Santo Domingo Church

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Santo Domingo Church
National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval
Pambansang Dambana ng Mahál na Birhen ng Santísimo Rosario ng La Naval
Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario de La Naval
Façade and belfry of Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo Church is located in Metro Manila
Santo Domingo Church
Santo Domingo Church
Location in Metro Manila
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Location 537 Quezon Ave., Quezon City
Country Philippines
Denomination Roman Catholic
Founded October 10, 1954 (as a National Shrine) February 23, 1972 (as a parish)[1]
Functional status Active
Heritage designation National Cultural Treasure
Designated October 2012
Architect(s) José María Zaragoza
Architectural type Church Building
Style Spanish Modern Style
Groundbreaking 1952
Completed 1954
Length 85 m (279 ft)
Width 40 m (130 ft)
Height 25 m (82 ft)
Floor area 3,300 m2 (36,000 sq ft)
Materials Concrete
Archdiocese Manila
Diocese Cubao
Province Manila
Archbishop Most Rev. Luis Antonio Cardinal G. Tagle, D.D.
Bishop(s) Most Rev. Honesto F. Ongtioco, D.D.
Rector Rev. Fr. Roland D. Mactal, O.P.
Priest(s) Rev. Fr. Ramon T. Salibay, O.P. (Parish Priest)

The Santo Domingo Church, also known as National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila (Spanish: Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario de La Naval de Manila; Filipino: Pambansang Dambana ng Mahál na Birhen ng Santísimo Rosario ng La Naval), is the largest church in Metro Manila and one of the biggest churches in Asia. It is a massive church complex that includes the mother house of the Filipino Dominicans, which is the center of Dominican activities in the archipelago and the Filipino Dominicans who have been sent to other parts of the world.[2]


Early church (1587)

The first Catholic missionaries to arrive in Manila were Spanish Agustinians who came in 1571 with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The Francsicans came a few years later, in 1578. It was in 1587 that the first Dominicans arrived in Manila from Cádiz (Spain). They were welcomed by Domingo Salazar, Bishop of Manila. The order temporarily stayed at the Franciscan convent in Manila while some of them were sent to Pangasinan and Bataan to start their missionary work. Salazar sponsored 3,000 pesos for the construction of the church and 300 pesos for the purchase of land. A small church was erected on August 6, 1587, made from light materials.[3] In January 1, 1588, the chapel was inaugurated and it enshrined the Miraculous image of Our Lady of the Rosary from Mexico.[4]

Second church (1592)

In 1589, the church was partially destroyed by an earthquake. Because the roof had collapsed, the Dominican friars decided to build a larger church made from stronger materials.[3] Through the direction of Father Alonzo Jiménez, the second church was made from stone. Contributions were given by Captain Castillo, María Pérez, and Captain Domingo Mendiola.. The church was inaugurated on April 9, 1592.[3][4]

Third church (early 17th century)

A fire of April 30, 1603, which destroyed a third of a city, consumed both the church and the convent. Almost immediately built a third church was built, bigger and more costly. It contained a stone vault as precaution against fire and earthquake.[3] Donations were again asked. Though made of stone, it was destroyed by another earthquake on November 30, 1645. Only the high altar remained.

Fourth church (1862)

A fourth church of stone and hardwood was built. There were wooden arches and three naves inside the church. This time, wooden posts supported the roof and divided the church into a central nave with side aisles. The artistic interior designs were executed under the direction of Father Francisco Gainza. The church took two years to build. The structural soundness of the church made it last for 250 years. Initiated by Father Castro, A new façade flanked by two towers and patterned after London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral designed by Christopher Wren, was built for the church. The façade lasted almost a year.[3] The church was inaugurated on June 15, 1862 with great festival. On June 3, 1863, the Philippines experienced one of the strongest earthquakes in its history. The church was ruined by an earthquake of the same intensity as that which hit Manila in 1645.[3]

Fifth church (1887)

A few months after the 1863 earthquake, Félix Roxas presented a plan for the church’s reconstruction, partly following the plan of the previous church and utilizing some of its salvageable parts. On August 30, 1864, the cornerstone of the present church was laid. In it was placed a lead box, containing art objects, gold coins, medals of saints and other things belonging to the “Orden de Predicadores”.[4] Construction occurred from 1864 to 1887 in the gotico fingido (neogothic) style,[3] using Philippine building materials. The immense columns resembling spreading tree branches, were of acle, molave and ipil. The vault was of zinc or galvanized iron. The colored glass windows were ordered from Europe. These gave a beautiful light inside the church. The four retablos were made under the direction of Father Joaquín Sabater, a professor of drawing at the University of Santo Tomás. Alberoni directed the painting of the main altar.[4]

The church measured 70 by 31 by 22 metres (230 ft × 102 ft × 72 ft) at the central aisles, and 16.6 metres (54 ft) high at the lateral aisles. Its towers rose to 23.3 metres (76 ft). Although Fr. Sixto and Fr. Ristoro would supervise construction of the church, the Dominicans contracted the services of the European-trained architect Félix Roxas Sr. Roxas, adapting the seismic realities, designed a church with story of stone an upper story of wood. He worked closely with Isabelo Tampinco who decorated the interior with carving imitating the fan vault reminiscent of the English gothic; the walls and ceiling of the sacristy were similarly treated. Even the furniture in the sacristy was treated in the gothic manner. The chapel of the Nuestra Señora de Rosario had an altar with lancet arches and gothic-inspired ornamented pinnacles.[3] Its floor was made of native molave and narra and the pulpit was of fine carving, with the images representing the different saints of the Order. A dove was attached to the sounding board of the pulpit, above which, there was an angel. The choir-loft was spacious and was protected by wrought from railing manufactured in the Philippines.[4] Over the central doorway, on the roof was enclosed in a glass case original Virgin of the Rosary, which had been there for many centuries. The central altar had three saints. In the center was Saint Dominic, at the left was Saint Francis and at the right was Saint Theresa of Jesus. Above Saint Dominic was the statue of Saint Mary Magdalene. The cupola above had many colored glass windows. Inside, was a balcony surrounded by iron railing.[3][4]

Our Lady of the Rosary had a separate chapel at the right of the high altar. This image was donated by the Governor-General Luis Perez Dasmarinas and carved by a Chinese, under competent direction. Many persons claim to have secured much help from this marvellous image especially from women, who placed the skirt of the image over their abdomen during their difficult delivery. It was recorded that this image saved the island during the Dutch invasions of 1646 and that on October 5, 1907, it was canonically crowned. Its ivory hands and face, costly garments and crown were very artistic. Saint Dominic was at the left of the image, kneeling and receiving a rosary, while at the right was Saint Catalina de Siena. In the same chapel, there were two more lofty altars. The one at the right, was dedicated to Saint Vincent Ferrer, and the other on the left, to the Holy Family. In this chapel, the interesting historical canvas, painted in Rome in 1909, represented the priest, Saint Dominic, baptizing a Chinese while the two other natives stand watching him.[3][4] Near this chapel was the sacristy in which were the chests of camagon with their fine carvings. These chests contained the costly vestments of the priests. A big crucifix was at one end of the hall near a stairway leading to the monastery. Below this image there was a half-length portrait of the Virgin Dolores. On the walls of sacristy, there were canvases of interest and value from a religious standpoint.[3][4] There were four more altars in the main church. The two on the left were dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and in Saint Thomas respectively: the two on the right, to Our Savior and to Saint Joseph. Below the Crucifix was the “Santo Sepulcro” which could be seen thru the glass cover. From the lofty ceiling of the church, there were costly and heavy chandeliers, and on the lateral walls, there were images carved in wood, showing the different stages of the life of Christ.[4]

The church incurred damage over time and was repaired. In 1887, the vault and the rose windows of batikuling were restored. The main altar was almost totally renovated, and the columns repaired. The roof of the bell towers was renovated to assume a crown-like form. In 1941, the Gothic church of Santo Domingo in Intramuros was destroyed at the advent of the Second World War. On December 21, 1941 the church and the Dominican monastery beside it were hit by Japanese bombs. This was the first church to be ruined during the Pacific War. The friars, archives, the image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval and other movable property like ivory statues, gala vestments of the Virgin; jewelry, and sacred vessels were the only survivors of the war.[3] The image was transferred to Santísimo Rosario Church at the University of Santo Tomás (UST) in España, Manila.[2][5]

Current building (1954)

Santo Domingo Church facade

After the Second World War, the Dominicans constructed the sixth church in a new location. They built it on a portion of land they had purchased in Quezon City. The Dominicans commissioned José Ma. Zaragoza to design the building while he was still a student of architecture at UST.[2]


The new Santo Domingo church was built in the Spanish Modern style, which was unlike the Baroque churches built during Spanish period. The church employed the latest technique in reinforced-concrete building.[3][6] The Mission-style architecture includes Romanesque and Gothic designs that accommodate more space. Measuring 85 by 40 metres (279 ft × 131 ft) with a height of 25 metres (82 ft), there is a total floor area of 3,300 square metres (36,000 sq ft). It is the biggest church in Metro Manila and one of the biggest churches in Asia.The Santo Domingo church complex was inaugurated on October 12, 1954.[3] They icon of Our Lady of La Naval was brought to the new church in 1957 in a spectacular procession.[2][6]

The church façade has receding planes with leaves designed in corbel arches. Over the triple portals of the church is a high-relief frieze depicting the story of the La Naval. The giant bas-relief of Santo Domingo was designed by the Italian sculptor and expatriate Francesco Monti.[3][4]

In the nave of the church there are eight colorful murals by National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco depicting the life and times of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the Spaniard who founded the Order of Preachers. Francisco’s murals are just below the equally brilliant murals of the Four Evangelists in vivid brown tones by Vicente García Llamas.[3]

One of Galo Ocampo's stained class windows

Curved windows of the church frame masterful stained-glass designs by Galo Ocampo whose bases show different ecclesiastical seals.[3] The windows depict the original 15 Stations of the Holy Rosary as well as the Battle of Lepanto and La Naval de Manila; and the martyrdoms of San Vicente Liem de la Paz and San Francisco Capillas, Dominican protomartyrs of Vietnam and China, respectively.[7] Right behind Sto. Domingo Church’s facade is an intricately carved panels and stained glass windows lie a treasure trove of the Philippines’ rich cultural heritage and the object of centuries-old devotion, the image of Our Lady of the Rosary of La Naval, the oldest Marian icon in the country.[7]


High-relief frieze at the facade depicting the story of the La Naval.

Aside from being an architectural jewel, the Santo Domingo Church houses artistic treasures.[2] The second to sixth Santo Domingos were bound by a common symbol, the image of the Nuestra Señora del Santísmo Rosario or La Naval de Manila.[4] The image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval is kept on the left side altar all year round, except during the October fiesta when a special canopy and platforms are built for it behind the main altar. The La Naval image has been the object of Filipino devotion that dates back to the 16th century, and the icon’s shrine in Quezon City is host to an annual feast that culminates in a procession that draws tens of thousands of devotees.[7] Opposite in the left, a side altar dedicated to Saint Martín de Porres.[2][3][4]

Devotees of Our Lady of La Naval would offer her jewelry. In the church Marian jewelry collection, La Naval book described as “studded with small diamonds, seed pearls and colored gems.” It is believed to have been offered to the Virgin by a certain Ana Rojas, a native of Calumpit, Bulacan, in the 19th century.[7]

Somewhere in the vast church complex is a secret vault holding centuries-old ivory icons and wooden images of saints made by Filipino craftsmen; exquisite, gem-studded, age-old crowns; golden Marian robes; and fine jewelry for the Virgin presented by fervent devotees. The secrecy about the vault makes sense: In October 1762, thieves broke into the Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros and took some of its rare treasures.[7]

Another notable gift is the National Artist medallion, which ardent devotee Nick Joaquin instructed his heirs to donate to the La Naval Virgin before he died in 2004. The medallion has been affixed to the statue’s foot since then. Stored in the vault, according to the book, are prewar ivory heads and hands for statues of several saints, including St. Dominic, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Catherine de Ricci, St. Agnes of Montepulciano and St. Antoninus of Florence.[7]

Pipe organ

The giant choir loft where the century old pipe organ is located

In the giant choir loft is almost a century old pipe organ made by Fr. Gregorio Hontomin, OP made in Rosaryhill in Hong Kong. The Dominicans transferred the pipe organ from Hong Kong to the Sto. Domingo Church in 1954 after the Chapel of St. Albert the Great’s Priory, the center of religious formation and studies of the Dominican Province of the Holy Rosary, closed.[2] The inauguration of the pipe organ was June 9, 1959. It was restored to its grandeur by Diego Cera Organbuilders Inc., custodians of the world-famous Las Piñas bamboo organ.[2][7]

Museo de Santo Domingo

The Santo Domingo Museum (also Museo de Santo Domingo) houses other valuable objects—such as centuries-old crucifixes made of gold and silver, rosaries and a tabernacle, all of which had been used in the old Santo. Domingo Church in Intramuros.[2][7]

Declaration as a National Cultural Treasure

The Dominicans endorsed the designation of the Santo Domingo Church and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila as a National Culture Treasure to the National Museum in 2011.[8] It has been listed as a National Cultural Treasure following the signing of Museum Declaration no. 4 on October 4, 2012 during the enthronement rites for theOur Lady of the Rosary of La Naval[9][10] and unveiling o the official marker on December 8, 2012.[7][8] The declaration is the highest distinction the government can confer on a cultural property. The declaration follows Republic Act No. 4846, otherwise known as the Cultural Properties Preservation and Protection Act.[2][5][7] It is the first national cultural treasure listed in Quezon City.[8]



  1. "National Museum to declare Sto. Domingo Church a national treasure". Office of the President. September 28, 2012. Retrieved September 4, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 "Santo Domingo Church, La Naval de Manila shrine to be declared National Cultural Treasures". Inquirer Lifestyle.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 Cultural Center of the Philippines (1994). CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art: Volume III. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Bañas, R. C. (1937). Brief historical sketches of Philippine Catholic churches. Manila, Philippines: Commonwealth Press.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jose, R. T., & Ayala Museum (1991). Simbahan: Church art in colonial Philippines, 1565-1898. Metro Manila, Philippines: Ayala Museum.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Diocese of Cubao. (n.D.)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 "Sto. Domingo Church keeps rich cultural heritage". Inquirer Lifestyle.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Sto. Domingo Church declared nat'l treasure". The Varsitarian. November 10, 2012. Retrieved September 4, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Sto. Domingo Church declared national cultural treasure". CBCP News. Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. October 5, 2012. Retrieved September 4, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Santo Domingo Church, A National Cultural Treasure". Order of Preachers. Retrieved September 4, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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