Paco Park and Paco Church, Manila

Since I will be writing about the district of Paco in Manila, I will be including its famous landmark; Paco Cemetery. I visited Paco Cemetery a couple of years ago and haven’t made a blog about the place so now I have the chance to talk about it.  Paco is located on the southern district of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Before it was called Paco, that area is more famous as “Dilao,” which means yellow in Tagalog.

National Shrine Marker

There are some debates why it is called Dilao, some say because that was the area where Japanese migrants settled, thus the Spaniards called it because of their skin. But a more plausible reason were the amaryllis or yellow star flowers used to be abundant in the area. According to the earliest records, the Franciscans founded the town in 1580.

Entrance to the cemetery

Like most towns in the Philippines Dilao was renamed San Fernando de Dilao in 1791, in an honor to St. Ferdinand. During the 1800s it got its nickname Paco, and the town became the second largest districts that became part of Manila. The town became Paco de Dilao, before adapting only the name “Paco.

Paco Park and Cemetery

The fist time I step in to Paco park I was walking with a friend. I was only 16 back then and wasn’t an expert in public commute in the city. Fortunately, we made it there safely. I only read the place in from my grandfather’s books but now I have a chance to see the place with my own eyes.


The cemetery is has a round shape and located in the middle of  three streets. So it wasn’t hard to find there are a couple of markers dedicated to the park. Most notably about the Gomburza and Jose Rizal.

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Governor Fernando Norzagaray y Escudero

This is the detail history from the inscription at the entrance of the park.

“An order for the construction of a cemetery in Bagumbayan was issued in 1807, due to the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in Manila. Maestro de Obras Don Nicolas Ruiz developed a plan for the Paco Cemetery, while Don Jose Coll served as supervisor of the construction work. The cemetery was primarily designed as a municipal cemetery for the affluent and established aristocratic Spanish families who resided in the old Manila, or the city within the walls of Intramuros during the Spanish colonial era. It was on April 22, 1822 when the cemetery was officially inaugurated, although it had been in use for two years prior to its completion.

General Lawton’s funeral

In 1859, Governor Fernándo Norzagaray y Escudero proposed the extension of the cemetery to approximately 4,500 square yards, enclosing the original plan with another circular outer wall. For the amount of Php 19,700, a Chinese builder won the bid to build the outer portion of the cemetery. The cemetery used to have a chaplain a sacristan and eight caretakers. The chaplain use to reside across the cemetery on the site presently occupied by the Paco Station of the Manila Fire Department. At that time, the niches cost Php 20 for three years, which was subject to renewals as no one was granted privilege to own the niches in perpetuity.”

We walked around and saw St. Pancratius Chapel but a wedding was going on. So we turned to another direction and saw the park’s most famous resident and the empty niches on the wall. a marker to serve as a memorial to the Philippines’ National Hero.

“On December 30, 1896, Philippine national hero Dr. José Rizal was interred at Paco Park after his execution at Bagumbayan.

Interment at the Paco Cemetery ceased in 1912. It had been the burial ground for several generations and descendants of those buried in the park had the remains of their ancestors exhumed and transferred to other cemeteries in Manila.”

Jose Rizal Marker

There was a wedding going on so we didn’t have the chance to go closer and look at the interior of the chapel. Aside from the wedding there were barely enough at the park and you could still feel the tranquility and the respect to those departed. as we looked around going down the stairs here is the rest of the history of the park.


During the Second World War, Japanese forces used Paco Park as a central supply and ammunition depot. The high thick adobe walls around the park were ideal for defensive positions of the Japanese. Prior to the liberation of Manila in 1945, the Japanese dug several trenches and pill boxes around and within the Park with three 75 millimeter guns to defend their fortification against the charging 1st Battalion of the 148th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army and Philippine Commonwealth Army.

Inner Entrance

The park was converted into a National Park in 1966 during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal. Paco Park’s grandeur was slowly restored after the war and since then has remained as a public park and promenade for the community. Events where also held here during the term of President Ferdinand Marcos. Headed by then First lady Imelda Marcos it was the venue for the “Philippine-German” month where artists attended and play. Until today its still being celebrated in February.”

Paco Church

Now let us go back to the present where me and Pabz first visited a landmark on the district, the Paco Church. It was a hot day and there was a mass going on. This church had gone through several reconstruction since is founding starting in 1580.

Dedicated to the Purificacion de Nuestra Senora it was made from nipa and bamboo. Under the direction of Father Juan de Garrovillas it was renovated in 1599 to 1601 as a stone church. On October 3, 1603 the church was burned by the Chinese rebellion, and was repaired in 1606 by Don Francisco Gomez de Arellano, archdeacon of the Manila Cathedral, who wished to see a permanent church in Paco.

“Unfortunately, it was burned again during the English invasion in 1762.  In 1791, a provisional bamboo and nipa church was constructed and the different pueblos were combined and called San Fernando by order of the Superior Governor.  During the period from 1793 to 1794, the stone convent was constructed under the direction of Father Joaquin Segui.  However, it was repaired in 1854. 

The people, nevertheless wished to have a better church. The religious order and the people worked together to realize their desire.  It was in 1800 that the construction of a new and fine temple called “antigua iglesia de Paco” begun under the direction of Father Bernardo de la Concepcion.  It was completed in 1814.  From 1839 to 1841 the church tower was being built under the direction of Father Miguel Richar, who in 1842 directed the casting of a sonorous bell. 

1881 Church

In 1852 the church was ruined by the earthquake of that year, and in 1880 both church and convent were completely destroyed by the great upheaval of that year.  This was a great loss to the people of Paco.  The reconstruction of the church by Father Gilberto Martin commenced in 1881 from tile alms and donations given by the people as well as from the kind help of a Spaniard, Don Manuel Perez, who donated all the galvanized iron used in the construction of the church.  When it was about to be completed, it was partly destroyed by a typhoon in 1892.  The reconstruction was completed in 1896, under the direction of Father Gilberto who labored with zeal as a Christian missionary and benefactor.

Burned church in 1899

This last Paco Church constructed under the Spanish regime was built of stone and wood.  The altars were magnificent. The dome presented an aspect of grandeur with its splendid glass windows all around.  The church was famous for its ancient Santo Sepulchro which was visited by those devout Catholics during Fridays and Lenten seasons.  But unfortunately, during the Filipino-American war, the church was bombarded and completely burned together with the costly and much venerated image of the Santo Sepulcro, on February 5, 1899.  This was felt to be a great loss by the people of the community.  Only some parts of the same basement of the old church remained while the rest was completely devoured by the hungry flames.


In 1908 the Belgian Mission took possession of Paco parish, and in 1910, Father Raymund Esquenet worked hard for the erection of a provisional concrete church near the place where the former one stood.

1936 Marker

This church was small.  At the middle altar was the statue of La Candelaria between San Jose on the right and the Sacred Heart of Jesus on right.  Above this statue was a small image of the Holy Child.

Near the main altar, just at the right comer was a small altar that was dedicated to La Candelaria.  The new Santo Sepulcro was on the left side near the main altar and, near this stood the Virgen Dolorosa.  The baptistry was at the left side near the main entrance and the portrait of Saint John the Baptist was placed there also. 


In 1924 the parish priest, Father Jose Billet thought of constructing a new and large concrete church for the district of Paco.  He was able to raise some P40,000 from Sunday collections and donations from parishioners.  It was, however, Father Godofredo Aldenhuijsen who actually pushed through the construction of the church when he was appointed parish priest of Paco. Employing the services of Engineer Marion Karolchuck, a French national, Father Godofredo formally launched the building of the concrete church with an estimated expense of P200,000.

Present Church

The church took two years to build, 1931 to 1933.  The formal inauguration, however, was made in April, 1934, with Archbishop Michael O’Doherty of Manila officiating.  The huge bell, which was the pride of the pre-war Paco church, was a donation of Father Godofredo’s brother in Holland.  It was destroyed in the battle for the liberation of Manila.

Ruined by World War II, Paco Church was reconstructed in 1948 by Father Godofredo through donations and contributions of the parishioners.


Through the years, the church went through a series of renovations and remodeling. When the ceiling was repainted, the cherubims that adorned the dome were coated with plain white. Same with the Jerusalem cross on the ceiling and other trimmings.

In order to make the church cooler and comfortable to the faithful that attends the services, the windows were made bigger. Later, the walls were removed and move outwards. The Stations of the Cross were transferred to the area near the main entrance of the church.

Tagalog version of the marker

To make the interiors brighter, additional fluorescent lamps were installed to complement the incandescent-lamp lit arañas. Much later, the church lighting were changed to compact fluorescent (CF) lamps.

In 1996, Msgr. Domingo Cirilos commenced a reconstruction project.  To begin with, the communion rail in the church was knocked down and the sanctuary’s dark gray granolitic floor was retiled with light-colored marble slabs.  The columns were likewise covered with marble slabs. The whole church was once again repainted and gave the over-all effect of added brightness especially around the sanctuary. The church exterior was also painted.

The ceiling was replaced with arches and painted white. The galvanized iron long-span roof was replaced with tegula tiles after a series of waterproofing works.”

Plenty of history to this church who went through a lot of devastation only to come out stronger and better. Devotees never got tired of rebuilding it even though man and nature has a way to destroy it. There are a couple more historical and interesting things to see in Paco and we continued on to explore it.

Here are the links for more information:,_Manila

_Paco02 (BoyB)
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