For students of history and cultural heritage, the Ateneo de Manila University Press, run by its director Maria Karina Bolasco, is a treasure trove of worthy works on subjects that span the gamut of Philippine studies.
A couple of their latest offerings provide valuable and thought-provoking information and discussion on two interesting topics: Christianity, particularly Catholicism, in the Philippines, and Manila’s architectural heritage from the beginning of Spanish colonial times until 1960.
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Between Celebration and Critique: Snapshots from 500 Years of Philippine Christianity by José Mario C. Francisco, SJ, is a collection of essays written over the past 30 years on diverse topics organized into three sections that address the nature of religion in the Philippine context, the role of Catholicism in society, and the place of Catholic Philippines in global Christianity.
The collection was put together in time for the celebration last year of 500 years of Christianity in the country, part of the larger 2021 Quincentennial Commemoration by the Philippine government of the Victory at Mactan and the Philippine leg of the first circumnavigation of the globe, among other related events.
The Philippines is the third largest Catholic country in the world after Brazil and Mexico, and Francisco helps us understand how this came about. In his essays, he shows, with honesty, how the past shapes the present, for instance in the way the rise of the religion in this country is tied to Spanish colonization.
In his preface, Francisco says he intends this book to be a “sourcebook of snapshots from Philippine Christianity” that “add nuance and textures” to the text and themes discussed, and provide a “picture of Philippine Christianity that emerges through a multidirectional and multifaceted encounter between Spanish Catholic practice and local ways on life, mainly mediated through language.”
His epilogue is an analysis and criticism of Dutertismo and Rodrigo Duterte’s attacks on “Catholic belief and leadership while cultivating support from other Christian groups.” In order to face the challenge and renew “Christianity’s evangelizing mission,” he suggests a return to the Christ story to engage those at the margins.
This collection is a significant contribution to Asian and global theology and cultural studies, written in an engaging yet erudite voice that also bares a heart that beats with a profound love for Christ and countrymen.
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Endangered Splendor, by Fernando N. Zialcita and Erik Akpedonu with Victor S. Venida, provides a wealth of information about Manila’s architectural heritage from 1571 to 1960.
The book, a magnificent hardbound tome lavishly filled with photographs and illustrations, is Volume One of three, the others focusing on locations in the south and north of Manila. This one focuses on the center, specifically the areas of Intramuros, Binondo, San Nicolas, and Tondo.
It is a collection of essays based on extensive fieldwork and archival research by the authors and a team of young researchers from many different Philippine universities and coming from a wide variety of disciplines. The result of their effort is a meticulous, highly detailed mapping of architecturally and culturally significant buildings in Manila that show the evolution of architectural styles, from Spanish colonial to Art Deco to Bauhaus.
Even non-architects will gain much enjoyment from this book, as the essays are written with consideration for a layman’s understanding, and any reader will learn a lot from this book. Not only do the authors identify buildings of note, they also contextualize the infrastructure with extensive historical background and narrative. They also provide information on issues challenging cultural heritage conservation in the country.
Among the threats contributing to Manila’s disappearing heritage, writes Akpedonu, are threats of “total loss by demolition (for diverse motives) and through fires (usually followed by redevelopment of the site),” partial loss, translocation, dilapidation, and invisibility (when structures are concealed behind “high walls and sealed fences,” as in the case of fine mansions.
“In whatever manner it comes,” he adds, “Manila seems destined to continue losing its heritage. Without authentic, tangible, and intangible witnesses to its history and past artistic and cultural achievements, the city will continue to lose its identity, its unique character, its ‘sense of place.’”
This book is a wake-up call for society to take better care of its architectural heritage, or lose it entirely. It is a must-have for art lovers, history buffs, and culture mavens, as well as anyone interested in Philippine studies.
Both books are published by Ateneo de Manila University Press (unipress.ateneo.edu).
Between Celebration and Critique: Snapshots from 500 Years of Philippine Christianity
by José Mario C. Francisco, SJ
2021 / 494 pages, pb / P575.00
Endangered Splendor: Manila’s Architectural Heritage 1571-1960 (Volume 1: The Center)
By Fernando Zialcita and Erik Akpendonu with Victor S. Venida
2021 / 401 pages, hb / P1,800.00
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