- Art & Architecture
- St. Scholastica & St. Gertrude Bldgs
- St. Hildegard
- St. Joseph, Sta. Maria, St. Placid, St. Mechtilde, & St. Ottilien
- Latest Additions & Building Details
- The Chapel
- St. Cecilia’s Hall
Through the Arches of History
By: Lizanne Uychaco & Obi Mapua
For close to a hundred years, generations of Benedictine Sisters, Scholasticans and their mentors, as well as others who worked and belonged here, have enjoyed the gift of beautiful surroundings – the work of human artistry with a touch of nature.
Behind the nondescript walls running along four main streets in the heart of Malate and forming a complete rectangular block is a three-hectare complex that is St. Scholastica’s College and the Manila Priory of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing. The address: 2650 Leon Guinto Street (formerly 1532 Pennsylvania Avenue).
Behind these walls one encounters the grandeur of Benedictine history as embodied in architecture in a tropical setting.
This special place is bounded by Leon Guinto (front), Singalong (back), Estrada (left), and R. Ocampo, formerly Vito Cruz (right), streets.
The ancient acacia tree in front is immediately familiar, like it was someone you grew up with. Its foliage casts a speckled shadow providing soft contrast to the massive main buildings that Scholasticans of all ages have called their second home.
If one is facing the campus from the Leon Guinto gate, one can see the chapel on the right. The chapel doors can be seen from the street because they are not occluded by a wall. St. Scholastica, the main building, is directly in front and St. Hildegarde, the more massive one, and St. Benedict are to the left. Farther still to the left, near Estrada is the celebrated St. Cecilia’s Hall. On the corner bounded by Leon Guinto and Estrada streets is the Friedenshaus (House of Peace) Residence Hall, recently opened in 2005.
The main buildings, done in neo-Romanesque style, are elegant and impressive, ornamented with arches, towers, columns and finely wrought details. Set against a brilliant blue sky they look like a scene straight out of an Old World postcard.
Construction of the first main buildings – St. Scholastica and St. Gertrude – began in January 1914. A Swedish architect, George Asp, was awarded the contract over eight other architects. His handiwork was meant to deliver a string statement – herein is found high quality Roman Catholic education with strong European origins.
The sisters moved in from the old campus on San Marcelino Street in December 1914. World War I that saw the greatest slaughter of human beings the world had ever known, had just broken out in Europe at that time, but in Manila, life went on as usual for the German sisters who had left home and country for this US colony in Asia. They are busy setting up the permanent home for St. Scholastica’s College.
The four important and oldest buildings, three of which were named after Benedictine saints, strongly reflect the neo-Romanesque style. These are the chapel, St. Scholastica, St. Hildegarde and St. Benedict. Wide corridors, high ceilings, arches and airy spaces make these structures an experience of medieval grandeur. The architectural details (the “art” on the buildings), like the bas relief of saints and Benedictine emblems, are like reminders set in stone that the spirit of the founders lives on.
The first building, named after St. Scholastica, was built in 1914. The word “Pax” in bas relief is embossed above its arched foyer. This building houses the school’s reception area and, since a few years ago, the Amrhein Gallery in what used to be the main parlor. (A new parlor for the sisters’ guests was built a few meters way, beside the chapel, in 2005.) On the big staircase landing stands a tall welcoming statue of St. Scholastica with a stained glass backdrop, a recent addition. The second floor used to be the library. Today, it houses high school classrooms and administration offices.
Behind the reception hall is the Sacred Heart courtyard, and a little further, toward St. Gertrude, is another courtyard. Running beside these two courtyards is an airy corridor with classic columns reminiscent of medieval abbeys.
The white statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is surrounded by arcades and columns decorated in Ionic and Corinthian styles, and details ranging from Doric haunches, classical annulets and abacus to the simple “bonded ring”. The second courtyard, known as St. Hildegard’s Garden, is a patch of greenery right outside the boarders’ refectory used to be.
In the Benedictine annals was written: “The Romanesque style, with light but firm walls, the high, airy rooms with a magnificent view of the bay, the hilly landscape, the two inner yards, bounded by colonnades of carved pillars, give the combined impression of the simplicity and usefulness of a venerable cloister and a modern college.”
Down the arched hall from St. Scholastica is St. Gertrude (named after St. Gertrude the Great, a Benedictine), where the classrooms have distinct tall capiz windows that look out to stone tables under the acacia trees in the school’s open field.
To the left from the reception area one can walk toward St. Hildegard, an elaborately decorated building along the mannerist and Beaux Art influence, with its unconventional use of classical elements and asymmetrical layout. Built by Cesar H. Concio and inaugurated in 1938 in ceremonies graced by Vice President Sergio Osmeña, it houses the grand Social Hall made distinct by the huge columns and arches. This is probably the grandest-looking spot in the entire campus. The inauguration of St. Hildergard on June 25, 1938 was featured in four newspapers, The Philippines Herald, The Tribune, La Vanguardia and The Builders.
Hildegard of Bingen, the German Benedictine saint after whom the building was named, was a mystic, preacher, scholar, poet, composer, writer and environmentalist who lived in the 12th century. Today she would be considered an eco-feminist.
The front and back entrances to the social hall are also marked by massive arches – in sets of three – richly decorated with flower, zigzag and vitruvian scroll designs, statuettes and emblems. Slightly above the front and back arches are balconies that jut out. Heavy wooden doors open to the front driveway on one side and to the schoolyard on the other. The floor tiles form symbolic designs, among them, the Benedictine cross and the ubiquitous PAX.
On the façade of this building are the bas reliefs of St. Scholastica and St. Hildegard and on the building where the classrooms are located are those of St. Clodesindis and St. Withburga (namesakes of then Mother Prioress Clondesindis Leuken and pre-war dean Sr. Withburga Kilger).
On the ground floor of St. Hildegard are offices, and what used to be students’ dormitories on the second and third floors are now classrooms.
The arches of St. Hildegard have given the school its very distinctive look and have been replicated at the new St. Scholastica’s College-Westgrove in Laguna.
St. Hildegard also has graceful staircases leading to a roof garden and tall square towers on both sides similar to those in the chapel. The towers have long vertical windows that provide height and symmetry to the building.
A word about the arches. The decorations on the school’s many arches channel rainwater to the columns so that they are washed and give an interesting visual show of water flowing down the capitals which serve as the base of the arches, as rain would fall on vegetation.
Meant to Inspire
As building inhabitants tent to take their spaces for granted, the poetic intents and purposes are often ignored or lost. However, while it is people who shape buildings, buildings too, ever so subtly, shape the people who use them. The choice of architecture for the entire school was therefore an inspired one.
The grand architecture, so rich in artistic detail; the quiet, almost monastic ambience in some parts, the high ceilings and wide corridors, were meant to inspire discipline, a sense of order, prayerfulness, strength of character and inner peace. Add to these a sense of loyalty and independence of the mind that Benedictine education has imparted for a hundred years.
Beauty begets beauty. We cannot read the mind of the decision makers in 1914, but the effect is there.
Past St. Cecilia’s wings, behind the canteen, is St. Joseph, where nutrition majors of yore and hotel and restaurant management students of today have their laboratory and kitchen.
In the wake of the bombings by the American forces in February 1945, the school was reduced to an empty shell. But when reconstructed in 1949 with war reparation funds, the buildings were restored to their original elegance.
There were no new buildings that rose in the campus until the 1960s when the Sta. Maria annex was constructed along Singalong Street to house the burgeoning high school department, a spacious new library and the Little Theatre (currently Sr. Ehrentrudis Eichenger Hall). It is a contrast to the rest of the buildings because of its no-nonsense, minimalist and utilitarian design. A large statue of the Blessed Virgin adorns the front of the building. The architect was Conrado Puno.
Two modern but simple buildings that rose in the 1990s were the two-storey St. Placid which houses the other canteen beside the old physics and chemistry laboratories, and the functional five-storey St. Mechtilde, where the college library, the audio-visual center, the Battig (currently, Sr. Odiliana Rohrwaseer Hall) and Barrion Halls are located. But on 2012, the college library together with the audio-visual center was transferred to the newly renovated St. Cecilia’s building.
St. Ottilien (named after the founder of a Benedictine branch in Europe) was built in 2001 on what used to be the covered courts behind St. Cecilia’s. Built along modern and neo-classical influences, its most distinctive features are its colored glass windows, the gentle curvature of its façade and the elaborate arched entrance to the building similar to St. Hildegard’s. The building houses the spacious Sr. Kuniberta Strathman assembly hall, and the guidance and student organization offices as well as the gym. Its ground floor serves as covered parking for staff vehicles.
St. Ottilien ties in with the original character of the older buildings on campus and reinforces their original architectural statement by incorporating neo-Romanesque elements. It was designed by Imelda Borromeo Cancio.
At the end of the grand tour, you realize that with a few exceptions like the parlor, the chapel, the clausura and St. Cecilia’s Hall, departments and offices have been moved around and old classrooms are not where they used to be. But the buildings are where they always were, standing strong – reliable and comforting, like an old sheltering tree.
As you walk back to the front gate, you notice a latest addition, a yet unnamed admissions building beside the chapel and close to the main gate where you first began. It bears a resemblance to St. Scholastica, the first to be built in 1914.
Outside the college compound, on P. Ocampo and Leon Guinto Streets is a lovely residence built in the 1930s with a sprawling garden and a swimming pool. It was home to the clan of Justice Jose Feria until it was acquired by SSC in the 1980s. It opened in 1986 as Subiaco. Formerly the SSC Seminar Retreat House and Dormitory, today it is the St. Scholastica’s College Archives-Museum, which was inaugurated on September 14, 2006. Subiaco is the monastery where St. Benedict lived as a hermit.
In 1990, the former residence of Aguinaldo and Alicia Lucero Gamboa on Estrada Street was transformed into a three-storey building to become Nursia, the office and dorm facilities of the Institute of Women’s Studies. Nursia, Italy is the birthplace of Saints Benedict and Scholastica.
The covered pergola through which pedestrians enter the campus and where students wait for their rides home has undergone major renovation. It is now bigger, brighter and more welcoming. Another pleasant addition is a garden with park benches in front of the St. Scholastica building.
One exits the campus marveling at how much it has transformed and influenced the life choices of generations of Filipino women. So St. Scholastica’s College lives on, not only as a complex of beautiful structures, but as a haven in the mind and heart of every student who has walked through its arches and corridors.
The chapel was built in 1922, but the Romanesque architecture that inspired it dates back to about 1000 AD. It is typical of medieval European Romanesque abbeys with a magnificent rose window on the west end and a grand ceiling framed by trusses with ascending brown arches. In the chapel is a wooden statue of Our Lady, to whom many Scholastican brides have offered their bouquets. A huge pipe organ is played on very special occasions.
At the east end of the chapel in the sisters’ choir section and high above the altar is a new addition, circa December 2005. Three stained glass windows, each eleven feet tall and six feet wide, depict the Trinity, St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. Three interlocking circles which symbolize the Trinity are set above three mounts associated with each Person: Mt. Sinai, the Father; Mt. Calvary, he Son; Mt. Sion, the Holy Spirit. The designer, Don Amorsolo, a grandson of the master, Fernando Amorsolo, achieved a “painterly” effect by instructing Kraut Art Glass, which executed his design, to paint in the glass and fire it instead of using prepared glass in standard colors.
Behind the chapel is the clausura or private living quarters of the sisters.
Like the rest of the school, the chapel was reduced to rubble during the bombing of Manila by the Americans in 1945. It was restored to its original grandeur after the war and reopened on April 12, 1949. The following year, the life sized statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was added to our Lady’s altar.
St. Cecilia’s Hall, whose art deco architectural style brought modern architecture into the campus, was built in 1930 and inaugurated in 1932. The architect of this magnificent structure was Andres Luna de San Pedro, the only son of the great Filipino artist, Juan Luna. Andres, like Juan Nakpil, was known as a brilliant innovator.
The architectural statement of St. Cecilia’s Hall was that the Conservatory of Music was “contemporary”. St. Cecilia was to become the premier concert hall of Manila, reflecting the excellence of music education offered by the school. The adjoining wings (also referred to as St. Cecilia) house the music rooms, classrooms, a library and offices.
Art deco, while a clear departure from traditional design, creates its own repertoire of motifs, namely stylized forms, abstract patterns such as suggestion of movement and strangely, echoes of Egyptian drawings and architecture. To know what art deco is, one only has to look at St. Cecilia’s Hall inside and outside, and come away in wonder and awe.
Like the rest of the school, St. Cecilia was destroyed during the bombing of Manila at the end of World War II. It was rebuilt 1955 and resumed its role as a venue for major concerts that featured renowned Filipino and international artists. In 1999, the hall underwent an extensive restoration to cope with the reality that the campus was no longer in quiet neighborhood. Street noise had invaded the hall through its vintage 1930s windows. Restoration and renovation meant central air-conditioning, an impressive lobby, aisle carpeting, upholstered seats, excellent acoustics and a considerable amount of money raised by loyal alumnae.