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Manila 1870, seven years after the earth moved


By Dr. Jaime C. Laya

Ciudad de Manila: Estado y Clasificacion de Sus Edificios en 1870, by J. Cavada y Mendez de Vigo, Agustin de la Oppel (Manila, 1876).

Ciudad de Manila: Estado y Clasificacion de Sus Edificios en 1870, by J. Cavada y Mendez de Vigo, Agustin de la Oppel (Manila, 1876).

The scientific-minded Jesuits have long been keeping track of earthquakes.  Number one on their record is the June 1, 1599 earthquake when the stone vault of the Jesuit church collapsed.  Earthquake no. 90 occurred 264 years later when at 7:20 p.m. on June 3, 1863, there was a “horroroso terremoto.”

There were vertical, oscillating, and rotating movements. In the 30 seconds that the earth shook, stone walls collapsed, tile roofs crashed to the ground, church bells pealed when their towers swung, crumbled, and fell. Clouds of dust enveloped Intramuros as people ran screaming to safety and as many, pinned under walls and stone, moaned and prayed.

It was the eve of Corpus Christi and in the Cathedral, priests, worshipers, and choir members died when the roof fell. Some 1,169 buildings in Intramuros, Binondo, and Santa Cruz were destroyed or heavily damaged, including all churches, except San Agustin that remained standing. At San Gabriel (probably the present Plaza Cervantes), the ground opened and sulfuric fumes rose. Geysers of mud and black water rose in the Pasig and the Bay.

A total of 46 public buildings were ruined, including the major government buildings:  Palacio del Gobernador, Real Audiencia, Ayuntamiento, and Intendencia. Also destroyed were the Cathedral, the Jesuit Church (Gral. Luna corner Victoria within Pamantasan), and the churches of Sta. Isabel (Gral. Luna corner Anda) and San Juan de Dios (Real corner Muralla, within Lyceum). The only bridge across the Pasig, Puente de España, collapsed.  Destruction was also reported from Cavite, Tambobong (now Malabón), Navotas, Pasig, and Antipolo. Strong aftershocks occurred over the next five days, adding to injuries and confusion.

A map published by Agustin de la Oppel Cavada y Mendez de Vigo shows how matters stood in 1870, seven years after the earthquake.

A Puente de Barcas (planks laid on barges) downstream of the Puente de España then still under construction, took traffic across the Pasig. The Governor-General had commandeered Colegio de Santa Potenciana on Gral. Luna and Victoria (now a Red Cross building). The Real Audiencia (Supreme Court) formerly on the present A. Soriano Street was on Solana corner San Francisco. From the ruined Ayuntamiento, the colonial and city government moved to the corner of Cabildo and Real, now an informal settler colony.

The many offices occupying the Intendencia relocated all over: the Mint was on Cabildo corner Recoletos (now PNTC Colleges-Maritime Training Center); Banco Español-Filipino (the present BPI) was a block away on Victoria (now Catalina’s Carindería). A nipa hut by the Pasig was the Customs House. The Office of Mines was where Casa Manila Museum now is.

The Cathedral was still in ruins and the Franciscan Tercera Orden Church on Solana (now within the Mapua University campus) served as Provisional Cathedral.  The Jesuits located their temporary church on Arzobispo corner Anda where they later built San Ignacio Church, now under restoration.  It was then part of the Ateneo Municipal.

The earth shook again for five days from July 14 to 1880 and it was back to square one.


Note: The Jesuit earthquake chronology is in P. Miguel Saderra Maso, La Seismologia en Filipinas (Manila: Observatorio de Manila, 1895).


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