Our convent in Intramuros, Manila: Former Seat of the Province of San Nicolas
by Fray German F. Chicote, OAR
Upon arriving in the Philippines, the first efforts of the Augustinian Recollects were at organizing the common life. In the year 1606 they established the priory of Bagumbayan, outside the walled city of Manila. Two years later they constructed the convent and the beautiful church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, inside the city in Intramuros. It was a structure of stone, built mainly through the generosity of our great benefactor, Don Bernardino de Castillo, who donated about 100,000 pesos for its construction.
San Nicolas-Intramuros was a house of religious observance. At the same time it served as “Seminario de Letras”: philosophate and theologate for Filipino vocations as well as for those professed religious who came to the Philippines without finishing their ecclesiastical studies.
It also served as a novitiate for those receiving our habit in the Philippines. That novitiate was formally opened by the Provincial Council in the year 1746. But before its official opening, many Filipinos had already received the Recollect habit and had professed in that convent. According to Fr. Fidel del Blas, 115 religious took the habit and professed their vows in that house within a period of about 300 years.
Since 1764 Convento de San Nicolas was the official residence of the Prior Provincial and his councilors. Previously the Provincial Council was residing in our priory at Bagumbayan. Many religious of remarkable virtue and knowledge had lived there in our “Intrarnuros.” Among them we could mention Fr. Juan de la Concepcion (1724-1786), author of the famous Historia de Filipinas in fourteen (14) volumes. A distinguished Filipino writer, W.E. Retana, says of Fr. Concepcion’s writings: “It is the most important and notable work among the historical books of the Philippines.”
In our church of San Nicolas special cult was given to the Nazareno. It was the oldest image in the Philippines of Christ carrying the cross. This devotion was the most popular among the people of Manila. In His honor the Confraternidad de Jesus Nazareno was established in 1621.
Another devotion held in that Recoletos church was the veneration to Saint Joseph. There was an Archicofradia de San Jose, and the novena in his honor was one of the most solemn in the whole country.
Also famous was the novena to Saint Nicholas of Tolentine and the blessing and distribution of the bread of the Saint on September 10, his feastday. Of great popularity likewise was the pilgrimage in honor of Saint Lucy on December 13, which used to turn our church and patio into a country fair.
After the destruction of our convent at Bagumbayan in 1764, the image of Nuestra Senora de Salud was transferred to Intramuros, where it was held in much devotion by the faithful. This image of La Salud was brought to the Philippines by the Recoleto missionaries in 1634.
With reference to our house in Intramuros, both the original convent and the church were completely torn down by a devastating earthquake in 1645. Reconstruction began immediately, but another powerful earthquake leveled both edifices to the ground in 1658. The Fathers soon built a new structure, bigger and more solid than the previous one. This construction is the one which lasted until 1945. The antiquated church obviously underwent important repairs on various occasions. Notable among the restoration efforts was its beautiful facade, redesigned in 1780. But the whole structure, consisting of the church building and the convent, was razed to the ground at the end of the Second World War. Today, the Manila Bulletin Publishing Office occupies the area which once lent space to our renowned “San Nicolas-Intramuros,” also known as “Recoletos.”