Continuation of the Article of Fr. Lucio Gutierrez, O.P. (Part 3)

 The Hospital of San Gabriel


By the middle of 1589, another building was added to the religious house of the Parian, a Hospital for the Sangleyes of Manila and its environs. The hospital was called San Gabriel, the same name given to the church before. By June of 1589, the Church was being built in stone and the Hospital of San Gabriel, was being built in bricks and stone.

The Letter of Cobo is a first witness to the development taking place. He writes:

Of these developments, much is due to the Governor [General] of the Islands, called Santiago de Vera. He has greatly supported the conversion of the Chinese and has given money to build the church in stone, now in the process of being built, of three naves, with a house for the friars. Apart from this, God has provided alms, and within the short time we have been here, around ten months, we have built in stone and bricks a hospital for the Sangleyes, with a capacity of over 20 beds, wherein the non-Christian Sangleyes come for treatment. Up to now, from the many who have died, only one has died without baptism.

The Hospital of San Gabriel which could accommodate just over 20 beds was relatively small. Presumably, this was the beginning of the Hospital of San Gabriel. It is good to recall here again what happened earlier. Before the church was transferred to the eastern side of the Parian, where Benavides and Cobo were assigned in 1588, we have the little chapel and a nipa house built by Benavides and Maldonado, near the western part of the Parian, not far from Santo Domingo. There they had started to attend to the sick. It is here where we find the very beginnings of the Hospital of San Gabriel, initially called San Pedro Martir. It lost its name of San Pedro Martir in 1588, when the nipa house disappeared and a bigger and stronger one was built under the name of San Gabriel in the eastern part of the Parian. It kept the same name, San Gabriel, when in 1589, the new church and house were built in stone. The quotation of Cobo enables us to follow the process. Even our own historian, Diego Aduarte, confused many things in his Historia, and is not a very reliable witness in some respects.

Pedro Rodriguez who was assigned with Cobo to minister to the Chinese in the Parian in 1590, was a moving force behind the San Gabriel Hospital and its consolidation from this very year. He says like in a flashback:

"In the first place, when Fr. Miguel de Benavides, who later became archbishop of Manila and Fr. Juan Cobo, his companion, in charge of the ministry of the Chinese, transferred to a small nipa house, since they were near the Parian of the Chinese, and noticing that some of them were sick, in order to dispose them to receive the Holy Baptism, started to bring them to their house. And I heard Fr. Juan Cobo say: Now that Fray Miguel has gone to Spain, we can say the following: that they said Father, having in his room the sick, lay on the floor and placed the Chinese on his bed. Seeing that many people came to them the said Fathers tried to erect a small hospital. Fr. Leon, who died in Mariveles, and whose body was found intact after the disinterment eight months later after burial, donated some fifty pesos."

The ministry of the Dominicans among the Chinese grew constantly, as the missionaries advanced in the knowledge of the Chinese language. Again and again, their contemporaries, especially Governor Santiago de Vera (1583-1590) and the Bishop of Manila, Domingo de Salazar (1579-1594), were astonished at the improvement of the missionaries. People had come to believe that the Chinese language was impossible for the Europeans to learn, especially the writing of characters. But both Benavides and Cobo were scholars and theologians. They had come from the best universities in Europe. Their zeal for the salvation of souls, and their admiration for the achievements of the Chinese culture and civilization, pushed them to study seriously the language, until to a great degree, they became masters of it. Benavides is the best witness, as he refers to his ministry among the Chinese:

God was pleased to help with His hand these Fathers and favored them by learning the Chinese language. In a brief span of time, they were able to preach in Chinese, something most unexpected by all. The best witnesses were the Bishop and the President and the Oidores of that Audencia [Manila] and all the Spaniards around there. Not only did they preach in Chinese but the hand of God was so much over them so many Chinese embraced the Faith, so that soon after a church was built for them alone, where these Fathers I am referring to, who belong to the Order of Our Glorious Father Saint Dominic, engaged themselves, and are still engaged, in the conversion of these Chinese people; preaching to them, hearing their confessions and administering the other sacraments, teaching them in their own language, as we preach the Holy Gospel in Madrid in our own Spanish language. So great was God’s help that they had to build in another ‘town’ another church for the teaching of the doctrine and the administration of the sacraments to the same Chinese.


Benavides and Cobo not only advanced in the knowledge of that language, but brought into the picture more dynamism, more zeal, and more conversions of Chinese to the Faith. Cobo’s report/letter is a treasure of information. Readers and scholars in the past do not seem to have appreciated the depth of the information about that great encounter between the evangelized, the Sangleyes or Chinese merchants who came to Manila to trade and that, in the course of time, stayed behind and settled down here and the evangelizers, the Dominicans. A new world was being created. The Dominicans played a major role in the making and shaping of this new world.


The Dominicans and the Chinese: A Creative Encounter


Since Cobo’s report/letter of 1589 deals precisely with the very first encounter between the Chinese in the Philippines and the newly arrived Dominicans, let us dwell a little more in this ministry of the Dominicans among the Chinese.

After describing the foundation of the church of San Gabriel, Cobo says:

Rev. Fr. Miguel taught and preached to them in their own language. I [Fr. Cobo] did not know yet the language but the Lord was pleased that, in a short time, I was able to learn something. By the month of September [1588] we came to this place [San Gabriel Church in the Parian] and by Christmas I started to hear confessions of some Chinese Christians, Older in the Faith. Who knew something of the Spanish language. I did not dare to hear the confessions of the others. Later on, for Lent [1589], we started to hear the confessions of both men and women, in their own language. We heard the confessions of some who had been Christians for twelve years and had never confessed. God has helped us in everything.


He continues by saying that the Chinese had shown great love for the Order of St. Dominic and to the Fathers due to the catechetical instruction and preaching of Miguel de Benavides. By 1589, the year he wrote the Report, more than 120 had received baptism, many of them in danger of death. Many died edifying deaths. Already during Holy week, they had processions and had penitential disciplines with standards and images on Holy Thursday. It was the first time these things happened among them. Such a novelty caused wonder to many who before thought these things could never happen. It was the first procession among the Chinese and the first spilling of blood for God among them.

By 1589, the first and most important mission of the Dominicans among the Chinese was the Parian, where a hospital of solid materials had been built and a church, similarly of strong materials, was also being built.

Benavides and Cobo were busy in the ministry of the Chinese of the Parian, and in the new house built in Baybay, Our Lady of the Purification.


Development of San Gabriel Hospital


Domingo de Salazar, the Bishop of the Islands, recounts:

“In order to bring this topic to a conclusion, it is necessary to give your Majesty notice about a hospital built by the Friars of Santo Domingo, who are in- charge of the Chinese of the Parian, close to their house, where all the sick Sangleyes, without any income except the alms the Fathers look for, and those the Sangleyes give, have maintained and still maintain the said hospital.

The news about this hospital have spread out so much that it has stirred great love for the Fathers in the people in China, as they see the warm welcome the Fathers give to those who come to the Philippines from there. Around a year ago, a very important Chinese/Sangley embraced the Faith. He was a doctor and an arbolario. This man, leaving aside the affairs of this world, offered his services. In fact, he consecrated himself to the services of the hospital. He serves the sick with great love and charity and prescribes their purgation and medicines...”

By the time Cobo was writing his Letter/Report [1580] and the year Bishop Salazar penned his Relacion [1590], the Hospital of San Gabriel was already built in stone. It was a structure of truly solid materials.

In 1590, there were developments in the ministry of the Chinese that affected much the Dominican’s apostolate. Two men made their appearance now, one of whom was Domingo de Nieva.

Domingo de Nieva was a Dominican of great virtue, a man of high linguistic ability, one of the original Dominicans founders, who came to the Philippines in 1587. He was a very young man at the time. He was assigned to Bataan with the first group of Dominicans who were sent there in early 1588. Soon he became proficient in the language of the natives, Tagalog. Through the years he became a master of it.

The other man, who was bought into the ministry of the Chinese, especially into the Hospital of San Gabriel, was to do more than anyone else. He outlived the founders of San Gabriel by many years. Aduarte has this to say about him:

Rev. Fr. Cobo assigned to the Hospital of the Chinese [1590] Fray Pedro Rodriguez, a lay brother of the great charity. Since charity is the queen of all the virtues, it is always accompanied by all the other virtues, this charity is absolutely necessary to serve the sick. It was of great benefit to place the brother in that post. There he had everything he wanted to exercise himself in the love of God and of his neighbor, all to his great spiritual advantage and of great use to the house and the Hospital.

If he was not the founder, because he was not there at the beginning, he was the reason for its growth. He rebuilt it two or three times. That was necessary, since at the beginning, it was built in great poverty. Initially, it was not strong and thus not very lasting.

By the middle of 1590, just three years after the arrival of the Dominicans in July of 1587, there were four Dominicans engaged in the Chinese ministry, to wit: Juan Cobo, Pedro Rodriguez, Domingo de Nieva and Juan Maldonado de San Pedro Martir. This last one for the second time. Most probably, Cobo and Pedro Rodriguez lived in the Parian, the other two in Baybay.

Pedro Rodriguez gave new life and impetus to the Hospital of San Gabriel. In a long manuscript of 1684, penned by Peguero, O.P., we find the following reference:

Once this small hospital was built, since Fr. Miguel went to China, they brought me to the hospital in the company of Rev. Fr. Juan Cobo. We had the hospital filled with stick people; many were baptized when disposed for it. Later on, after some time, since more and more patients came to us, we decided to build a bigger hospital, because they could not be accommodated in the first one since it was very small.

Many things happened during the next two years that affected the ministry of the Chinese. In 1590, Benavides accompanied the Dominican provincial, Juan de Castro, to China. Mention has been made in the quotation above of Pedro Rodriguez. They were sent back to the Philippines very soon by the Chinese authorities. In June of 1591, Miguel De Benavides left the Philippines for Spain as companion of Bishop Domingo de Salazar. Benavides was to return to the Philippines only in 1598, as first Bishop of Nueva Segovia, in Northern Luzon. In June of 1592, Juan Cobo left Manila for Japan, as ambassador of the Philippines to the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

The Spaniards of the Philippines and the Filipinos had received some time before the ambassador of the Shogun, demanding obedience and political recognition of Japanese sovereignty over the Philippines. The Spaniards were not disposed to accept that. They chose Cobo, by then a well-known sinoligist, and a man of high scholarship and character, as official ambassador to Japan. The Governor General, Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, also a man of character, requested the Dominican superiors to agree to his plan of sending Cobo as the ambassador. Meanwhile, the defenses of Manila had to be accelerated. Cobo did reach Japan and saw the Shogun. But, on his return trip to the Philippines, his boat was ship-wrecked in Taiwan, then called Formosa. People in Manila never came to know the result of the embassy. Cobo perished in the ship-wreck. Thus, the partnership of Juan Cobo and Juan Rodriguez was broken forever.

New people came into the ministry of the Chinese, among them Diego Aduarte, the first historian of the Dominican Order in the East and Francisco Blancas de San Jose, the “Father” of the Tagalog language. With the two of them, the Chinese ministry was strengthened. They were joined by Bartolome de Nieva and Gabriel Quiroz de Palacio. Due to advanced age, the last two were not able to learn the Chinese language. These religious did not find any more the hospital erected by the first ministers, Benavides and Cobo. A fire in the Parian reduced it to ashes. The religious erected a new one. It must have been very small because it could accommodate no more than six beds.

On June 15,1596, the Dominican held their Provincial Chapter. One of the points of the chapter, was their apostolate with the Chinese. In a long letter sent to the Spanish King by the definitors dated Manila, June 30, 1596, they mentioned the great fruit achieved by the Hospital of San Gabriel:

“What has produced great effect for the conversion of the Chinese here is a hospital, where the sick is treated and where many are baptized. We beg your Majesty to order the Governor to favor and protect it.”


But this building did not last long. Another fire in 1597 reduced the whole Parian to ashes. With it disappeared the hospital. The religious were compelled to begin again from nothing. They obtained permission and started to build in the Parian, but soon the city of Manila vehemently objected to build a hospital of solid materials near the walls of the City. They feared that in case of a revolt of the Chinese, the building might fall into their hands and put the city in great danger.