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Pandacan’s great loss, unexpected gift

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Gutted church and convent. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF KEVIN BERMEJO

At 7:59 in the evening of 20 August 1937, an earthquake measuring magnitude 7.5 struck off the coast of Real in Quezon province, shaking Luzon and nearby islands, causing damage of varying degrees to old houses, commercial establishments, and churches in Manila and a number of other areas.

The day after, the Australian newspaper The Examiner reported “three earthquake shocks, described as the most serious in the Philippines for years, rocked the city and surrounding city yesterday, disrupting telephone and power services.” It added that masonry buildings suffered cracks and water lines busted, but noted no casualties, despite of the earthquake’s magnitude.

The newspaper added that “the earth shocks (possibly referring to the main jolt and strong aftershocks) occurred an hour after the arrival of a shipload of American refugees from Shanghai” who were most likely fleeing the commencing second Chinese-Japanese war.

One of the historic structures that were damaged by the earthquake was the Spanish-era church of Santo Niño in Pandacan, Manila.

Images of the church published in Bulletin No. 14 of the National Research Council of the Philippine Islands in December 1937, in an article written by researchers Ambrosio Magsaysay and Jose Feliciano, showed large cracks on church walls and collapsed upper levels of the belfry. The adjoining convent, however, survived the tremor.

But what survived the earthquake and the Second World War was totally destroyed during a massive fire in the morning of 10 July 2020. The reconstructed church and the Spanish-era convent were both gutted by the 70-minute blaze.

 

Inset is a pair of old ganchillo shoes.

The most important object lost in the fire was the 17th-century venerated image of the Santo Niño de Pandacan, which is noted for its rarity and high religious and historic values.

Aside from the image of the Child Jesus, heritage advocate and devotee Kevin Bermejo said among the treasures that were destroyed by the fire was the 18th century crucifix, an image of the Cristo Resucitado, the baptismal font where key figures were baptized such as Fr. Jacinto Zamora and Ladislao Bonus, a silver altar piece, and the antique ganchillo shoes of the Niño.

Bermejo, who lamented the loss of church cultural heritage, said the “year 2020 will go down in history as the saddest year in our humble town of Pandacan.”

But he added that church records survived the fire since these were stored in the parish office which is separate from the convent.

Nonetheless, in a meaningful act of ecumenism in the Year of Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church), through its genealogical organization FamilySearch, recently turned over microfilmed and digitized records of the church dating back to 1778 through 1968.

 

IMAGE of Santo Niño de Pandacan.

The turnover of a USB stick containing the records was led by LDS General Authority Seventy Elder Taniela Wakolo, FamilySearch Philippines area manager Felivir Ordinario, Latter-Day Saint Charities representative John Balledos, and communication head Haidi Fajardo.

Parish priest Fr. Sanny de Claro accepted the digitized documents — birth and marriage records, among others — amid a backdrop of the ruined church complex and expressed his gratitude for the donation.

“The records donated by FamilySearch will help restore the records they have lost, as well as prepare the parish for the celebration of the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021,” noted LDS in a statement following the handover event.

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