A week after I visited a monastery run by Benedictine Monks down South, I was reminded of my Visita Iglesia back in April earlier this year. Among the 7 churches and chapels I visited, the most striking in my book was the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, more popularly called San Beda Chapel. It is a gem waiting to be discovered and rediscovered…… in an area more remembered as the posh San Miguel district in Manila where the moneyed and high society used to lead elegant lifestyles by the banks of the then clean, oil spill-free Pasig River. Quite ironically, it is also known of late as the Mendiola site that bore witness to way too many rallies, even bloody protests, as rallyists marched towards Malacañang.
This neo-Gothic Chapel was designed by a Swedish architect by the name of George Asp. It would have looked even lovelier when it was consecrated in 1925, with those Sistine Chapel-like ceilings painted by artist-monk Fr. Lesmes Lopez, a Benedictine Monk. Awesome is an overused word, but yes, it is indeed awesome!
The stars in the galaxy must have conspired to spare this magnificent church from the destruction of the Second World War. Just a block away from Malacañan Palace by the Pasig River, both structures survived the carpet bombing during the Battle of Manila. Many of its historic counterparts in Intramuros were not as lucky. It surprises me though that not too many are even aware of the striking beauty of this college chapel. One look at the painting of the Apotheosis of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the retablo and many bronze angels holding lamps to illumine the chapel in a “Rennaissance” kind of way, and you’re transported out of the slums, dirt, grime, chaos of Manila. I can imagine the old rich and elite hearing Sunday masses in this lovely college chapel back then. Can you?