Archbishops of Manila: 32 or 33? | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Archbishops of Manila: 32 or 33?

Tomorrow, June 24, 2021, the 450th anniversary of the foundation of Spanish Manila, Jose F. Cardinal Advincula takes possession of the Manila Cathedral. Advincula is the 33rd Bishop of Manila, the 32nd Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila. This slight error may be traced to two bronze plaques installed in the Cathedral. The first lists the 32 “Archbishops of Manila,” beginning with “Domingo de Salazar, O.P. 1579-1594,” ending with “Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle 2011-2019.” A second marker that looks like a video monitor from afar, continues the list. On the upper left is inscribed, “Jose F. Cardinal Advincula 2021-.” Fact check reveals the following:

The Diocese of Manila was founded in 1579 with Domingo de Salazar as first bishop. He took possession of the diocese in 1581. Should his term be reckoned from his appointment as stated in the bronze plaque (1579-1594) or should it rightly be reckoned from his assumption (1581-1594)? Elevated to an archdiocese in 1595, its first archbishop was Ignacio de Santibañez, O.F.M. Do we reckon from his appointment as stated in the marker “1595-1598” or May 1598 when he took possession of the See of Manila?


Santibañez was archbishop for only three months, he was succeeded by Miguel de Benavides, Dominican Bishop of Nueva Segovia (Ilocos) who took possession as Archbishop of Manila in 1603. The bronze plaque reckons his term from appointment 1602-1605. Benavides is founder of the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, chartered in 1611, the oldest existing university in the Philippines, its claim to being the oldest challenged by the 1595 foundation of the defunct Jesuit-run Colegio de San Ildefonso. Nevertheless, UST also prides itself as the oldest existing university in Asia. UST is indeed older than Harvard but age and QS University Rankings do not match. Harvard is No. 3 worldwide.

Obsessive fact-checking has been percolating over the weekend since Manila Cathedral Vice-Rector Fr. Kali Llamado gave me a tour, from the underground crypt to the rooftop for a different view of Intramuros and beyond. I visited the Cathedral previously to check on the marvelous stained-glass windows designed by Galo B. Ocampo and the other works of art that adorn an edifice rebuilt by faith after the original structure was destroyed during the 1945 Battle for Manila.


A cathedral is different from an ordinary church not just by size or age. A cathedral houses a “cathedra” or seat of a bishop or archbishop, a tangible symbol of his teaching, authority, and jurisdiction. The present “seat” fashioned from choice Italian marble, was restored to its 1958 state revealing beautiful Mexican onyx. On previous visits I saw the cathedra with and without the coat of arms of Luis Cardinal Tagle. The cathedra without a coat of arms underscored that the archdiocese was without an archbishop, literally “sede vacante” an empty seat.

Last Saturday, I saw the coat of arms of the archbishop-elect on the cathedra. Advincula’s coat of arms as Archbishop of Cadiz and his new one as Archbishop of Manila are slightly different: the former topped by a green bishop’s hat or galero with 20 tassels (10 on each side), the present has a red cardinal’s hat with 30 tassels (15 on each side). The left side of the shield was geographic: the crescent moon on a blue field and two boys on a gold field used in Capiz now replaced by the symbols of Spanish Manila: a gold tower on a red field, with three windows and a door in blue, a silver mythical figure with a lion’s head and a dolphin’s tail that holds a cross rather than a kris as in the seals of Manila and the president of the Philippines.

The three panels on the right side of the shield are the same both in Capiz and Manila: a lily and carpenter’s square, symbols of San Jose, refer to the Cardinal’s first name; a chain with nine links arranged in an “X” refer to the Cardinal’s surname “ad vincula” that in Latin reminds us of the chains from which St. Peter was liberated by an angel; the silhouette of Mt. Panginraon, symbol Dumalag, Capiz, the Cardinal’s birthplace, the raging horse symbol of the town’s patron saint, St. Martin of Tours. A five pointed star for De La Salle University, Manila where the Cardinal read for an MA in Education. Under all this, a one word motto “Audiam” or “I am listening” that expresses what the new Archbishop brings to the nation.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Archidiocese of Manila, Looking Back, Manila archbishops
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