Bamboo organ by Diego Cera. Las Piñas, Philippines.

The Augustinian Recollect Diego Cera (Graus, Huesca, Spain, 1762 — Manila, Philippines, 1832) is a good representative of the social-evangelizing work of the Augustinian Recollects in the Philippines. His contributions to universal culture have reached our days. In this IV Centenary (1621-2021) of the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino, his life “always on mission” and his dedication to the Filipino people encourage the missionaries of the present and the future.

Diego Cera was born on July 26, 1762, in Graus, Huesca, Spain, and died on June 24, 1832, in Manila, Philippines. Of his 69 years of life (for a month he did not reach 70), 45 he was an Augustinian Recollect religious; and the last forty he was a missionary in the Philippines.

He professed in the Augustinian Recollects within the Province of Aragon, dedicated to Our Lady of Pilar. But his ardor and restlessness led him to volunteer for the mission in the Philippines after a brief stint in the Recollect convents of Barcelona, Benabarre (Huesca) and Zaragoza.

Fray Diego did like almost all the Spanish missionaries in the Philippines: he put all his qualities, capacities and prior learning at the service of the mission. He knew how to successfully navigate the differences between the geography, climate, culture, language or media of his context of origin and those of his missionary task.

This adaptation to the new circumstances was such that an American author, G. A. Miller, even compared Fray Diego Cera to Thomas Alva Edison and said that “he should have been American.” Thus, he admired the ability of the Aragonese missionary to invent solutions to every difficulty that stood in his plans.

Fray Diego arrived in the Philippines already an experienced organist and maker of musical instruments. But in these Islands, in times of painful and difficult communications and a general lack of resources, he had to be creative: there was no abundance of materials for the instruments, such as metal, leather, assembly parts… Everything was imported and was very expensive.

Yes, there was an abundance of wood and a plant with great potential for engineering, bamboo. Cera has gone down in history for one of his most original, unique and surprising creations in the eyes of anyone: the organ with bamboo pipes that he installed in what was his parish for 37 years.

Although it is his most famous work, Fray Diego also built other instruments (organs, violins, basses, harpsichords, pianofortes) and was a promoter of communication infrastructures (roads, bridges) or ecclesial infrastructures (temples, convents). Two centuries later, several of them are preserved.

Diego became a specialist in the treatment of leather, manufactured dyes and glues with local products, collected and cataloged minerals and wood, promoted new cultivation methods or invented industrial uses of local natural materials.

With the people he was no less creative with a character that can be seen as extremely attractive: on the one hand, he promoted art among the most humble (choirs, orchestras, organ workshops); on the other, he generated such confidence around him that when in 1797 the State asked for the name of someone capable of leadership in the event of a war against England to appoint him Commander, the people of Las Piñas did not hesitate to give the name of their parish priest, Fray Diego CERA.

Let us review in more detail the life and works of Fray Diego Cera, whom we honor in this report, on the IV Centenary of the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino of the Order of Augustinian Recollects (1621-2021), whose month of November 2021 is dedicated to the cultural interaction of the province with the societies where it has been in these four centuries of existence.

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