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.