Close to the northern end of Quezon City’s Commonwealth Avenue is the St. Peter Parish: Shrine of Leaders, dedicated to the apostle St. Peter, patron saint of workers, healers, and leaders. Its architecture is very distinct, as the church façade is a miniature copy of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Not as grandiose as the original, as the parish is less that 1/10th of its Roman inspiration.
Founded in 1993, the construction of St. Peter Parish was designed and completed in 1999 by Noli M. Bernardo (born 1935), and is managed by the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (SAC / Pallottine), and is under the Archdiocese of Novaliches. In 2012, the St. Peter Parish was declared a shrine, and renamed by Bishop Antonio Tobias DD, Bishop of Diocese of Novaliches, as the St. Peter Parish: Shrine of Leaders.
Aside from the exterior of dome of the St. Peter’s Basilica, the parish also has a small replica of St. Peter’s Baldachin at the altar, which was originally created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, between 1623-34.
What makes the parish stand out, beyond its copying a famous piece of classical architecture, is the Garden of the Resurrection Columbary, which is found right below the church floor. The cathedral was built on the slopes of Batasan Hills, allowing a lot of space under the church to be developed; hence the columbary was constructed along with the church.
Aside from having a marble labyrinth of a crypt at the basement of the church, there are many sculptures that mark the different halls of the columbary. Each hall is named after an apostle of Christ, with a matching faux bronze resin statue by the Vietnamese sculptor, Trần Văn Sam, who was a friend of Rev. Fr. Gerardo Tapiador, the priest who oversaw the construction of the church. Instead of having a pantheon of saints at the top of church façade, just like the Vatican version, these saints are quietly watching over ashy remains of the dearly departed.
The first saint is that of the Apostle Andrew, one of the “first called” of Jesus’ apostles. In this sculpture, he hold the “saltire” or diagonal cross, which symbolizes the cross’s position when he was crucified. Saint Andrew is the patron saint of fishermen and fishmongers, singers, miners, and farmer workers.
The second saint is the Apostle Bartholomew, who was believed to have preached the Gospel in Armenia and India. In this depiction, Bartholomew holds his own flayed skin, which symbolizes his own martyrdom in Armenia. Saint Bartholomew is the patron saint of bookbinders, salt merchants, leather workers, and shoemakers.
The third saint is the Apostle James the Greater, son of Zebedee and brother of the Apostle John. In this statue, James is holding a pilgrim’s staff, symbolizing the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago, which was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages in the Middle Ages. Saint James is the patron saint of veterinarians, equestrians, furriers and tanners.
The fourth saint is the Apostle James the Lesser, son of Alphaeus. Here he is shown holding the Bible, which symbolizes his evangelization in Egypt, where he was believed to be martyred. Saint James is the patron saint of the dying, milliners, and pharmacists.
The fifth saint is the Apostle John, the Evangelist, son of Zebedee and brother of James. He is presented with the symbol of the eagle, as one of the writers of the Gospels of the New Testament in the Bible, and the scroll to symbolize his other books, such as the Book of Revelation and the Epistles. Saint John is the patron saint friendships, authors, editors, publishers, scribes, scholars, and theologians.
The sixth saint is the Apostle Jude, who is also known as Judas Thaddeus. In his statue, he is attributed with the palm branch and noose, which symbolizes his martyrdom by hanging, in Lebanon. Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and hospitals.
The seventh saint is the Apostle Matthew, the Evangelist, the tax collector called upon by Jesus. Mathew is featured falling from as assassin’s arrow, while saying mass in Ethiopia. Saint Matthew is considered the parton saint of accountants, bankers, tax collectors, perfumers and civil servants.
The eighth saint is the Apostle Matthias, the disciple who replaced Judas Iscariot. Parton saint of butchers, carpenters and engineers, Saint Matthias was beheaded and hence his attribute is the axe, which he holds in this statue.
The next three sculptures are about the different attributes of the Apostle Peter, who is also known as Simon Peter. Considered the First Pope of the Catholic Church, Saint Peter is patron saint of the Papacy, bakers, bridge builders, harvesters, locksmiths, cobblers, horologists, and ship makers. There is a fourth statue of Saint Peter, which is mounted at the top for the upper left corner of façade of the church.
The first statue of Saint Peter portrays him holding the Keys of Heaven, which was written in the Gospel of Matthew 16:13–19, which states:
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The second statue of Saint Peter shows his martyrdom by inverted crucifixion, which as first stated in the Acts of Peter, where Peter asked not to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus is nailed to an inverted cross by the Romans.
The third statue of Saint Peter presents him as the First Pope of Rome, as he holds the Keys to Heaven, the shepherd’s staff that represents his leading the faithful to the Kingdom of God, and at his feet is a fish that symbolizes his evangelization as a “fisher of men”.
The following saint is the Apostle Philip, who was first a follower of John the Baptist, before becoming Jesus’ disciple. In this work, Saint Philip is shown as an old man preaching the Word of God. Saint Philip is the patron saint of hatters and chefs.
The next saint is the Apostle Simon, also called Simon the Zealot. Often Saint Simon is featured holding a saw, which represents his martyrdom by being sawn in half. However, the artist must have thought that this was too gruesome to portray, or even hint to, so he presented Simon as an old man praying. Saint Simon is the patron saint of leather workers and carpenters.
The last saint is the Apostle Thomas, who is sometimes called “Doubting Thomas” as he had initially disbelieved that it was the resurrected Christ who stood before him. Saint Thomas is depicted pointing his finger, which represents the scene where he stuck his finger into the side of Jesus, where the Roman had speared him. This was the proof Thomas needed to believe that it was indeed Jesus standing before him. Saint Thomas is the patron saint of judges, architects, and masons.
Outside the Garden of the Resurrection Columbary are a few gardens to sit and pray, as the whole parish is a quite place of solace and contemplation amidst the chaos of Commonwealth Avenue, including the jeepneys jostling for space right in front of the church.