The Parish of San Nicolas de Tolentino is an unassumingly modernist structure, located inside the Congressional Village residential subdivision in Quezon City. With its simple design, the church belies the wealth of art and heritage of the Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR), whose Prior Provincial of Saint Ezekiel Moreno is housed within the church compound. The prior province is the OAR office that has territorial jurisdiction over the parishes, convents and schools of the OAR in the Philippines, Taiwan, and Sierra Leon, in West Africa.
Although the Parish of San Nicolas was establish and constructed in 1975, the development of the church already started when the Provincial Vicariate of the OAR transferred from Manila, to Quezon City. This is most evident with the altar piece by Ansel Day-ag, which features the parish’s patron Italian Augustinian visionary Saint Nicolás de Tolentino OSA (1246-1305), in this wooden relief of “Saint Nicolas praying to the Cross for the intercession of the Souls in Puregatory”. This sculpture is based on a vision of St. Nicolas, which makes him the patron saint of the holy souls.
There are more sculptures by Day-ag, which are the 14 Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis. These wood plaques are representations of the Passion of the Christ. This series is quite unusual, as this version starts with the Last Supper, and ends with the Resurrection of Christ; which is not a sanctioned version of the Catholic Church, and only gained popularity in the Philippines in the 1990s.
Anselmo “Ansel” Day-ag (1935-1980) was an sculptor of Ilongot-Ifugao descent. A graduate of the U.P. College of Fine Arts, from 1953 to 1957, Day-ag was adept in classical and modernist styles, but often drew inspiration from his people’s culture as themes in his exhibitions. Day-ag had received many awards for his works, but the most significant was the 1956 Magsaysay award in Composition. Daya- is also noted for his commissioned monuments, such as the Lion’s bust in Baguio, Battle of Mactan in Cebu, Quezon Memorial in Hundred Islands of the province of Pangasinan, Yamashita Shrine in Kiangan of the province of Ifugao, and Eagle’s arch and President Marcos’ bust in the province La Union.
Since its constructions, there have been many additions to the San Nicolas Parish, including the stained glass windows of Augustinian sainted and martyrs. Starting from the altar to choir loft of the left aisle, the images represented are that of the patron saint of the Philippine OAR prior province of the Philippines, Saint Ezequiél Moreno y Díaz OAR (1848-1906), the first OAR saint and Japanese martyr, St. Magdalene of Nagasaki (1610-1634), the patron saint of the Catholic Church, St. Joseph, the Spanish Civil War’s OAR Martyrs of Motril (August 1936), and the Recollect Martyrs of Japan of the Nagasaki Christian persecutions (September to December, 1632). Beginning at the altar to choir loft of the right aisle, the images represented are that of theologian and bishop, Saint Aurelius Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), his mother, Saint Monica (322–387 AD), and her devotion of the Marian apparition of Our Lady of Consolation, the Augustinian theologian and educator Saint Thomas of Villanova O.S.A. (Tomás García y Martínez, 1488-1555), and the only Augustinian saint with a stigmata, Saint Rita of Cascia (born Margherita Lotti, 1381-1457).
The right transept of the church was transformed to a special Altar to the Tabernacle, which can also double as the baptistery. Constructed in 2008, the chapel within the church was made with red terra-cotta bricks, to reflect the exterior of the church. Above the tabernacle is a relief of the Lamb of Gd, representing Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for man’s salvation.
The ceiling of the Tabernacle Chapel is a mural of “Christ, The King of the Universe”, by a certain Roget Bactong, in 2008. What makes this painting different from most versions of the subject matter is that Jesus Christ is holding the Holy Eucharist, instead of the Bible or Globe. Another interesting part of the work is the frame, which features a bamboo pattern frame, and the four evangelists, in a more Filipino setting. St. Luke’s symbol of the bull is rendered to look like a Carabao, to enforce the Filipiñana theme. It is sad that I cannot find any more information on Mr. Bactong, as he had also rendered more paintings for the San Nicolas de Tolentino, which will be the subject for my next article.
Going around the grounds of the church, there are many points of interest, to pray and contemplate. Near the entrance to the compound, there is a garden dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, with the typical grotto of Saint Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) praying to the Marian apparition, that appeared to her on February 11, 1858. Beside the grotto is the Knights of Columbus’ “Monument to the Unborn Child”, which the international Catholic fraternal organization installed in 2011.
At the northwest hallway, beside the church, there are the Chapel of Saints, Parish Office, Adoration Chapel, and Pastoral Center. The Chapel of Saints is a small niche, with the image of San Nicolás de Tolentino flanked by the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph. Close by the chapel is another grotto, this time dedicated to Our Lady of Consolation, one of the Marian incarnations that are patronized by the Augustinians.
Right beside the Grotto of Our Lady of Consolation is the Adoration Chapel. Designed by Arch. Rómulo Locso Reyes, the entrance of the chapel was designed to simulate the crypt in which Jesus was buried. The altar of the chapel also uses the rock motif, to represent the burial table where Jesus’ body was placed, and the Eucharist represents the Risen Christ standing over the tomb.
Arch. Rómulo Locso Reyes is an alumnus of the University of Santo Tomas, having graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1975. Arch. Reyes then took his advanced studies at Harvard University, Graduate School of Design, focusing on Airport Development and Modernization. He is currently the president of his own company, Reyes Design + Planning + Architecture. Arch. Reyes married his college classmate, Yolanda David, who is also a very accomplished architect in education, organization and design.
The next article is about the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Pastoral Center, and the paintings of Roget Bactong revolving around the life of the saint.