Sub Tuum Praesidium: The Proposed Renovation of the Adoration Chapel and the Installation of the New Marian Altar at EDSA Shrine


I.  Sensitive modifications to an existing architectural context can serve to enhance the existing architecture while allowing the structure to adjust to new needs. 

We begin with the broad context of how buildings adapt to changing times and new needs.  New needs do not always require new structures, but call for the modification of existing spaces and structures for these new needs. 

This is called Adaptive Reuse.

Sterling examples of Adaptive Reuse exist throughout the world, and date to the earliest parts of history involving important structures.  The Pantheon in Rome, for example, is a temple from ancient Rome that was built for the purpose of the worship of many gods, but with the rise of Christianity was converted into a church for the worship of one.  The Louvre Museum in Paris was in its earlier life a palace for the French kings before it was converted into a repository for the display of art.  Of more recent vintage is the Great Court at the British Museum in London, which transformed an inner courtyard of this great institution into a new covered square by virtue of a glass roof. 

New needs can be addressed by enclosing existing open spaces with glass so that their transparency does not obstruct the existing architecture, and so that natural daylight can continue to be present in the space.  Again at the Louvre, the main court was transformed by the architect IM Pei into the museum’s new entrance in the form of a glass pyramid.  Here in the Philippines, our recent project for the Adaptive Reuse of the former Department of Tourism building on Rizal Park into the new National Museum of Natural History involved the enclosure of the central courtyard with an insulated glass dome supported by the Tree of Life steel structure.  In all these examples of the Pantheon, the Louvre, the British Museum, and the National Museum of Natural History, sensitive modifications to the existing architectural context serve to enhance the existing architecture while allowing the structure to adjust to new needs. 

II.  EDSA Shrine can be assessed according to a hierarchy of significance, relative to its Statement of Significance. 

EDSA Shrine is significant because it is a testament to the Filipino people’s quest for freedom and democracy, anchored in faith and spirituality.  Its architecture, designed by Bobby Manosa, is a sculptural reminder, within the tumult of the urban landscape, of the quiet strength of faith and prayer, and of the value of one’s devotion to Mary.  The value of the architecture is also that it is the setting of painting and sculpture by some of the country’s finest artists, such as Napoleon Abueva, Ed Castrillo, and Nemi Miranda. 

Therefore, a Statement of Significance would be:  EDSA Shrine is an exceptional building by one of the most important Philippine architects of the last quarter of the 20th century.  Central to its significance is its historical link to the national struggle for democracy, and its setting for the commemoration of that struggle.   Augmenting its significance is the presence of art created by important Philippine artists.

Like most buildings, EDSA Shrine can be assessed according to a hierarchy of significance, relative to the Statement of Significance.  The exterior facade is clearly significant for its use of sculpted volumes and terraces that create a testament to the Filipino quest for freedom rooted in faith.  The main worship space, including the sanctuary, is significant because of its role as the central spiritual context of EDSA Shrine.  A third significant component of the shrine is the art, including the sculptural work of Napoleon Abueva and Ramon Orlina that comprise the liturgical elements of the sanctuary, such as the cross, the altar, lectern, and tabernacle, the wall paintings of Nemi Miranda, the outdoor Stations of the Cross of Abueva, and the monstrance sculpture of Ed Castrillo in the Adoration Chapel.

Further down the hierarchy are spaces and components that for various reasons are not as essential to the Statement of Significance of EDSA Shrine as the exterior façade, the main worship space, and the art.  Two of these spaces are the Adoration Chapel, and the light well next to it.

III.  The existing Adoration Chapel is significant because of its purpose, exemplified by the Castrillo monstrance-sculpture.

The Adoration Chapel is approximately 5.8 meters by 10.3 meters space with an entrance tucked under the stone-clad terrace that flanks the west side entrance of the main church.  The space is a rectangular box whose main feature is the monstrance-sculpture by Eduardo Castrillo.  At 2.5 meters high by 3.3 meters wide, the metal sculpture dominates the room, its rays radiating from the circular frame containing the Blessed Sacrament.

The presence of the Adoration Chapel at EDSA Shrine pertains to encouragement, as described in Pope Paul VI’s 1965 Encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, “Mysterium Fidei”, of “paying a visit during the day to the Most Blessed Sacrament in the very special place of honor where it is reserved in churches…, since this is a proof of gratitude and a pledge of love and a display of the adoration that is owed to Christ the Lord who is present there.”

The chapel is entered via a glass-and-aluminum-frame vestibule.  A pair of glass divider screen walls defines a narthex at the first quarter of the chapel. 

A set of sliding windows brings natural light into the chapel from the light well next door.  One of the divider wall panels ends in an arbitrary way mid-pane at one of the windows.

The original ceiling of the Adoration Chapel was vaulted, similar to the current ceiling design of the San Lorenzo Chapel.  An early 1990s renovation of the Adoration Chapel flattened the ceiling, presumably to accommodate the piping and conduit required to bring air conditioning to Assisi Room next door.  It is evident on-site that the level of the piping and conduit is below the outline of the original vault.

IV.  The proposed renovation of the Adoration Chapel will augment the significance of the space by harnessing the Castrillo monstrance-sculpture.

The most significant object in the space is the Eucharist.  Sculptor Eduardo Castrillo created the frame that surrounds it, with metal rays that shoot from the center like rays of light from the sun.  A goal of the renovation is to augment the sense of framing the Eucharist, by extending the rays into the room via decorative wall panels that are installed on the surface of the two existing long walls of the space.  Another goal is to improve the acoustics of the space.

The glass-and-aluminum-frame vestibule is being acoustically treated to act as a sound lock that separates the interior from the noise of EDSA and Ortigas Avenue, in order to provide a more solemn experience for the users.

The proposed ceiling resurrects the shape of the original Mañosa ceiling vault, displaced in the 1990s renovation. 

The divider screen walls that had blocked the view of the monstrance, and had collided with the windows, are removed to create one uninterrupted space that focuses on the monstrance, strengthening the purpose of the space.

The rays that emanate from the Eucharist can be described metaphorically as having two qualities, their silence and their light. 

Silence is a quality that is described by Pope Francis in a 2013 meditation called When Silence is Music: I have always been struck by the Lords encounter with Elijah, when the Lord speaks with Elijah not in the hail, in the rain, in the storm, in the wind... The Lord was in the still soft breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13).  In the original text, a most beautiful word is used which cannot be precisely translated: he was in a sonorous thread of silence. A sonorous thread of silence: this is how the Lord draws near, with that sound of silence that belongs to love.

Pope Benedict XVI also speaks of silence in his 2010 apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini:  As the cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word. Hanging from the wood of the cross, he lamented the suffering caused by that silence: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  This experience of Jesus reflects the situation of all those who, having heard and acknowledged Gods word, must also confront his silence. This has been the experience of countless saints and mystics, and even today is part of the journey of many believers. Gods silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence. Hence, in the dynamic of Christian revelation, silence appears as an important expression of the word of God.

Light is the subject of Pope Francis’ 2013 encyclical “Lumen Fidei”, the Light of Faith: "Each of us comes to the light because of love, and each of us is called to love in order to remain in the light.  “…the light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus.” “There is no human experience, no journey of man to God, which cannot be taken up, illumined and purified by this light. The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christs light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman towards God.”

These qualities of Silence and Light inspire the notion of the long wall at left symbolizing Silence and the long wall at right, with its windows, symbolizing Light.  A decorative wall panel of white precast will be installed on the face of the wall at left, while a decorative wall panel of translucent capiz will be installed on the face of the wall at right.  The decorative texture of both panels symbolizes rays, which seem to be extensions of the rays of the Castrillo monstrance-sculpture. 

V.  The community’s need for a Marian altar is fulfilled in a light well that balances the Baptistry.

A.  Mary sits at the right hand of her son.
In September 2017, EDSA Shrine rector Rev. Fr. Lari Abaco conveyed to us a desire of the community to have a special place where an image of Mary could be revered as an aid in their devotion.  The ideal place for it would be the light well to the immediate left of the sanctuary, because of its availability, proximity, and most importantly, the traditional placement of Mary to the left of Jesus, when one is facing the altar.  “Mary sitteth at the right hand of her Son”, Pope Pius X says in “Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum”, his 1904 encyclical on the Immaculate Conception.

B.  The Baptistery is a succinct expression of the thematic link between EDSA Shrine and the Bible’s Exodus narrative.

The proposed location of the Marian Altar is also ideal because it would complete the balance of symmetry with the Baptistery located in the light well to the immediate right of the sanctuary.  The Baptistery was completed in 2002, commissioned by Rev. Fr. Socrates Villegas, EDSA Shrine’s very first Rector who was Rector at the time and who provided the concept of the new space: Exodus.  Fr. Villegas stated that the metal basin that had been used in San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel was no longer considered sufficient for baptisms. 

John Paul II speaks of Exodus in his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae”:  The fullness of the Gospel message about life was prepared for in the Old Testament. Especially in the events of the Exodus, the centre of the Old Testament faith experience, Israel discovered the preciousness of its life in the eyes of God. When it seemed doomed to extermination because of the threat of death hanging over all its newborn males (cf. Ex 1:15-22), the Lord revealed himself to Israel as its Saviour, with the power to ensure a future to those without hope. Israel thus comes to know clearly that its existence is not at the mercy of a Pharaoh who can exploit it at his despotic whim. On the contrary, Israel's life is the object of God's gentle and intense love.

Fr. Villegas’ selection of Exodus as the theme of the new Baptistery adheres to the goal of EDSA Shrine to evoke the country’s deliverance from bondage and “despotic whim.”

The Baptistery is a gathering of distinct architectural components that help maintain the clarity of the existing context created by Bobby Mañosa.

The space of the Baptistery is a perfect circle at the exact center of the light well located to the immediate right of the sanctuary of EDSA Shrine.  Depending on the need, the Baptistery can be visible to the rest of the worship space or be shielded from view by sliding into place a series of capiz door panels that are sufficient in number to completely surround the space.  The capiz ceiling of San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel inspires the capiz of the door panels, capiz being a material that shields the view but permits the light through.

The central element is the solid marble Baptismal Font, composed of two basins. Closer to San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel is an upper basin in the shape of a deltoid triangle, for the baptism of infants by pouring.  Concentric with the circular plan of the space is the lower, larger basin, a larger immersion pool at floor level, for the baptism of adults by immersion.  Connecting the upper basin with the lower basin is a pair of carved marble blocks that represent the parting waters of the Red Sea, reflecting the moment described in Exodus Chapter 14 Verse 16 when God commanded Moses to “lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea, and split it in two, that the Israelites may pass through the sea on dry land.”

The staff of Moses plays an important role in the story of Exodus, and is first mentioned in Chapter 4 when God tells Moses to use it “to perform the signs” by which the people would be brought to freedom.  At the Baptistery, the long Bakawan handle of each capiz door panel that surrounds the Baptistery symbolizes the staff of Moses.

Shielding the Baptistery from the direct sunlight, and suspended from the pyramidal glass skylight, is a large capiz “cloud” or shield in the shape of a curved equilateral triangle, or deltoid curve.  It symbolizes the cloud and the Trinity that Pope John Paul II refers to in June 2000: “…the mystery of the Church, which has been made a community of salvation by the presence of God the Trinity. Like the ancient People of God, she is guided on her new Exodus by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, symbols of God's constant presence.”

The Baptistery thus augments the significance of EDSA Shrine by introducing the Exodus narrative close to the sanctuary.

VI.  The Marian Altar signifies the very first hymn devoted to Mary, Sub tuum praesidium, Under your mantle.

At the Marian altar, a life-size image of Mary stands at the very center of a circle that is centered in the light well, creating a space that can open or close to form a capiz cylinder of the same diameter as that of the Baptistery.

As at the Baptistery, a skylight protects the space from the rain, but lets the daylight in.  To provide protection from the sun, a series of radiating rings are suspended from the skylight, like the vision that the Apostle St. John describes of a “woman clothed with the sun.”

Hanging from one of these rings will be a cloth that symbolizes the mantle of Mary.  The proposed Marian altar responds to the inspiration that Pope Francis eloquently draws from the mantle of Mary.  Pope Francis, in a 2016 meditation called “under her mantle,” said: “The Russian mystics of the early centuries of the Church counseled their disciples, the young monks, to take refuge under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God during times of spiritual turmoil. The devil cannot enter there because she is Mother, and as a Mother she defends … The West took this counsel and created the first Marian antiphon, Sub tuum praesidium: under your mantle, placed under your care, O Mother, we are safe there”.

VII.  Conclusion

EDSA Shrine is both an important cultural property and a living monument that breathes with the expression of people's faith.  Aiming to balance its patrimonial value with the evolving needs of worship, EDSA Shrine obtains more meaning, augmenting the rich significance already there.