National Shrine







Redemptorist, Baclaran, Philippines

About Us - Shrine Architecture

The Church's architecture is Modern Romanesque. Cesar Concio, its architect, and Jesse Bontoc, his associate, had planned a higher church with a bell tower. But because of its proximity to the airport, civil aeronautic regulations prevented them from carrying out their plan in full.


In describing the architecture of the church, Fr. Lew O'Leary, the rector of the church during its construction  said: "The church, the largest in the Philippines, is certainly a remarkable sight. But a very remarkable thing about this church is something not visible, namely its foundation. The church is built on land skirting Manila Bay. This land is all sand. The church, with its thick walls of reinforced concrete and its towering pillars could not be built on sand. The foundation had to rest on bedrock 29 feet below. This required the driving of creosoted, hardwood piles down to rest on the bedrock. Engineering wise, the grip of the sand on the whole 29 foot length of each pile was as important as having the pile rest on the bedrock.



 Just as a tightly clenched fist can grip a pencil, so the sand has a vice-like grip on each pile, thus assuring solid foundation for the church to be built on. The piles cost P52,344. The pile driving cost P10,956. The job was done by the American firm Atlantic, Gulf Pacific (AG & P). It was money well spent. Built on such solid foundation the church has withstood two very severe earthquakes with not even a crack appearing in any part of it."


The architect of Baclaran was the well-known architect, Cesar Concio, Sr., who must be credited with such a light design for such a big space and for the good natural acoustics. Originally, it was to have a tower, but this was scuttled due to its proximity to the airport. The church is both simple and solemn, large yet intimately prayerful in atmosphere, a "populist" church in the best sense of the word.


The church has a seating capacity of 2000 persons, with another 9000 standing. On each Wednesday, seven sessions of the Novena with benediction along with three novena Masses and two sung Masses are held. About 120,000 devotees visit Baclaran each Wednesday to pray the Novena. Far larger crowds attend on the first Wednesday of the month. Devotees arrive from 4.00 am and are still entering the church past midnight.


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The present church building is the third built on the site in Baclaran. The first was a small wooden structure dating back to 1932 when the Redemptorists moved into Baclaran. It was in this small church that the first novena was conducted by Fr. Leo English on June 23, 1948. By the end of 1949 the novena had grown to eight sessions with about 60,000 people attending. To meet this demand the church was extended to double capacity by Frs. Taylor and English. This was the second building.


 In spite of the enlarged church, thousands still had to stay in the grounds outside for the Novena sessions. Consequently, the third building, the present National Shrine, was begun in December 1952. The cornerstone was laid by Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney on January 11th 1953 and it was conseャcrated on Dec. pt 1958 by Archbishop Rufino Santos, assisted by Bp. Antiporda and Bp. Shanley O.CD.. The solemn opening and inauguration took place a few days later on Dec. 5, 1958 by the same Archbishop Rufino Santos, accompanied by Cardinal Agagianian and other bishops.


 Fr. Lewis O'Leary, the New Zealand Redemptorist in charge of the ambitious construction project, stresses that the project was a Redemptorist community effort supported by the Superior General in Rome, the Provincial Superiors in Australia and the Fathers and Brothers of the Vice-Province of Manila. Over the five years that it took to build the church, all played their part. He adds a detail worth recording: "Brother Charles deserves a special note. With the church and the grounds filled, many remained in their Buicks and Cadillacs to make the novena and then drove off. Charles thought they were contributing little. He put an extra long handle on his collection bag and made the car dwellers his target. When his rugged boxer's face appeared at the side of the car and the collection bag was thrust in, they gave generously, Charlie returned to the sacristy with a bulging bag and a contented smile. The Rector at times would urge Charlie to ease up and restrain his zeal."


Although there were indeed some prominent donors whose names are duly recorded, Fr. O'leary, who showed me the actual figures, likes to stress that about 75% of the cost of the construction was met by small donors. This came either through weekly collections or through the loose change dropped into the miniature models of the proposed shrine strategically placed near the cashier in the shops and stores of Manila, The caption said: "Ten Cents to Help Build a Shrine." Truly it is a church mainly built not by big benefactors, but by the ordinary people, No wonder they continue to identify so strongly with it.




 When they built the present Baclaran Church, the Redemptorists did not consciously set out to make it the biggest church in the Philippines. They built it mainly to accommodate the crowds that had been attending Novenas up to then, with some provision for future increase, Fr. Talty simply mentions that "Baclaran, Sto. Domingo and Taal are the biggest churches in Asia and among the very large churches of the world," (12) But nobody seemed to have bothered to compare the actual dimensions of these churches.


 The increasing attendance of the devotees forced the Redemptorists to consider a more spacious church. Fr. Lewis O'Leary, Superior at the time, assumed management of the massive construction. The bulk of the money that financed the building came from the small offerings of ordinary people. An appeal made from the pulpit was for ten centavos per person per week. This is why it took six years to complete the construction of the church. When the money ran out, the construction was suspended; when more money came in, the work began again. The old church continued in use as the new rose over it; the Novena continued as usual.


The foundation stone had been laid by Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney on January 11, 1953. On January 1958, the Philippine hierarchy officially declared the Baclaran Church to be the National Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help. And on December 1st, 1958, the completed church was solemnly consecrated by Archbishop Santos of Manila, assisted by Bishops Antiporda and Shanahan.


The official opening ceremony was held on December 5, 1958. Archbishop Santos celebrated the Mass, assisted by Cardinal Agagianian and several other bishops. Since the day when the Shrine was opened, it has never been closed, day or night.


In 1958, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines declared Baclaran church a National Shrine. In a letter to Fr. O'Leary dated February 7, 1958, the late Archbishop Jose Ma. Cuenco of Jaro was proud to reveal the role he played. He tells how, after the reading of the petition, he immediately stood up to endorse it for the following reaャsons. "Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour has become national in the Philippines, as in many parishes the novena to the Perpetual Succour is held. That in Baclaran every Wednesday about 70,000 come to the Novena of Perpetual Succour. This number is unique in the world. That the new church is the longest in the Philippines. That the Redemptorist Fathers are the best promoters and propagandists of devotion to Our Lady." After his short speech, "all the Bishops present, with no dissenting vote, approved your pious petition for the honor and glory of the Blessed Virgin." Incidentally, Archbishop Cuenco was a regular Wednesャday novena-goer in St. Clement's, Iloilo City, until the last Wednesday of his life. (14)


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