At the heart of E. Rodriguez Sr. Boulevard (E. Rod for short) sits the National Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John, a modest modernist styled church of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines. Completed in 1961, the history of the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John runs with the establishment of the Philippine Episcopal Church in 1901, and the construction of the original cathedral in Manila.
This first Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John began construction in 1903, upon the instructions of the Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Charles Henry Brent (1862-1929). Although another Episcopal parish, the Saint Stephen Church, was already founded in 1903, this cathedral would be the home of the Episcopal Church in the whole archipelago. Built at the corner Engineer Isaac Caballero Peral Street (formerly Calle Cortafuegos, and now United Nations Avenue) and Calle Florida (formerly Calle San Antonio, and now Dr. María Ylagan Orosa Street), the building was completed in 1907. Within cathedral compound was the Bishop’s Residence and the dormitory and gymnasium for Anglican Episcopal missionaries, as well as the home for the American Columbian Club social organization and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
At the onset of World War II, the cathedral was seized by the invading Japanese forces in 1944, and used as an internment camp for expatiates. Sadly, the whole cathedral was left in ruins by the fighting and mortar shelling during the 1945 Battle of Manila. From February 3 to March 3, the more than 100,000 people killed in that fight, as many were brutally murdered by the fleeing Japanese, others killed in the cross fire between the Japanese and American troops, and the rest were killed during the bombing of American planes and warships on the city. With such atrocities and the near flattening of the cathedral, the Episcopal Church decided not to rebuild the cathedral and sold the whole lot in 1947. Now standing in the old Episcopal compound is the Waterfront Manila Pavilion Hotel and Casino (formerly the Manila Hilton), which as designed and completed by the renown Arch. Carlos D. Arguelles (1917-2008) in 1968.
Arch. Carlos Corcuera Arguelles (1917-2008) took his architectural studies at the University of Santo Tomas UST), then first served as reserve officer in the US Army, before taking further studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Arguelles first worked in America, and returned to the Philippines in 1949, where he would teach and eventually become dean of the UST School of Architecture. As a leading proponent of the International Style of architecture, Arguelles became a president of the Philippine Institute of Architects (PIA), and a chancellor of the College of Fellows. Among Arguelles numerous honors are the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award by the City of Manila in 1988, the Gold Medal of Merit by the Philippine Institute of Architects in 1988, the Papal Award “Pro Ecclesiae et Pontifice” in 1996, and the “Centennial Honors for the Arts” from the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1999.
The selling of the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John compound, in Manila, allowed the Philippine Episcopal Church to rebuild its infrastructure in the newly formed Quezon City. On a parcel of land, along España Boulevard Extension (now the E. Rodriguez S. Boulevard), Bishop Norman Spencer Binsted (1890-1961) purchased a 15 hectare property in 1947. On the same year, the operations of the closed Episcopal St. Andrew’s Training School in Sagada, Mountain Province, were moved to Quezon City, and the Saint Andrew’s Theological Seminary was opened at the new site. The seminary was opened for candidates of the ordained ministry, of both the Episcopal Church as well as members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church, founded 1902). The schools in the St. Andrew’s compound started as temporary wooden structures, but were later moved into the permanent concrete buildings, between 1953 and 1954. Among these new edifices are the missionary dormitory, the bishop’s residence, and the Horeb House guest house.
Within the compound is the Saint Andrew Chapel, which started as a small wooden building in 1947. The chapel served as the home of worship for the seminarians, teachers, missionaries, and the Non-Catholic Christians living in the New Manila District. Over the years, the chapel could not accommodate the rapidly growing population in the area, with the birth of the Boomer Generation and many migrants from the still war devastated Manila and the provinces coming to Quezon City. With this lack of space, a new church was needed, and the plans for the new Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John were drawn.
The reconstruction of the National Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John started in 1960, and it was consecrated in 1962. Through discussions with Bishop Lyman Cunningham Ogilby (1922-1990), the new cathedral was designed by John Van Wie Bergamini (1888-1975), who was appointed as the official architect of the Episcopal Church in the Far East. When the church was completed, the Episcopal compound was now referred to as Cathedral Heights.
John Van Wie Bergamini (1888-1975) was an American Episcopal missionary architect, whose works for the American Episcopal Mission can be seen in China, Japan, the Philippines, and Liberia. Bergamini first took his architectural studies at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, the continued at the Columbia University School of Architecture in New York, and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Immediately after his studies in France, Bergamini was commissioned to design a mission hospital in in Shanxi, China. Working in China for almost a decade, by 1920, Bergamini was appointed as the official architect of the Episcopal Church in the Far East. While still serving in Asia, Bergamini was accepted as a member of the American Institute of Architects’ New York chapter in 1929, and earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Yale University in 1934. At the advent of World War II, Bergamini was building air raid shelters in China in 1937, when he was taken to the Philippines. However, when the Japanese invaded the Philippines, Bergamini was interred in Baguio, along with his wife, daughter, and son (the history and science writer David Howland Bergamini, 1928-1983). His eldest son, John Jr. was killed in action in Guam in 1944, as he had joined the American liberation force in hopes to rescue his family. Throughout his long career as an architect or the Episcopal Church, Bergamini has designed over 200 churches, hospitals, schools and residential structures in China, Japan, the Philippines, Liberia, Mexico and the United States.
The Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John is typical of Bergamini’s simple, yet practical, modern aesthetic, while adhering to the motifs of the Episcopal Church. The rectangular structure is designed to maximize light and air, in the humid climate of the Philippines, and has very little decoration, both inside and outside the structure. The church is design to represent an upside down boat, which can be clearly seen when looking at the nave’s ceiling. This symbolizes the as the congregation being together on a boat, heading towards Christ on the shore of Easter. In fact, the work “nave” comes from the Latin word for ship.
Although there isn’t much embellishment of design in Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John, many symbols can be seen around the church. At the top of the façade are the symbols of the ☧ (Chi Rho) and “Ἂὠ” (alpha and omega), which represent Jesus Christ/God as the Beginning and the End. At the sides of the façade are more symbols of the Episcopal church, with concrete icons at the left and right sides. On the left side at the images of the bishop’s miter of Episcopal province, the descending dove of the Holy Spirit, the ☧Chi Rho for Jesus Christ, the quatrefoil representing the four corners of the world, the eight-sided Rose Star of baptism and rebirth, the rooster of Saint Peter, and the mariner’s compass rose of the spreading the gospel to all its points around the world. The right side are the symbols of ☩ Greek Cross of Christ’s wounds, the ✡ six-sided Star of King David, the fleur-de-lis as the lily of purity, the Canterbury Cross of Anglican and Episcopal Churches, the “Ἂ” alpha as God is the beginning, the triquetra of the Holy Trinity, the “ὠ” omega as God is the end.
From the steps of the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John, visitors enter through the red wood doors. The choice of red is deliberate, as red doors represent the Pentecost (Acts of the Apostles 2:2-4), when the Holy Spirit descended upon Saint Mary and the Disciples. Carved on the doors are more Christian symbols similar to the façade. Additional symbols that can be seen are the Ichthys fish representing the power of Christ, the scroll of the Divine Word, the lamb of the Good Shepherd, and much more.
At the altar, instead of a Crucified Christ, the icon is that of Christ the King with his arms stretched into and all-embracing posture welcoming everybody to the church. Above the altar are three stained glass windows representing Saint Mary (the Blessed Virgin Mary to Catholics) at the left, the Crucified Christ at the center, and Saint John the apostle at the right.
The lectern is a little more ornate; with the front decorated with a frame that was design to represent the grape vine grow forth from the chalice. This symbolizes the fruits of the church emanating from the Blood of Christ. At the center are the symbols of the four evangelists:
– the winged lion representing Saint Mark as the voice in the wilderness, as well as the Resurrection
– the winged ox stands for Saint Luke as the sacrifice of Christ’s ministry, as well as Christ’s death
– the eagle symbolizes Saint John and the upliftment of the divine word, as well as the ascension of Christ into heaven
– the winged man for Saint Mathew and humanity of Christ’s ministry, as well as Jesus incarnation as man
Although the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John still looks very simple, compared to many of its Catholic counterparts. However, to visit the cathedral and the seminary on E. Rodriguez Boulevard is give respect to the great accomplishments of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, in respect to uplifting lives through faith, education and medicine.