by climbing to the ceiling which was purposely constructed to meet such eventualities.

21.  At night, the huge cross atop the main door and the smaller crosses on its sides are lighted, illuminating brightly the church façade.

22.  There are 4 bells which are not functioning. They were made from the bells of the old Sto. Domingo Church that were melted and refashioned for the purpose. The original bells were made in the Philippines during the 19th century.

23.  The altar of the Sto. Domingo Church in QC is simpler than the old sto. Domingo Church. There are only the mosaic, the altar table, the tabernacle and chandeliers.

24.  The church has three altars characterized by utmost simplicity. Right altar has a niche for the Lady of the Most Holy Rosary; the center altar has a huge mosaic of St. Dominic and the left altar has the shrine of St, Martin de Porres. The Church is both the National Shrines of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and St. Martin.

25.  In front of the two side altars are elevated rostrums for the priests. Pasage to the right rostrum is through a helicoidal steel stairway behind a hollow column. The left rostrum is reached through a convent passage way.

26.  The huge mosaic of St. Dominic, central altarpiece, (at the lower part of the 44 feet tower) has a surface pattern made of natural color stones imported from Italy.

27.  A master clock used to echoes forth Westminster chimes every quarter hour. It was electrically operated. These chimes were used to be heard within the radius of 2 miles because of the 4 trumpet type lous speaker attached to the tower.

28.  Sto. Domingo Church is designed by architect Jose Zaragoza. Its construction is done by Engr. Alberto Guevarra of the Philippine Builders, Inc.

Outline of Sto. Domingo by Fr. Louie Coronel, OP

ADUARTE, Diego, OP, “History of the Dominican Province of the Holy Rosary (Manila, 1640) in the Philippine Islands: 1493-1803. Vol XXX eds. Emma Blair and James Alexander Robertson.

Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas Vol LXXX, No. 845 (November-December 2004)

Unpublished Notes on Santo Domingo Church, PDCIS Library

1 comment:

  1. Such a beautiful church you have shared in here. My friend is going to marry the love of her life in this church and the reception is at Blue Gardens. :0


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