History comes alive in Cebu City's 18th century Jesuit House

History comes alive in Cebu City's 18th century Jesuit House

Converted into a museum last year, this house, built around 1730, offers a remarkable insight into the architecture and culture of 18th century Jesuits in Cebu

Cebu Jesuit HouseA top view of the house.

Tucked behind high contemporary concrete walls right in the heart of the Parian district in Cebu City, the Jesuit House is an 18th century house that has been remarkably preserved throughout the years. It is very much hidden from public view so that only a very few, mostly history buffs, knew of its existence and origin. It has survived different transformations from being the residence of a religious community to a hardware store and warehouse. Not until the present owners converted it into a museum last year has the house slowly entered into the consciousness of the locals and into the pages of local tourist guide books and websites. 

Cebu Jesuit HouseA view of the upper story of the house.

Cebu Jesuit HouseThe main entrance of the house.

Locating the house is relatively easy. From the popular Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu, just walk P. Burgos Street going north. You’ll know that you’re heading in the right direction when you pass by the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. Keep on walking until you near the humongous Heritage of Cebu Monument and a very narrow road to your right called Binakayan. Walking to this narrow road will take you to the original entrance of the compound which is actually just a few meters from the corner. Carved at the lintel of the gate of the original entrance to the compound are the seal of the Jesuits and the monograms of the Mother Mary and St. Joseph. This entrance however is locked up and the present entrance is through the main gate of Ho Tong Hardware at V. Sotto Street which is just parallel to Binakayan.

Cebu Jesuit HouseA monogram of Jesus carved at the wall above the main entrance.

A banner at the entrance of the hardware store proclaims it the "Jesuit House of 1730" taking a cue from historians who have called it such. According to Fr. Rene Javellana, S.J., a Jesuit priest and historian currently based at the Ateneo de Manila University, the house was once the residence of the Jesuit superior who was assigned in Cebu and perhaps contained whatever a religious community would usually have -- a small library, a chapel, and some rooms. Tell-tale signs of Jesuit history include their official seal, which is carved at the main entrance of the house.

Cebu Jesuit HouseA view of the receiving area.

The Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, is a religious order of the Catholic Church founded in 1534. It is one of the many religious orders that arrived in the Philippines when it was still a Spanish colony to help spread Christianity in the Far East. The Jesuits particularly arrived in Cebu around 1595 and established a residence at Parian, a place where a community of Chinese merchants lived.

Fr. Javellana wrote in Panublion that when the Jesuits were suppressed in Europe in the 17th century and eventually expelled from Spanish colonies which included the Philippines, the house, together with other Jesuit properties, was auctioned off. The house was handed down to different owners throughout the years until the present owners got hold of it and made use of it as a warehouse for their hardware business.

The house is actually made up of a bigger main structure of two-levels and another smaller one also of two-levels, both connected by a covered walkway or bridge. The bigger structure is made up of hewn stones on both levels and still has the original clay tile roof with a pagoda-like design, owing to the influence of the Chinese community that used to flourish in the area before. The smaller structure is a bipartite structure of hewn stone in the first level and hardwood in the second. As in most stone and wood houses built in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era, the ground level of both structures that made up the residence may have functioned well as a storage area for supplies and other things.

Cebu Jesuit HouseDetails of the carved trusses.

Cebu Jesuit HouseA portal that leads to the covered walkway that connects the main house with another structure. Above the portal is a carved relief bearing the year 1730.

The interior of the house is pretty much contemporary since it underwent a lot of transformations throughout the years. However, it’s worth noting some parts such as the alternating planks of dark and light shades of hardwood flooring which is still the original, the carved decorative corbels that support the ceiling and the stout posts made from the trunks of trees which support the structure of the house and the roofing. In a particular spot that goes to the covered walkway, a carved relief in one of the walls bears the year 1730.

Restoration of the house is currently ongoing. Visitors however may set an appointment to visit anytime from Mondays to Saturdays. The owner has furnished the interiors with antique furnishings from his collection in an attempt to bring back the old look of the house. An architect is also directing the restoration works. Once everything is complete and is put into place, the house will surely shine as one of the hidden gems in the city that’s worth a visit.

About the author: Arnold Carl Sancover works as a registered nurse in a medical institution in his city. His interests are varied although he focuses more on photography, history and the arts. He maintains a blog about Cebu heritage.

For more information, visit www.cebuheritage.com.

Arnold submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page