Friday, September 24, 2021

Tibaldo: The Jesuits and their historic place in Baguio

Consumers atbp.

IF NOT for scribes and historians who chronicled their past experiences and of people around them, we would not have known and heard much of the world we live in.

During the renaissance period that precedes the dark ages, things became better when written journals such as the bible were printed and published through printing presses such as the Gutenberg of Mainz, now Germany in the early 1450s. It has been said that the invention of the Gutenberg printing press allowed for improved communication throughout Europe and for ideas to spread more quickly.

I happened to take up my college degree from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila and I actually had my fascination with communications history when I learned that the country’s first-ever printing press was founded at my school in 1593 when the Dominicans pioneered printing in the Philippines by producing through the old technique of xylography, a wooden block printing press. It is probably the oldest continuing press in the world today, even older than UST, which was established in 1611.

Recently, my wife and I have been attending Sunday masses following new normal protocols at the Mirador Jesuit Villa and Retreat House. I have also shared on social media its live online celebration from 9 a.m., which usually lasts up to about 9:45 to 10 in the morning. It is a fact that institutions located on top of a hill have many strategic advantages, and one is its capability to transmit radio signals that connect to surrounding areas through its elevated antennas, just like the MPBC-DZWT & DZWR radio networks with towers at a high point in Beckel of nearby La Trinidad, Benguet.

More known as Mirador Hill to Baguio residents, its history linked to the Jesuit to as early as 1890, according to the journal written by Fr. Francis X. Clark, S.J. The history highlights of the place started in 1876 when Manuel Scheidnagel, Governor Politico-Militar of Benguet, describes in a pamphlet the hills of Baguio and mentions, "I applied the name El Mirador because of its form and special position in the hills of Baguio. The South China Sea, Lingayen Gulf, and the Ilocos coast are visible from Mirador." The journal states that in 1890, Fr. Miguel Roses, rector of the Ateneo de Manila, suggests acquiring a house 1,500 meters above sea level in the Province of Benguet to serve as a sanatorium for sick Jesuits, and in 1894, the request to purchase at El Mirador was made but due to known historical events, there were certain delays.

Between 1941 and 1944, the Jesuits could not use the Mirador due to Japanese occupation during World War II. Completely destroyed in 1945. Fr. Clark narrates that "the house is completely destroyed when the Americans and Filipinos attack the Japanese. After the war, the Manila Observatory, which had also been destroyed in Manila, decided to establish the Observatory at Mirador."

By 1952, Jesuit superiors led by Fr. Leo Cullum accordingly decided to rebuild the villa house at Mirador Hill and Architect Gines River, an MIT graduate and designer of the Ateneo de Manila designed the buildings noting the public nature of the Observatory, the Jesuits' need for privacy and the need for a place to walk without going up and down the hill.

The Observatory was operational in Baguio from 1952 until 1962 and later with a solar, seismic and magnetic observation station. The Lourdes Shrine, which is more tagged as Lourdes Grotto in postcards, was built by Fr. Jose Algue, S.J. as a personal project that turned out into a must-visit tourist destination in Baguio, attracting hundreds of visitors especially during weekends and summer vacations.

Also worth noting is the fact that long-distance telephone also started at the Mirador Hill, and the facility used by PLDT for its outcall station up to the early 1960s is still there preserved by the Jesuits. The Department of Science and Technology and Phivolcs seismic station is still being maintained by this government facility at Mirador Hill and for one who has seen both seismograph and terrestrial telescope at the rooftop observatory in Mirador after the great quake in 1990, I would say that there much to write about Baguio as an educational center and communications hub.


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