Rock of Ages
Tatler Philippines|July 2021
In his final book, the late historian Benito Legarda Jr tried to bring to light what makes our Spanishera churches truly Filipino
Franz Sorilla IV

Distinguished economist, historian and scholar Benito Legarda Jr had devoted his writing career in promoting Filipino culture and history. He served as deputy governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, among many others. The prolific historian focused his essays and articles on the Spanish colonial galleon trade, the Philippines’ 19th century economy and the Second World War in Manila, which he had witnessed and experienced during his teenage years.

With his passing last year at the age of 94, the Ortigas Foundation Library decided to publish his architectural study from the ‘60s about Hispanic Philippine churches. Complemented with modern photographs from the Ortigas Foundation’s extensive collection, Hispanic Philippine Churches: An Architectural Study was finally published.

“Bringing this essay to light for a new generation of Filipino scholars is a fitting tribute to Benito J Legarda Jr who contributed so much to the intellectual life of the country he loved,” Jonathan Best, senior consultant to the Ortigas Foundation Library, wrote in his foreword.

The Church played a significant role during the formative period of the Filipino nation, Legarda believed. He wrote that the never-ending search for the “Filipino identity” also happens through learning more about our heritage churches’ architecture and design, and understanding that they are not just mere imitations but celebrations of our mixed culture.

“The Filipino element is not a passive object…but a dynamic process…foreign and native, and continually reshapes and recombines them into objects which are Filipino,” Legarda wrote. Through a harmonious blending of “indigenous and immigrant elements”, the churches have become storytellers of our aesthetic, spiritual, and moral journey as a nation.

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