As one of the most popular churches in Manila, the Manila Cathedral started with humble origins in 1581. From a simple structure of nipa and bamboo, the cathedral developed into the magnificent place of worship that it is today. During its 400-year history, the Manila Cathedral has been rebuilt numerous times because of the frequent destructions brought on by man and nature. Earthquakes, fires, typhoons and bombings have reduced the cathedral into ruins, only to be restored again and again.
The first cathedral was constructed using only nipa and bamboo as materials. The flimsy structure was destroyed by a fire and a typhoon, which led to the construction of a second cathedral in stone. It was destroyed by an earthquake, which led to the making of a third cathedral in 1584. Consisting of seven chapels and three naves, it was ruined again by another earthquake.
A fourth cathedral was built from 1654 to 1671, only to be damaged severely by yet another earthquake in 1863. In 1880, the bell tower was toppled because of another earthquake. The cathedral was towerless until 1959. From 1870 to 1879, the fifth cathedral was constructed, with a cross on top of the central dome. This cross serves as a reference point of the astronomical longitudes of the Philippine archipelago. Unfortunately, the cathedral was ruined by during the Bombing of Manila in 1945.
From 1954 to 1958, the final version of the cathedral was built under the supervision of Fernando Ocampo, National Artist for Architecture. In 1981, Pope John Paul II elevated the Manila Cathedral to the rank of minor basilica.
The cathedral also serves as the burial site of those who have served the Archdiocese of Manila. Interred in the cathedral crypts are the remains of Michael J. O’Doherty, Gabriel Reyes, Rufino Jiao Santos and Jaime Cardinal Sin.