Cathedra of the Manila Cathedral Restored

Photos: Manila Cathedral

The post-World War II cathedra of the Cathedral of Manila was recently restored.  The chair is a symbol of ecclesiastical dignity, rank and office.  It is the seat at which the bishop officiates solemnly in his own diocese.  The throne consists of three parts, namely, the platform, the throne and the canopy.  

Needless to say, the 1970's was not the best time for church decoration and renovations (when brisures such as this became commonplace in the Catholic world).  Thankfully the exquisite cathedra was not all together removed, as was the case in many places.  In the Latin tradition the drapery of the throne has always been silk (with cloth of gold sometimes used for cardinals).  On the throne is customarily placed a cushion that has the color of the Mass or Office, namely, white, red, green or violet (violet is used when the vestments are black).    

Thankfully the obtrusive stone cover was removed just before Holy Week from the front of the chair amidst preparations for the reception and installation of the newly appointed Archbishop of Manila.  The removal of the stone revealed beautiful Mexican onyx and the blazoned armorial coat-of-arms of Archbishop Rufino Santos (1908-1973).  

The arms, made in Italy of solid marbles and installed in 1958, shines with color, including green malachite used for the galero hat.  The assumptive arms displays an excellent example of proper armory with beautiful charges on the shield, a fine example of the art and science of ecclesiastical heraldry.  Also included is a white Maltese cross, indicative of the membership of the Archbishop in the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the SMOM, also known as the Knights of Malta.  

The ten green tassels indicate the rank of an archbishop.  On the dexter side of the arms (left, as you face it), can be seen the arms of the See of Manila, a requirement because the Archbishop was a prelate with jurisdiction, and so required to impale his own arms with those of his jurisdiction, giving the place of honor (the dexter side) to the latter.  A residential bishop in the Catholic tradition of heraldry always places the arms of his diocese on the left, and his personal arms on the right, thereby essentially making the arms contain two coats-of-arms on the same shield.  Thus, when bishops are transferred to another diocese, the prelate's own side arms remains unchanged as he moves to a new See.  Thus, a praiseworthy symbolism is thereby assured.    

Santos was Archbishop of Manila from 1953 until his death in 1973.  He is remembered as both a Council Father and the first Filipino elevated to the rank of cardinal.  During the Second World War he saved the life of the Archbishop by taking the blame from the Japanese for feeding and assisting Filipino freedom fighters.  The cathedra he commissioned is an irreplaceable cultural and historical treasure of immense symbolism.  

The Archbishop led a saintly life.  He was ordained priest at age 22 in Rome at the Lateran Archbasilica.  Santos is the bishop who restored the cathedral after the war and commissioned this same throne that was installed in 1958.  The restoration was necessitated on account of heavy damages that resulted from the brutal fighting during the month-long Battle of Manila during the Japanese occupation in 1945.  It was during that battle many Filipinos were martyred and the cathedral was nearly obliterated.  The project of rebuilding of the cathedral was undertaken from 1946-1958.  

The coat-of-arms of Santos was removed just after it was uncovered - it was attached by three screws accessible from the back fo the chair.  The arms will be replaced with those of the newly appointed Cardinal Archbishop of Manila.  

The beautiful translucent marble revealed under the stone that covered the chair is Mexican onyx, rich with meaning and symbolism.  The onyx is obtained from stalactites traditionally found in caves quarried in Tehuaca, Mexico.  Let us hope the canopy (baldachinum) will be reinstalled above the throne, true to the design of the 1958 restoration.  The throne by right belongs to the pope everywhere; for that reason Paul VI was the first Pontiff to sit in the same chair and not the last pope to do so.          

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