Facelift over: Manila Cathedral gets brighter

By Gerry Lirio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 25 2014 01:28 AM | Updated as of Mar 26 2014 12:25 AM

Facelift over: Manila Cathedral gets brighter 1 Workers rush work on the Manila Cathedral in time for the church's reopening before the Holy Week. Photo by Roi Lagarde for ABS-CBNnews.com

A THOUSAND bulbs will brighten up The Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Concepcion, more popularly known as the Manila Cathedral, in Intramuros when it reopens its doors to the public this month, ending two years of rehabilitation.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle will turn on the lights for the first time before the 6 pm Mass on Tuesday (March 25) night, checking everything--from the facade, down the aisle, and up to the altar and the imposing retablo, or the back of the altar that houses the Holy Sacrament and the paintings and sculptures of Catholic saints, in this particular church, the image of the Immaculate Concepcion.

Tonight’s Mass is thanksgiving for the men and women behind the "new" cathedral.

Tagle closed the cathedral in February 2012 to make way for major repairs after engineers found cracks in key parts of the structure--the first major rehabilitation of its kind since it was built from 1954 to 1958 during the term of Manila Archbishop Rufino Cardinal Santos.


Engineers restored and enhanced the ins and outs of the church the past months to look like the way it used to be, as the faithful know it--marble fittings, pews, bronze doors, the front façade, the bell tower, and all architectural elements such as capitals, arches, and decoration moldings restored, all at a cost of some P40 million, thanks to kind corporate donors.

But what will set apart Tagle’s cathedral from those of his predecessors are the installation of audio-video systems, a closed-circuit television, and the lights, all using LED technology, which can cut the basilica’s electric bills by at least 60 percent.

No corner is left without light, according to the cathedral lighting designer, Germany-trained Nory Ramirez, managing director of PL Light in Existence, the same company that did the lighting interiors of Greenbelt 5, Don Bosco Church on Arnaiz Avenue, and St. Benedict’s in West Grove, Laguna.

The lights enhance, not shadow, the cathedral's architectural details.

“Over-all ambience,” she said, “is characterized by warm-colored lights with high color rendition to bring out the real color of the surface as well as the objects in the various spaces. Hierarchy is evident as it gets warmer as we approach the main altar which is the main focal point of the space.”


The Manila Cathedral has four major switches that Ramirez calls the wedding button, the day-time mass button, the night-time mass button, and the special events button. One gets the desired ambiance in one switch.

By April, all major events of the Archdiocese of Manila will again be celebrated in the basilica. That means all, including weddings, as until it was closed; the cathedral is arguably the country’s premiere wedding church.

To appreciate the new lights, one has to visit the Cathedral for an early evening Mass. By the entrance, the cathedral’s main facade showing the images of St. Rose of Lima, patroness of the Philippines by Angelo Fattinanzi; St. Jacob the Great, St. Andrew the Apostle, preacher of the faith in many corners of Asia and patron of saint of Manila by Livia Papini; St. Francis Xavier, apostle of the Indies by Alcide Tico; St. Polycarp, old bishop of Smyrna by Alcide Tico; and St. Anthony Abbot, founder of Oriental monasticism by Livia Papini, will all be highlighted with soft, but warm yellow lights.

The wedding button and night-time Mass use 70 percent of the bulbs, but each one has a set of lights, different from one another. The wedding button gives a more romantic ambiance; the night-time button makes one feels like its day-time.

The day-time Mass button uses 40 percent of the bulbs for obvious reasons. The special events button uses all the available lights, but will be sparingly used such as in the celebration of the Holy Mass on Christmas Eve Mass, New Year’s Eve and Easter Sunday.

See the aisle and feel the difference--it has the brightest illumination, especially on a wedding day. If a new couple is lucky, they get the lights to match their wedding theme.


The 13 chandeliers have been fully refurbished, one each between two Stations of the Cross. Another chandelier is devoted for the choir.

But Immaculate Concepcion takes the center stage with a backlight and a focus light, like no other.

“Each element in the altar is provided with a very high intensity beam light in warmer color to separate it from the ambient lighting except the image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Concepcion which is designated with white-colored light to put emphasis on her purity,” Ramirez said.

The cathedral’s previous archbishops--Michael J. O’Doherty, Gabriel M. Reyes, Santos, and Jaime Cardinal Sin, whose bodies are buried right below the main altar--were not forgotten.

“A very low light level,” according to Ramirez, “is provided behind the tombs inside each arched portals that produces a dramatically lighted space.”

In all, the new cathedral will look brighter, but nevertheless as solemn as the previous one.