Within The Hallowed Halls | Santa Ana Heritage Tour - Part 1

Three ladies were rounded up in a dungeon-esque room within the thick walls of Nuestra Senora de los Desamparados Parish in Santa Ana, Manila. One of them was me.

National Shrine of Our Lady of the Abandoned

Okay, it was obviously my first time to venture into the back rooms of a centuries-old church. There, our Santa Ana Heritage Tour was about to commence.

Ernest Panis (SAHTA) giving us a backgrounder of his hometown

Often overlooked as a part of Old Manila is Santa Ana. It's not in the usual Manila sightseeing tour itinerary, but with the effort of Santa Ana Heritage Tourism Association (SAHTA) and Fundacion Santiago, it is slowly gearing up to become one of the more enriching walking tours in the city.

Commonly mistaken as the front gate - this actually leads to the side of the parish

Little do many people know that the locale pre-colonially called Namayan was once a flourishing business hub, next to Intramuros. Evidence of opulence still exists in the area today, most notably in its heritage structures, such as the Our Lady of The Abandoned (Desamparados) National Shrine and the ancestral houses standing around it.

Our tour guide leading us through the well-ventilated dormitory corridor

After a short slideshow backgrounder, our small tour group started on foot to our first stop. The smell of melted wax and old wood lingered as we walked up the solid wood stairs leading up to the airy corridors of the church dormitory.

Can you imagine warm, sunny days of the past?

Huge capiz-windows open up to the central patio where pre-colonial artifacts (evidence of early civilization) were once unearthed by archaeologists in the 60’s. Without wasting any time, our tour guide, Santa Ana-born Boyet Magala, led us to a narrow hallway where then-high officials used to hear mass incognito.

Guardian Angels looking after the Camarin

And then we saw it. A few more steps ahead is the painted doorway of the Camarin de la Virgen. Literally translated as ‘the little dressing room’, the Camarin is where the ceremonial changing of the Patron Queen’s outfit takes place. It is located just behind the main altar (retablo).

The restored paintings and a portion of the Corona

Inside the room, we saw the National Cultural Treasure that is the coffeted ceiling painting which depicts the life of Mary and Jesus. Estimated to be as old as the church (circa 1700s), the art is the oldest datable painting in the country. I kind of wanted to lie down and stare at it, as if in a museum.

Devotees may see Her image via the mirrors installed on each side of the enclosure

The Virgin’s pedestal is lavishly adorned with gold accents, flowers and a giant silver crown (Corona Imperial). The main stand is believed to have been part of the galleon ship that brought the image replica from Spain. Inside the enclosure (urnacilla), the Virgin stands surrounded by intricate bas reliefs of Saints Peter, Paul, Francis and Dominic.

hastag it: #fromwhereistand

Boyet points out the significant items found in the room, including the tile flooring which is a stark blue-and-white. The handpainted tiles are said to be from the Ming Dynasty era. After straining our necks, trying to capture the ceiling art, we move on to the bell tower.

A solemn event is ongoing downstairs

We took a shortcut through the choir loft where we got a panoramic view of the nave and churrigueresque retablo. Because of an ongoing event, we weren’t able to go near the main altar. So, on to the belfry we went.

Inside the weathered but still standing belltower

Santa Ana’s bell tower is not only a standing witness, but also a participant to the historical events that shaped Manila. Our guide narrated the historical turning points involving the tower – its construction, re-construction, the miraculous snakes and its role in the Liberation of Manila.

Newly restored church facade

It's amazing to find out how this structure managed to remain standing to this day. The day was still young, so we went down the belfry's weathered spiral staircase feeling energized and ready for the next phase of the tour.

Click here to read Part 2 - A Photowalk Back in Time
Click here to read Part 3 - The Palabok Connection

To book/learn more about this tour, contact:
Boyet Magala (Head Tour Guide) 0933-4613676 | boymag.ilibertad[at]gmail[dot]com 
Cheska Lacson (Coordinator) 0936-9677660 | cheska[at]fundacionsantiago[dot]com

1 comment:

  1. Hello there. It is only now that i encountered your impression about our place and i am so pleased to have guided you during your visit. I am dying to share your personal experience but there are just a few things if possible be corrected prior. Like my family name is Magale, NOT Magala and my mobile numbers are 0927.5177899 or 0943.7257975 while Mr. Panis' first name is Ernie or Ernest.

    Our spiel time and again are improving as we continue to explore countless interesting materials about Santa Ana. The stories you've first heard might have been given another fascinating twist should you wish another try passing by. I would still be willing to walk you around our town of grace, with pride of place.


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