Archbishop Benavides initiated the rebuilding of the Manila Cathedral in stone but he never lived long enough to see the cathedral finished. He passed away on July 26, 1605, two years after his ascension to the archbishopric. The cathedral project was left in the hands of his successor, Diego Vasquez de Mercado, who became archbishop on June 1, 1610.
By 1607, the Manila Cathedral was in such a miserable condition that it became necessary to abandon it and transfer cathedral services to the Chapel of San Andres of the Colegio de Santa Potenciana. This condition continued for the next seven years until a new one of stone was built.
Archbishop Mercado continued the late prelate’s project. He expanded, beautified, and completed the cathedral building. In 1614, a new Manila Cathedral of three naves, seven chapels, and ten altars arose. It was built largely from funds donated by the licentiate Don Francisco Gomez de Arellano, fourth dean of the cathedral, from the alms solicited by the good archbishop from residents of Manila,and from the Royal Treasury.
The seven chapels of the Manila Cathedral were built from donations given by generous patrons of the cathedral. The capilla mayor or largest chapel of the cathedral was dedicated to Don Francisco Gomez de Arellano, a most generous donor of the cathedral. For his kind and magnanimous deed, Don Francisco was assigned, upon his death, a special niche with bronze letterings and border at the capilla mayor. Francisco Gomez de Arellano had served as cura en propiedad in Villa de Arevalo in Panay. He was also capellon mayor and rector of the Royal College of Santa Potenciana in 1598, a canon of the church, and the chaplain for the Hospital Real de los Españoles.
Captain Juan Sarmiento and his wife Isabel de Paredes of Manila founded a chapel and masses amounting to 200 pesos every year. Captain Antonio de Espinosa and his wife Maria de Acriaza, descendants of one of the oldest families of Manila,founded a chapel under the patronage of San Bartolome and a chaplaincy of 180 pesos. The beautiful Capilla del Sagrario, or Sanctuary Chapel, was founded by Captain Alonzo Tarancon with funds coming from the property of the late Miguel Simon, a devout and pious man who was accorded the honorary title of padre. A chaplaincy was also founded for the Curato de Españoles, curary for Spaniards, amounting to 210 pesos each year, with 140 pesos for the lamp of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Archbishop Vasquez de Mercado founded on the left side of the capilla mayor a chapel for his sepulcher and all the prebends who desired to be interred there. In his designated niche was a large slab measuring one vara in height and two and a half in width, with his portrait etched in wood over the slab. He also founded a chaplaincy of 1,000 pesos every year at the disposal of the Chapter. The next chapel was founded by the accountant Alonso de Espinosa Saravia with a chaplaincy of 150 pesos every year for the service of the Chapter. The last chapel was founded by Don Rodrigo de la Barrera with a chaplaincy of 150 pesos every year.
The remains of the late Archbishop Benavides were interred at the Gospel side of the principal altar. Archbishop Vasquez de Mercado, who died in an accident on June 12, 1616,was interred in the mortuary chapel he founded in the cathedral.
The Earthquakes of 1621 and 1645
It was not long after when an earthquake on August 1, 1621,caused serious damages on the cathedral’s walls, columns, and roofs. The cathedral became so structurally weak and unsafe such that it posed danger to anyone who desired to go inside the building. It was imperative to rebuild it since repairs would not improve its miserable condition. At this period, the cathedral did not even have a main retablo but only a canopy with an image of Christ. Men were even employed just to guard and keep watch over the ornaments and other precious objects within the cathedral.
Between July 1, 1641,the date of Archbishop Hernando Guerrero’s death, and July 1645, the date when Archbishop Fernando Montero took possession of the archdiocese, the cathedral underwent reconstruction. However, the cathedral fell victim again to nature’s devastation when an earthquake destroyed it on November 30, 1645,feastday of St. Andrew.
The earthquake was one of the strongest to hit Manila,with tremors repeatedly shaking the city days after. The earthquake hit the city at 8 in the evening with the bells of the cathedral and the Convent of Santo Domingo pealing loudly with the intensity of the quake, joining the tremors that shook the buildings and the residents of Manila. Six hundred residents of the city were buried beneath the rubble and debris, with the religious going around to administer confession and the last rites to the dying victims.
The cathedral easily fell in ruins, its bell tower crumbled to the ground, and its walls reduced to their foundations. Only the capilla mayor and a wall remained. The archives inside the chapter hall were irretrievably buried. Books and papers regarding the early history of the colony were lost forever.
The tremors continued for the next few days, and on the fifth day, a quake of even stronger intensity destroyed whatever structures and ruins were left standing. In less than an hour, many people died. Killed were more than 450 people with 150 houses leveled to the ground. Because of the continuous tremors, the Spanish residents of Manila, fearing for their lives, left the city and rented the simple huts of the natives in the outlying arrabales of Manila. It was a sight to see the most finicky and delicate Spaniards, who before lived luxuriously in their ample salons, living in the humble huts of the indios.
The Manila Cathedral was so devastated that a camarin made of wood with bamboo and nipa for a roof was built to temporarily house the flock in the plaza facing the Governor General’s Palace. The cathedral was reduced to a memory together with all the structures in the city. The earthquake impoverished the cathedral so much with its sources of income lost.
In 1645, after the earthquake, a generous donor, Doña Luisa de Cosar, widow of the former Governor of Formosa, Sergeant Major Francisco Suarez de Figueroa, offered to establish an endowment to have the Sagrario de los Curas, or Priests’ Sanctuary, and chapel for the Most Blessed Sacrament rebuilt. This was her way of thanksgiving for being spared from the earthquakes of November 30 and December 4, 1645 and a means to express her love and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The Cathedral Chapter accepted the endowment with all its stipulations for the reconstruction, upkeep, and maintenance of the Cathedral’s Sanctuary Chapel.