Since their arrival in the Philippines in 1606, the Order Augustinian Recollects (OAR) have had a significant impact in the establishment of many towns and cities throughout the country. The OAR established parishes in previously unconverted territories, in the provinces of Abra, Bataan, Batangas, Cavite, Ilocos, Davao, Masbate, Mindoro, Misamis, Negros, Palawan, Romblon, and Zambales. The parishes still stand to this day, in the towns that grew around these churches; such as the 1607 San Andres Apostol Parish Church, Masinloc, Zambales; the 1619 Convent and Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino, Intramuros, Manila; the 1635 Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Church, Banton, Romblon, the 1638 San Pedro Apostol Church and Convent, Loboc, Bohol; the 1640 San José Cathedral, Romblon City, Romblon; the 1680 Cuyo Fort’s church, convent and the perpetual adoration chapel, Cuyo, Palawan; the 1681 Cathedral of St. Augustine, Iba, Zambales; the 1786 Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul, Vigan, Ilocos Sur; the 1825 Virgen del Pilar Cathedral, Imus, Cavite; the 1829 San Juan Bautista Parish Church, Jimenez, Misamis Occidental; the 1840s San José Cathedral, Tagbilaran City, Bohol; the 1850s San Nicholas de Bari Church, Siaton Negros Oriental; the 1852 Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Valladolid, Negros Occidental; the 1852 Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, Talibon, Bohol; the 1857 Saint Joseph Cathedral, Alaminos City, Pangasinan; the 1866 Birhen sa Kasilak Church, Loon, Bohol; the 1866 San Isidro Labrador Church, Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental; the 1868 Saint Augustine Church, Bacong, Negros Oriental; the 1870s Cathedral of San Agustín, Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental; the 1882 San Sebastián Cathedral, Bacolod City, Negros; the 1891 Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, Sampaloc, Manila; and the 1898 Our Lady of Peace Church, La Carlota City, Negros Occidental. Aside from parishes, the OAR also established educational institutions; such as the 1940 Colegio de Santo Tomas-Recoletos, San Carlos City, Negros Occidental; the 1941 University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos, Bacolod City; the 1941 San Sebastian College – Recoletos, Manila; the 1947 University of San Jose – Recoletos, Cebu City; the 1963 San Pedro Academy, Valencia, Negros Oriental; the 1966 San Sebastian College – Recoletos, Cavite City, and the 1971 Colegio San Nicolas de Tolentino-Reoletos, Talisay, Negros Occidental.
With such a wealth of history, the OAR needed a repository of all the manuscripts and artifacts that they had accumulated throughout the centuries. In 1994, the Bulwagang Recoletos (Hall of the Recollects) opened in the Recoletos Formation Center compound, in Mira Nila Homes, Quezon City. The bulwagan has enough space to house the Archivo Recoleto, the Saint Augustine Library, and the Museo Recoleto. The Bulwagang Recoletos is the first museum in the world dedicated to the collections and history of the Augustinian Recollects. This would be followed by the 1999 opening of the Archives-Museum of the Generalate of the Augustinian Recollect Sisters at Plaza del Carmen, Quiapo, Manila. Next would be the 2010 Museo Recoletos in Marcilla, Spain.
Going up the steps of the Bulwagang Recoletos, visitors are greeted by the pantheon of Recollect saints on both sides of the stairway, and at the patio in front of the building. This hall of saints feature the 1632-1636 Recollect Martyrs of Japan and the 1936 Martyrs of Motril, as well as the founding Recollect saints; such as St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) and St. Ezequiél Moreno y Díaz (1848-1906).
Reaching to the top of the stairway, visitors can see two reliefs at the dome entrance. The first artwork is about “The Arrival of Fray Juan de San Jerónimo and Fr. Rodrigo de San Miguel, in Cebu, in 1606”. Fray Juan was designated as the first Prior Provincial of the Augustine Recollects in the Philippines, and with Fray Rodrigo and 10 other Recollects (one died at sea), were the first members of the OAR in the Philippines. Other members of the OAR would follow within the year, and establish the first priory in Manila, and bring with them the miraculous image of the Black Nazarene. Other missionaries would continue to evangelize in provinces of Bataan, Cavite, Davao, Masbate, Mindoro, Negros, Pampanga, Romblon and Zambales. When the Jesuits were exiled from the Philippines in 1769-1771, the Recollects were tasked to take over the parishes left by the Jesuits, and continue the missions in those areas.
The second relief on the bulwagan’s dome features “St. Augustine and St. Monica praise the Blessed Virgin, as Our Lady of Consolation, and Child Jesus”. This artwork relates the story of Saint Monica (322–387 AD), the mother of Saint Aurelius Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), and her dismay over Augustine’s sinful and rebellious life, in his youth. One day, while St. Monica was praying for the enlightenment of Augustine, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her and gave Monica a sash from her waist, and sated that anyone who wore the sash would receive special blessings and consolation. The Marian apparition would be named Our Lady of Consolation, and Augustine would eventually turn away from his wayward life, and become one of the most influential saints in Christian history.
Entering the bulwagan lobby, visitors are greeted by a large painting of the “Martyrs of Motril”. Also known as the “Martyrs of Granada”, the eight Augustinian Recollect priests featured were executed by members of the Spanish Civil War, in 1936, in the time called “The Red Terror”. The communist Republicans, of the Second Spanish Republic party, condemned all Catholics for their support of the opposing Nationalist party; and they went on a blood bath that left 6,800 clergy and religious affiliated laymen dead. In the province of Granada, clergy were harassed by Republicans, and masses were stopped. In the town of Mortil, seven Augustinian Recollect and a diocesan priest were all dragged out from their hiding places, arrested, and killed by firing squad, between the date of July 25 and August 15, 1936. All eight men were beatified in 1999: Julián Benigno Moreno y Moreno (1871-1936), León Inchausti Minteguía (1859-1936), Vicente Soler Munárriz (1867-1936), Deogracias Palacios del Río (1901-1936), Vicente Pinilla Ibáñez (1870-1936), José Rada Royo (1861-1936), José Ricardo Díez Rodríguez (1909-1936), and Blessed Manuel Martin Sierra (1892-1936). With the exception of Fr. Deogracias and Bro. Jose Ricardo, the five Recollect priests served in the Philippines between 1884 to 1906, before returning to Spain. The painting is based on the work presented to Pope John Paul II, in 1999, when he beatified the martyrs. The painting is now on display at the Church of Motril, in Spain.
Around the bulwagan’s lobby, there are four larger-than-life sculptures of OAR saints and luminaries. Created between 1997 and 1999, these faux bronze statues were crafted by René V. Salvación, a sculptor from Imus, Cavite. The first piece is of Saint Aurelius Augustineof Hippo (354-430 AD), the Bishop of Hippo, in Algeria, Africa. St. Augustine’s written works would become the foundation for the formation of orders of the Hermits of St. Augustine (OESA; Ordo Eremitarum sancti Augustini), the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), the Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR), and the Order of the Discalced Augustinians (OAD). Salvacion’s statue is based on the 1666 piece by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), where St. Augustine is part of the Cathedra Petri (Altar of Saint Peter), in the Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano, in Rome, Italy.
The next statue is that of San Nicolás de Tolentino OSA (1246-1305), the Italian Augustinian friar, who is known as the Patron of Holy Souls and Mariners. St. Nicolás is also renowned for his vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Augustine appearing before him, and instructing him to eat some bread that was marked with a cross. Upon eating the bread, St. Nicolas felt rejuvenated. St. Nicolas started distributing the bread in the neighborhood, and people began claiming to be healed of various ailments. This started the Augustinian custom of blessing and distributing Saint Nicholas Bread, which in turn became the biscuit called Panecillos de San Nicolas or Sanicolas, in the Philippines. Because of this, St. Nicolas became popular in the Philippines, and he has become the patron saint of the municipality of Lambunao in the province of Iloilo, the city of Tandag in the province of Surigao del Sur, Surigao City in the province of Surigao del Norte, Parañaque City in Metro Manila, Barnagays Buli and Cupang in Muntinlupa City of Metro Manila, the city of San Nicolas in the province of Ilocos Norte, the municipality of Baton in the province of Romblon, the city of Capas in the province of Tarlac, and the city of Cabantuan in the province of Nueva Ecija.
The third statue is of Fr. Luis de León (1527-1591), the Spanish Augustinian theologian who was instrumental in the formation of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, in 1588. The Recollects were initially pushing for reforms in the Order of Saint Augustine (OSA), but were eventually established as an autonomous order; and De Leon was commissioned by the Provincial Chapter of Toledo to draft the first constitution of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, entitles “Forma de Vivir” (The Way of Life). De Leon was a noted scholar, who wrote many treatises on faith and the books of the Bible, of some lead to his arrest and interrogation by the Spanish Inquisition. Fray Luis’ poems have also been noted as some of the greatest works of Spanish literature.
The last statue is that of Saint Ezequiél Moreno y Díaz OAR (1848-1906), the Spanish Recollect missionary, who is now the patron of the OAR province that covers the Philippines, Taiwan and Sierra Leon. St. Ezekiel served 18 years of his evangelization in the Philippines, starting with his arrival in 1870. St. Ezekiel was ordained in Manila in 1871, and was later sent to the municipality of Jaro in the province of Iloilo, Las Piñas in Manila, Santo Tomás in the province of Batangas, the towns of Imus and Bacoor in the province Cavite, and Calapan in the province of Oriental Mindoro, where he would become the Vicar Forane of the Recollect parishes of Mindoro. Another notable town was Puerto Princesa in the province of Palawan, where St. Ezekiel act as the military chaplain to the Ihawig Penal Colony, and found the Cathedral of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa. St. Ezekiel would be reassigned to Colombia where he was appointed as bishop of Pasto, in 1888. There he would spend the next 18 years, until he was forced to return to Spain for cancer treatment, where he died in 1906. Because of the, St. Ezekiel is the patron saint of cancer patients.
Around the lobby there are more artworks on display, including a set of 4 carved wooden plaques of the seals of the OAR prior provinces of St. Augustine, Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, Our Lady of Consolation, Our Lady of Candelaria, Saint Joseph, Saint Rita of Cascia, Saint Thomas of Villanueva, and Saint Exekiel Moreno. The Prior Provinces of the OAR are the territorial divisions of which the activities of the OAR churches in several countries are supervised by a Provincial Superior. The Philippines, Taiwan and Sierra Leon are all under the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno; which is house in the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish, in Quezon City.
Another interesting artwork is the wooden sculpture of the first OAR saint, Saint Magdalene of Nagasaki (1610-1634), a Japanese Augustinian sister. Although her birth name is unrecorded, Magdalene was born to a Japanese Christian family, in a time where Christians were persecuted in Japan. In fear of a European colonialization of Japan, the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity in Japan, in 1620; and Magdalene’s parents were on the very same year. Unwavered in her faith, the young girl entered the Augustinian order, and christened with the name Magdalene. She served as interpreter and catechist for Fr. Francis Terrero (Blessed Francis de Jesus, 1590-1632) and Fr. Vincent Simoens (Blessed Vicente de San Antonio, 1590-1632), who were later martyred in 1632. Magdalene would next serve under two more Augustinian missionaries Blessed Martín Lumbreras y Peralta (1591 – 25 August 1632) and Blessed Melchior Sánchez Pérez (1599-1632), who were also put to death. In 1634, Magdalene turned herself over to the Japanese officials, and declared herself a follower of Jesus Christ. She was then tortured for thirteen days by tsurushi, which is being hung upside down in a hole filled with rotten offal matter. On the thirteenth day, the Japanese grew weary of Magdalene, and pour water into the hole and drowning her. The statue of St. Magdalene presents her in an Augustinian habit and holding a palm leaf and a bag, which symbolize her devotion. Every day, and an OAR novice places a sprig of leave in her bag, as a sign of veneration. St. Magdalene is the patron saint of Secular Augustinian Recollects.
Right beside the statue of St. Magdalene of Nagasaki is a crown of thorns from the Holy Land. Monks from the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai (Saint Catherine’s Monastery, established in 565 AD), in Sanai, Egypt, gather the thorny branches of the Jerusalem Thorn (Paliurus spina-christi), which grows on the western wall of the monastery. After fashioning the branches into a crown of thorns, the monks bring these to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, to be blessed. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed to be the site where Jesus Christ was crucified and buried, which an OAR priest had visited during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
At the end of the right lobby hall of the Bulwagang Recoletos, there is a painting of Fr. Martín Lumbreras y Peralta (Blessed Martín de San Nicolás, (1591-1632) and Fr. Melchior Sánchez Pérez (Blessed Melchior of St. Augustine, 1599-1632), the two Spanish Augustinian Recollect missionaries who were martyred on December 11, 1632, in Nagasaki, Japan. Fr. Melchior first started his Asian missionary work in the Philippines, in 1621; where he would meet Fr. Martin, who arrived in 1623. The two became fast friends, where Fr. Martin served as a novice master, while Fr. Melchior served in apostolate of preaching. By 1631, both priests grew worried about plight of their brethren in Japan, and requested to be transferred there. On September 1632, the two arrived in Japan, and quickly administered to the Christians in Nagasaki. They were later capture, and executed by Hi-aburi, or slowly burning alive at the stake. The painting was based on an illustration that was lifted from the Encyclopedia of Saints.
Stepping back outside the Bulwagang Recoletos, visitor will notice the “Monument of Outstanding Recollects”, at the north garden. Sculpted by Florante Caedo, the monument features six heroes of the Augustinian Recollects, who have devoted great effort to evangelize and build Christian communities in the Philippines. The six heroes are: Fr. Rodrigo de San Miguel, OAR (also cited as Fr. Rodrigo Aganduru, 1584-1626) one of the two first Spanish Recollect missionaries to arrive in the Philippines I 1606, and who founded the towns of Bagac, Morong, Mariveles and Subic in Zambales, while doing extensive studies on Philippine language, ethnography and medicine, and cartography; Fr. Agustín de San Pedro, OAR (1599-1660) who arrived with Fr. Rodrigo, and founded the fort-churches in the provinces of Lanao, Cagayan de Oro, Romblon, and Negros during the Moro Wars, as well as parishes of the provinces of Butuan and Cagayan de Oro; Fr. Diego Cera, OAR (1762-1832) the Spanish missionary who served in Mabalacat in Pampanga and in Manila, before transferring to Las Piñas and founding the Parish of St. Joseph and its famous Bamboo Organ; Archbishop José Aranguren, OAR (1801-1861), the Spanish Archbishop of Manila, and had previously served in Capas in Tarlac and Masinloc in Zambales; Fr. Fernando Cuenca, (1824-1902), the Spanish priest who founded the first OAR curate of Talisay, Negros, while helping develop the island’s economy and urban development; and Saint Ezequiél Moreno y Díaz, OAR (1848-1906) who had served and develop towns in the provinces Iloilo, Batangas, Cavite, and Mindoro, and Palawan.
Florante “Boy” Beltran Caedo (1939-2004) is a second generation sculptor. Aside from training under his father, Anastacio Caedo, took his formal studies at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Fine Arts (CFA), which he completed in 1963. Instead of focusing in exhibitions, the young Caedo started working under his father’s tutelage, before breaking out on his own in creating public art pieces. Florante was able to develop a style classical sculpture that greatly differed from his father, bring a new dynamic and expressive nature to Philippine art. His greatest monuments appeared to be frozen in mid-action and floating in the air, such as his Emilio Jacinto on horseback (1972) at the Himlayang Pilipino Park and his Saint Michael (1984) near the Malacañang Palace.
At the south garden of the Bulwagang Recoletos, stands the Monument to the 1998 Establishment of the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno. Erected in 1999, the monument commemorates the creation of the new prior province from the Province of San Nicolas de Tolentino, and its jurisdiction over all the OAR houses in the Philippines, the house of Linyuan and Santimen in Taiwan, and the mission in Sierra Leon, in Africa. The monument is also dedicated to all the Recollect missionaries who have come to the Philippines, since 1606, and the martyrs who had given their lives for the great glory of God. At the top of the monument is the seal of the new Province of Saint Ezekiel Moreno, flanked with two angels.
I wish that I could someday write about the collection of relics, manuscripts, and other artifacts in the Bulwagang Recoletos’ library and museum, but access to these require a special permit, and thus are not open to the general public. However, there is much more to explore on the Augustinian history, through its Hall of Saints at the Bulwagang Recoletos, which I will expound in the next article.