San Bartolome: A history in stone
Patricia Azores (The Philippine Star) - May 4, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Malabon, formerly Tambobong and previously Tonsuya, lies among several esteros zigzagging around manglares or islets which wind up in the large Dagatdagatan Lake. Located about five kilometers north of Tondo, it is bound by Obando and Polo (Bulacan), Malinta, Caloocan, Tinajeros, Tondo, Manila and Navotas.

Malabon was founded as a visita of Tondo on May 21, 1599. The town was composed of two small islands, Navotas and Maysilo, both visitas of Tondo. On October 23, 1600, the fathers reconfirmed its status as a visita, and ordered the prior of Tondo to assign religious there “if convenient.” It was later raised to vicariate and placed, together with its estates, under the father provincial.

Fr. Juan Bautista de Montoya was named its administrator and first prior. It continued as a visita of Tondo until 1611. Malabon became an independent parish in 1614 under the advocation of San Bartolome Apostol. It was in this year that Fr. Luis Gutierrez was named vicar prior.

The convent was relieved from paying any taxes to San Agustin Monastery in 1614 “because it was very poor and the stipend given by the King was almost nothing.”

In due time, the prior was ordered to help the convent of Binangonan with P15 annually, and given the category of priory with voting power in the provincial meetings.

In 1704, the father provincial prohibited the prior from collecting the so-called pacain, leaving it to the discretion of the natives.

Aside from Binangonan, the house in Malabon helped the convent of Pasig. In 1732, it had under its jurisdiction some 5,715 souls; in 1760 it had 9,700, of which 12 were Spaniards.

In 1896, its population increased to 25,226 and in 1990, it reached 278,380.

Malabon was famous not only for its skillful knife makers, whose patron is San Bartolome, but also for its big tobacco factory, located in the barrio of La Concepcion, known as Princesa.

In 1875, there were about 10,000 women working in the factory.

La Cigarrera de Malabon, dressed in colorful attire, a wicker basket on her arm and a smile on her face, became a well-known character.

It was worth wondering how some 5,000 women fit in 101,136 square feet!

During office hours, only the monotonous metallic sound of the scissors could be heard.

Asilo de Heurfanos

The Augustinians approved the plan to build a new house to lodge the orphans of the plague of 1882, who were until then housed in Mandaluyong.

Thus the Asilo de Malabon was born. Fr. Jose Rodriguez Fontvella was named director of the Asilo in 1889.

The Augustinian council advanced P87,000 to defray the total cost which was estimated at P275, 326. Crisanta Tongco donated the land and P40,000 in cash.

Architect Jesus Hervas drew the plans. The house was officially inaugurated on February 1, 1890 as an orphanage and as a school for boys and girls.

A loan of P9,000 was signed in favor of the director of the provincial procurator to complete the offices and to support the orphans.

Fr. Raymundo Cortazar was named director in 1893 and was authorized to carry out whatever improvements he thought necessary “in order to achieve the objectives of the new foundation.”

The orphanage was provided with a printing press, lithography and binding room, spacious halls for shops and laboratories, sewing and embroidery facilities for girls and a library.

In 1893, the asilo housed 74 orphans with 11 persons in charge of the shops and 12 servants. They were attended by four religious.

But just as the Augustinians had started to reap the first fruits of their printing press, the revolution broke out.

The forces of General Emilio Aguinaldo seized the building and brought an end to their dream.

The first issues of La Independencia, the voice of the revolutionary government, were printed here.

Later in 1899, the buildings were razed to the ground during the battle between Filipino and American forces.

Malabon’s first stone church

Fr. Diego de Robles was named prior of Malabon in 1621, and in the following year, he started building the first stone church.

Captain de Rivera donated P1,000 for the project, asking him in return for the right to a perpetual tomb in the main chapel of the church.

In 1835, Fr. Francisco Valencia added the transept. Fr. Raimundo Cueto, minister of Malabon in 1854, added the two lateral aisles and media naranja dome under the direction of the architects Vina and Urquiza.

Luciano Oliver directed the construction of the Parthenon-like façade and of the twin towers in 1861.

The construction was undertaken under the supervision of the parish priest, Fr. Martin Ruiz.

The church, damaged heavily during the Japanese occupation, remained untouched for almost 20 years.

Fr. Trinidad, a secular priest, restored the façade in 1951. Fr. Reyes repaired the dome, transept, main altar and belfry in 1958.

At present, there are seven bells. Two are dedicated to Santa Rita, one of the patrons of the town, and one to San Bartolome; one bears the name of Fr. Guillermo Diaz, OSA, and minister of Tambobong from 1881 to 1885.

Among its ministers was the author of the Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas, Fr. Gaspar de San Agustin (1702-1707).

The books of baptism are signed by Fr. Lorenzo Cueto, a native of Parañaque, and Fr. Jose Corugedo, who served the town from 1885 to 1889. Corugedo is best remembered for his exemplary life as a model parish priest and a highly qualified superior. He died in Malabon on April 22, 1889.

The church measures 70.14m long and 25.05m wide. It has a central nave and two aisles, transept and a dome in the media narenja or barrel vault style, cupped by a campanile. The porch is supported by imposing ionic columns which resemble a Greco-Roman temple.

The church, according to I.V. Mallari, “dominated not only the street but also the surrounding area.”

The colonnade of the façade supports the protruding triangular pediment. The eight Ionic columns of the outer side are echoed by the corresponding sets attached to the front recessed façade wall flanked by the tree-storey twin bell towers. The squat columns and semi-circular arched windows make for dramatic contrast.

Light and shadow play a lively part and give life to a simple but impressive façade. The Augustinian symbol is inscribed on the wall above the main entrance.

It is considered by Mallari to be “one of the most beautiful examples of ecclesiastical architecture that Spain has left this country.”

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