History of Sto. Niño de Tondo Parish Church
By: Ms. Rose Marie Mendoza
The Convent in Tondo, one of the first structures built by the Spaniards in Luzon, was accepted by the Provincial Chapter on May 3, 1572, with Lubao, Betis and Calumpit as its visitas. Its first parish priest was named Fr. Alonzo Alvarado, OSA, with Fr. Pedro Holgado, OSA as his assistant. In 1575, its jurisdiction extended to Naga (Navotas), Misic (the small island Maysilo), and Bulacan and became its visitas. In 1578, its friar, Fr. Geronimo Marin, helped arrange peaceful dialogues and acted as intermediary between Lacandola and Maestro de Ocampo Juan de Salcedo in Navotas.
The Tondo convent housed the Franciscans when their monastery got burned in 1583. It served as a Studium Grammaticae in 1587 because the San Agustin monastery was being rebuilt following a fire. By 1591, the convent of Tondo had two priests to minister to the 6,000 souls in the towns of Navotas and Tambobong (Malabon).
The convent of Tondo suffered from “lack of comfort” due to its dependence on donations from the provincial treasury. Unlike others, it did not have any estates from which to draw income. On the other hand, it was the only house available near Manila for visiting priests. The state of the convent “was very much abused and in dire need,” thus, on December 12, 1597, the council fathers warmed visitors not to stay long at the convent. Furthermore, the visitors were ordered, under severe penalties, to refrain from staying in the house for more than twelve hours. Visitors arriving at dinnertime had to leave the next day before lunchtime.
Despite its poor economic status, the house received aspirants to the Augustinian Order as early as 1597, and in 1599, its jurisdiction extended to the visitas of Navotas, Tambobong (Malabon) and Caloocan. However, three days after the council meeting of that year, the father provincial relieved Tondo from paying its yearly collection because “its alms are few and the visitas are many, and most importantly, because we don’t have a house yet and need to build one since there is only one room.” The prior was allowed to buy a garden for vegetables near the convent, which would help pay the 200 pesos due to the Manila fund.
It is believed that the construction of the first stone monastery started in 1611 under the term of Fr. Alonzo Guerrero then parish priest. In 1620, the house of Tondo was relieved from its ten percent contribution to Manila due “to the needed repair works of the convent and the church.” The same resolution was approved the following year because the prior had to provide assistance to the father provincial who was then residing in Tondo.
The convent was mortgaged by Fr. Antonio de Ocampo in 1625 for 800 pesos for the improvement of the house facilities, like the dining room and the staircase. The construction of the church and the convent were believed to have been completed in three years.
In 1641, the church was damaged during the upheaval of the Sangleys and the prior had the church repaired and water cisterns were installed. The church was damaged again during the earthquake of 1645. After the new repairs, the Church and the convent looked very strong and magnificent, all made of masonry and of beautiful architecture. Unfortunately, both buildings were ordered to be pulled down in 1661 by Governor Sabiniano Manrique de Lara who was fearful that the Chinese pirate Koseng (Koxinga) who was coming from the island of Hermosa (Formosa, Taiwan) might fortify himself inside the building. In the same year, the convent suffered so much during the war of Sangleys that it was no longer self-sufficient. The reconstruction of the buildings started that year using the income from various community properties. The house was relieved of all taxes in 1692 to help rebuild the church and the convent. A curious not is that according to an anonymous document dated 1695, that well of the convent of Tondo had produced some minor marvels.
The building were believed to have been completed by 1695, the end of the term of the dynamic Fr. Duque, or at least not later than 1741, because in that year the council fathers resolved that since of the Provincial funds have been spent in the reconstruction of the church and the convent (of Tondo), it is proper and fair that the house pays back to Manila from its own properties. However, should the Tondo House need it in the future, the rent would be returned. In the meantime, everyone agreed on the need for the priests to have little comfort.
The convent was enlarged in 1728 and a budget of two thousand pesos was drawn from the funds of the province in 1731. Fr. Fernando Sanchez reminded the fathers in 1732 of the high cost of the project and that only with the help of the province can it be carried out. The façade and the two towers that were about to fall were built in 1734. This was done during the term of the Province Fr. Diego Bergano. To somehow help in the financing of the project, each banca crossing the estuary that opened at the convent property was charged a quarter of a peso.
The building were damaged again by the earthquake of 1740 and repaired the next year. It was declared a regular house in 1759 and given the administration of the visitas of Maysilo as it had been determined in the meeting of 1754.
The church was heavily damaged by the earthquake of June 3, 1863 and was rebuilt for the third time by Fr. Manuel Diez Gonzalez. The restoration was completed by Fr. Casimiro Herrero minister of Tondo from 1874 to 1880. He must have followed the plans of architect Luciano Oliver designed in 1873. Steel framing was used for the media naranja dome and iron sheets for the roofing, the first time these materials were used in the country. According to Castaneda, Condrado Gregorio took over the construction from Oliver and indicated his intention to use aramadura de hierro. The iron has to be importedfrom England. This was the first edifice to include in its plans the use of iron sheets and was favorably acted upon by the Junta Consultativa and the Inspeccion General de Obras Pulbicas.
The Cemetery was constructed by Fr. Mariano Gil during his priorship from 1889 to 1898. Architect Gregorio N. Santos designed the fence. The walls were made of stone from Guadalupe and Meycauayan. The Project cost 2,150 pesos. The organ costing 12,000 pesos was ordered from the renowned Amezua Organeros of Barcelona, Spain. It was installed in 1983 and had one main keyboard with 56 keys and a peladier with 19 keys and four combinations. The main molave door was bought by Fr. Pablo Alvarez for 140 pesos in 1898.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, church services were held in the house of Primo Arambulo family at Santiago de Vera Street when the Japanese engineering corps was based in the church. During the last day of the Japanese occupation the church served as sanctuary to thousands of refugees who poured into its compound from the North Harbor area which was razed by the retreating Japanese.
The present church has one main central nave and two aisle linked by solid columns. It measures 65 meters long, 22 meters wide, and 17 meters high. The Ionic pilasters and massive buttresses supporting the discordant domes of the bell towers are reminiscent of the Neo-Classical style, typical for its scanty ornamentation. Blind arched openings contrast with rectangular voids and triangular canopies. Twin towers flank the façade. The triangular pediment is characterized by straight lines and a rose window.
Parishioners say goodbye to Pope John Paul II
To pay one final respect to the passing of Pope John Paul II, the country's most revered Pope, the clergy and priests of Sto. Niño de Tondo Parish said mass simultaneous to that of Vatican City, Rome. The late Pope John Paul II visited the country twice to celebrate World Youth Day and has continuously expressed his appreciation of the religious fervor of the Filipinos.