Greek-inspired architectural elements. Photo by Elmer Lim, ABS-CBN News

Behind Cebu’s Temple of Leah is a hoarder’s story and a husband’s promise

A daughter opens up about her late mother’s life to share a lesson on compassion  
Jerome Gomez | May 02 2021

In 2011, a magnificent structure in the style of ancient Roman architecture stirred all of Cebu. Named Temple of Leah, it was christened by some as “Cebu’s Taj Majal” but what it is really is the realization of a husband’s promise to his wife on her deathbed. Teodorico Soriano Adarna had it built to become the repository of his better half Leah Albino-Adarna’s collections of antiques, books, Chinese jars and various other objet d’arts. 

Visitors take photos in front of the 9-foot bronze statue of Leah Adarna. Photo by Elmer Lim, ABS-CBN News

Recently, however, a daughter of the Adarnas, Arlene Adarna Mangubat, took to social media to tell another story behind her mother’s collections. Mangubat, using the handle Ibon Sa Gubat on Facebook’s highly popular group, Home Buddies, said she decided to share this story after reading posts of members whose parents are hoarders. 

“My Nanay Leah was a hoarder,” wrote Mangubat. “She never threw anything away, even plastic Jolibee spoons.” 

Mangubat said her mother never discarded anything that in her mind was useful. She said she also had “very expensive taste” when it came to figurines, China, crystals and silverware of which she has quite remarkable collections. “Sa dami she had to distribute it to several houses that she owned. Lahat ng bahay niya it’s either mukha siyang bodega or mukha siyang department store.”

The primary reason for Mangubat’s sharing is to tell children with parents who are hoarders to go easy on their folks, show a little empathy. She said that every time she visited her mother in Cebu—Mangubat moved to Manila in her 20s—she would compliment her mother’s new collections instead of giving her a scolding. “It’s really difficult to grow up with a hoarder in the house, but looking back now, natatawa na lang ako with her ways.” 

In front of the main temple is a foundation with three naked maiden statues and four seated horses. Photo by Elmer Lim, ABS-CBN News

Mrs Albino-Adarna, whom Mangubat calls Nanay, passed away ten years ago. “I really miss her a lot,” Mangubat said. “I feel sad looking at her things. It’s a constant reminder na wala tayong madadala [in the next life].” 

When Mrs Albino-Adarna got ill with cancer, she worried so much over her collections and what will become of them. She was concerned her children might throw everything away. “She was so worried about her collections more than she was worried about us,” Mangubat recalled. “Malaki na kasi kami and we were all okay.” Hence,  Mangubat’s father made a commitment to her mother, before the latter passed, to build a place that will contain all of her things. Hence, the Temple of Leah, a marble-and-brass edifice which sits on a more-than-one-hectare property in Busay, Cebu City. 

A photograph of the couple, Teodorico and Leah Adarna, can be seen inside one of the chambers of the temple. Photo by Elmer Lim, ABS-CBN News

Mangubat recalled growing up being embarrassed to bring friends to the family house. And while this daughter admits it got to a point where it became frustrating to come home to their house full of objects, her mother’s hoarding never became a source of conflict between them. But when it was her turn to make a home of her own, Mangubat said she became the complete opposite of her mother, throwing away things she didn’t need, seriously steering clear of clutter that she even got rid of her husband’s awards and uniform when he was still a young military combat pilot. She regrets the deed now.

Mangubat’s advice to children complaining about their parents’ hoarding habits is to show compassion. “Pabayaan na ninyo lalo na if they are already old,” she said. “We do not spend much time with them so instead of complaining, help them organize their things. Do not spend your few times together convincing them to change their ways. It's not going to happen. It is just  going to be emotionally draining for both of you. If you are an adult and you can no longer stand it, move out by all means and make a home and a space for yourself.” 

The 9-foot bronze statue of Leah Adarna. Photo by Elmer Lim, ABS-CBN News

It’s wisdom that comes from being a parent herself. “Pag tumanda na tayo, we also do not want our children to do the same thing to us,” she said. “As parents, we always raise our children to the best of our abilities so in return we just want love, understanding and acceptance. Nobody is perfect so as a parent of adult children myself, that's all I want in return.” 

The story of the Temple of Leah, according to Mangubat, is “a hoarder's story and a husband who kept his promise.” And now the story of this majestic seven-story structure on top of a mountain is also about a daughter honoring her mother’s memory.