Hospital of San Gabriel in Binondo (1598)
In the Provincial Chapter of 1596, as we can see from the Acts of the Chapter, the Dominicans approved the plan to build a house in Binondo, separated from the main house of Santo Domingo in Intramuros. The name of the house would be San Gabriel and the superior, Domingo de Nieva. Nothing was done at the moment, for in the next provincial chapter the house was accepted again as a new house.
With the transfer of the Chinese from the Parian, near Santo Domingo, outside the walls of Manila, to Binondo, the Dominicans also transferred the Hospital of San Gabriel to the other side of the Pasig River, the north side, not far from Tondo. Tondo was a big center of native Filipinos. These had been administered spiritually from the very beginning by the Augustinian friars. There, they had established the well-known church of Santo Nino de Tondo. In fact, the native Filipinos objected to the concession of Don Luis Perez Dasmariñas of the ‘island’ of Binondo to the Chinese, for these Filipinos thought Binondo was part and parcel of Tondo. Binondo was to become the cultural, financial, and religious center of the Chinese in the Philippines. A new chapter for the Chinese and for the Dominicans started in the Philippines and so also a new chapter for the Hospital of San Gabriel. The location of the Hospital also changed.
The Dominicans, then, transferred San Gabriel to Binondo. The religious house was finished in the new site of Binondo by May 24, 1598. On this very day, the Dominican provincial chapter separates the house of San Gabriel of Binondo from the jurisdiction of the convent of Santo Domingo in Intramuros. Fr. Pedro de Ledesma, Fr. Domingo de Nieva, Fr. Pedro de San Jacinto and Brother Pedro Rodriguez, with their superior Fr. Pedro de San Vicente, lived in the new house.
By 1599, the Hospital, built of wood and which could accommodate 80 beds, was already finished. Unfortunately, it was brought down by another fire in 1604. In the same year, they started to build another hospital made of stone. By 1625, it was finished. It had two big wards, capable of accommodating seventy beds. In 1634, Father Domingo Gonzalez had a third ward built, because the number of sick people kept increasing, particularly during the season when the ships would arrive from China.
In 1645, still another misfortune struck the city of Manila. The famed earthquakes, called the tremors of San Andres, hit Manila for a month and brought to naught the whole structure of the Hospital. Once again, the friars had to go out to seek alms for a new hospital and once again, it was built, this time to last for many years. It was only in the years 1730 and 1738,that the church and convent had to be repaired because they were close to falling apart.
Francisco Montilla, a Franciscan of renown, mentions also the construction of the Hospital of Binondo by the Dominicans. He writes:
“The Chinese Christians bought from the natives of Tondo a very big piece of marsh land. There, the Chinese are building their houses. The Fathers have built in stone some very good wards of a hospital where they personally treat the native Chinese, Christians and non-Christians, without any distinction. Through this means, they win many souls for they are baptized when they are very sick. Once they regain their health, they marry native Christian women. These Chinese stayed behind to live among the Christians, cutting off their long hair and changing the way of dressing in China. The Fathers have already almost 800 families…”
Maintenance of Hospital of San Gabriel
Some of us may be wondering how the Hospital survived. What were the means of maintenance for the building and for the care of patients for almost 200 years?
There was a need for money for the building maintenance of the Hospital’s physical structure and the up-keep of its patients. Pure charity was enough at the beginning, but when the needs of the Hospital grew, the administrators had to look for more permanent means of maintenance.
Arcilla and Fernandez have published some documents about San Gabriel that enable us to see how the hospital was sustained through various means. At its early stage, 0the Spanish authorities came to its rescue. In 1588, the Governor General of the Philippines, Don Santiago de Vera, granted an annual subsidy of 200 fanegas of rice and 100 blankets of Ilocos, from the royal almacenes. The subsequent governors, Gomez Perez Dasmarinas, father, and Luis Perez Dasmarinas, son, confirmed the same privilege in view of the great service rendered to the Sangleyes in the Hospital of San Gabriel.
Don Luis Perez Dasmarinas, who always favored the Hospital, granted in 1593 the collection of the passage of ferry between Binondo/Tondo and Manila. It amounted to almost two thousand pesos per year. But this great help ceased in1629, when a solid stone bridge was built and inaugurated by Governor Tabora Nino. To make up for the loss of this income, the Sangleyes, that very year of 1629, granted the same amount of 2000 pesos from the Treasury of their Community Fund. It was so small amount, but it was not the only one. There were other donations and rentals from property owned by the Hospital and the Dominicans that allowed the maintenance of the Hospital for its normal expenses.
A man called Gaspar Alvarez, the secretary of the government, gave 700 pesos and Captain Nicolas de Luzuriaga another 1000 pesos. The Hospital has certain lands in Santa Ana, a town then near Manila and donations allowed the hospital to take care of the needs of the patients.
As we go over the documents published by Arcilla-Fernandez, the maintenance of the Hospital depended radically on the contributions of the Dominican Province of the Holy Rosary in the Philippines. Apart from the natural enemies – fire, earthquakes, typhoons, there is the natural wear of everything. The buildings of the Hospital and the adjacent convent where the friars engaged in the service of the hospital lived, and the church that was part of the hospital, by the middle of the eighteenth century were in a very poor situation. The Dominicans spent a huge amount to rebuild and reconstruct the buildings and made them strong and functional. By 1730, they had built totally new the church and the convent. By 1738, they had finished the repairs of the Hospital. All expenses were charged to the Dominicans and taken from the donations obtained from charitable and generous people.
The History of Hospital San Gabriel is indissolubly united to the history of the Chinese in the Philippines and the history of Manila at large. The Hospital was established for the Chinese. It was born and it continued because of them and due to circumstances connected with them, it came to an end.
In the middle of the 18th century, there began an atmosphere unfavorable to the non-Christian Chinese in the Philippines. The government, looking upon them as threats to the state, seriously considered their expulsion. And the Chinese, instead of helping to improve the situation, made it worse by siding with the British in the invasion of 1762. This provoked King Charles III, and shortly after the peace treaty with England, the King decreed, in his Real Cedula of April 17,1766, and enforced in Manila in 1769, the expulsion of the Chinese who were unfaithful either to God or to their adopted country.
The Hospital of San Gabriel that depended so much on the Chinese, and was, in fact, founded for them, was ordered closed by the Real Audiencia, on the 20th of October of 1774.
But this was not to be the end of history of the Hospital. Although it was closed as a hospital, the church attached to it was to continue its service as a parish church for the Chinese of the Parian from 1791 onward, after the city engineer had ordered the demolition of the former parish church for reasons of strategy. The Dominicans housed the secular parish priest of the Chinese of the Parian, in the former hospital until year 1843.
When the Dominicans were convinced that their project for the Hospital of San Gabriel could no longer be realized, they converted the buildings into apartments and rented them out (1841), and they continued to until the 20th century when they came to be known as the “block of San Gabriel.” In the 20s, they were bought by the Hongkong-Shanghai Bank, which later occupied the area once used by the Hospital of San Gabriel.
Thus we bring to an end of the history of Hospital San Gabriel and the great social and medical service it rendered to the Chinese in the Philippines. In the mind of the early Dominican missionaries, it was a means to bring the gifted and cultured Chinese into the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord. Their essential vision was to help the as sick people, love them as brothers and sisters, and enable them to come to eternal life.