The San Jose rescued from the ashes

For most of its history the Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine had as its mother house the convent of Intramuros of Manila. And for more than half a century in Manila, his temple was known as "St. Joseph's." In the Solemnity and the Year of St. Joseph declared by Pope Francis, the Augustinian recollect Pablo Panedas takes us to Manila to rescue, with the whole Church, our Universal Patron.
Pablo Panedas OAR News | 2021 Mar 19 | Rome, Italy.

I have not forgotten the bewilderment that gave me the discovery of this image that is on the cover, more than 30 years ago, when I organized the photographs section of the File of the Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine of the Order of Augustinians Recollects in Marcilla (Navarra, Spain).

After collecting more than a hundred photos of the old and disappeared convent and church of Intramuros of Manila (Philippines), of which a complete report has recently been published on this page, when I was already moving freely through all its corners, one appeared that did not fit the whole.

It reproduced an unknown angle of the temple; an unknown but perfectly recognizable angle, for the most part. I had seen before the side of the church, with the pulpit, the confessionals in the side chapels and, above the ledge, the angels who hold the chandeliers with the electric lighting installed in 1909.

He also knew that behind the balustrade and the windows that can be seen was the choir where the community prayed. But he had not found any image of the so-called altar of relics, to the left of the pulpit, nor had we seen the door that gives access to the room before the sacristy and sacristy.

What surprised me enormously was the mural that, according to the photo, completely occupied the bottom of the cruiser. An immense mural that, by the references we have, could well have measured up to 140 square meters, the entire bottom of the cruiser. It was an incomplete painting, curd of characters and with several overlapping scenes that in a sepia photo was difficult to identify.

Only in recent times, a few months ago, has a second photograph, which completes the scene and allows it to be better identified, come to my knowledge. Its quality is similar to the precedent; at first glance, it looks like a ghost of characters.

It offers, above all, the advantage of reproducing the mural in its entirety. And, in that ensemble, the tombstone that protects a lying lion, at the bottom of the fresco, jumps better into view. Latin tombstone that is especially clarifying:

"On December 8, 1870, the Supreme Pontiff Pius IX solemnly declared St. Joseph Patron of the Universal Church."

And indeed, that is what the painting represents: the moment when, after an interruption of several months, the Vatican Council I resumes its sessions, started a year earlier. And they resume with the publication by the Pontiff of the decree Quemadmodum Deus, in which Pius IX declares St Joseph patron of the Universal Church.

The scene consists of two parts, both located in the Basilica of St. Peter of Rome. On the right is the interior of the basilica, where the conciliar parents are slashed and the Pope presents himself with all the insignia of his authority: triple tiara and gestation chair that carry his gentlemen.

On the left, in St. Peter's Square, the faithful people are gathered in prayer: the people that, on that occasion, we know were incredulous and even mistreated by violent anti-clerical elements.

In the scene at the top, the protagonist is a curiously represented Saint Joseph alone, without the Child Jesus.The Patriarch receives the homage of the papal declaration presented to him by an angel who gathers his hands in gesture of supplication. On the right and left are other angels carrying their attributes: the rod and the lilies .

He is thus constituted as patron and special protector of the militant Church. Below him, on his right, are two other figures: the trumpet angel who announces the news, and a St. Augustine of Pontifical who little surprises in a church of the Augustinian Recollects .

What the painting represents, in short, is that solemn pontifical declaration of which 150 years have just been fulfilled. The moment that has prompted Pope Francis to promulgate his Apostolic Letter Patris corde, and which has also led him to dedicate to St. Joseph all this year 2021, until December 8.

Author and circumstances

Obviously, the grandioseness of a fresco like this stirs curiosity and forces you to wonder about the identity of its author and the circumstances in which it was realized. The fact that only the two photos exist, without color and with few details (the third that can be seen in the gallery is a recent recreation), leads to the search with greater interest for any pieces of information that can clear the panorama.

And so it has been tried, but with very little success. The sources are scarce, almost all of the periodicals of the Province of Saint Nicholas of  Tolentine: its Bulletin and the missionary magazine Todos Misioneros.  (All Missionaries)

These are several articles that mark the decades of the 20s and 30s of the last century: some, of descriptive tourist character; others are chronicles of the annual celebrations of the festivities of Saint Joseph. It seemed obligatory that, in some of them, even mention of the painting would be made. And yet there is no trace. This silence seems inexplicable and leads to the conclusion that, in the 1920s and early 1930s, fresco did not yet exist.

On the other hand, great improvements were made in the church in the 1930s, especially with a viewto the XXXIII International Eucharistic Congress, held in Manila in February 1937. It was to be the first held in Asia, and its headquarters was very close to Recollects, across the wall, in the current park of La Luneta. Looks like the  perfect occasion.

The only testimony found identifies the author, but nothing says about the date of execution of the work. It is that of Jose García Martínez, resident in Intramuros for several periods for the 20s, 30s and 40s and who, above all, was a curious scorer of all that had to do with the heritage. Among many other things, and after alluding to several frescoes that decorated the temple, he refers to one in particular:

"... the greatest for its enormous dimensions and for its beautiful color, which is the one that occupies the entire wall between the altars of consolation and that of the Relics. It represents the Apotheosis of Saint Joseph or his proclamation as Protector of the Universal Church. It was painted by the inspired artist Mr. Enríquez, taking several months in his work. He charged for it the amount of 1,500 pesos."

It is understood to refer to Rafael Enriquez Villanueva, born in Naga (Camarines Sur, Philippines) to Spanish parents in 1850. He had been educated at the Municipal Athenaeum and the University of St. Thomas of Manila, and then had studied in Madrid(1868–1879) and Paris (1879–1887).

After residing for a time in London, and already known as a painter, he had taken part in the Philippine General Exhibitionin Madrid (1887). From 1909, he was professor and immediately dean of the School of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines, recently created. One of his students would be the prince of Filipino painters, Fernando Amorsolo.

I have thus come to the conclusion that this fresco of "beautiful color" had to be executed before 1937, year of Enriquez’s death. As a most likely date we ventured the one of 1935, in coincidence with the Golden Weddings of the installation in Intramuros of the powerful Arch confraternity of Saint Joseph.

In the bead books that are preserved from the convent and house pick up there is no trace of the costs of painting. We thought, therefore, that it might have been a commission from the Arch confraternity, which would thus recall its half-century of existence.

Certainly, by that time Enríquez was already an 85-year-old, and it's hard to imagine him climbing the scaffolding at such an advanced age. Surely, he had to have the unconditional help of members of his workshop or some disciples.

The Sponsorship of Saint Joseph

Josefine apotheosis or Tabor of Josefine glories.Hyperboles of this caliber employ chroniclers when describing the novenary of preparation in Intramural Recoletos at the Feast of Sponsorship, every 26 November. Mercy and enthusiasm filled with the temple and flooded the city of Manila.

Everyone was involved in the festival, starting with the Archbishop and the Pontifical Representative;and the Convent of St. Nicholas was a Jubilee for nine days.That's how it's been celebrated for half a century. To the point that, popularly, the church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine was known to the Manileños as St. Joseph's church.

From the convent devotion to Sponsorship spread throughout the Philippine archipelago and throughout the Province of Saint Nicholas. And it was booming, practically, until it was relieved by the feast of Saint Joseph, The Worker, from 1955. After the Second Vatican Council he disappeared from the horizon of the Church and the Order with little trace. As the fresco that Enríquez painted when Intramuros was bombed in 1945 had disappeared.

Now, somehow, parallelism is repeated. Thanks to Pope Francis, the Church is recovering the Holy Patriarch as Patron of the Church. And we rescue, even in pale photographic reproduction, the monumental painting that represents a whole spirituality.

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Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

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