History of Mirador Jesuit Villa

Officially named Baguio House of Retreats of St. Joseph, this house of prayer is more popularly known as Mirador Jesuit Villa.• Mirador, meaning prospect point, is the site where this house is located. Jesuit because it is a house of the Society of Jesus.• Villa because it served as a vacation house for the Jesuits. But the house has had a long and varied history.Readon.Mirador had four stages in its life; it began as a branch of the Manila Observatory, then became a villa house where Jesuits of the Ateneo de Manila took a break during the hot summers. When the Communists expelled the Jesuits in China, it became a house of studies for the Jesuit of the Far East Province (1952-67). Beginning in 1967, the house was opened for retreats and for meetings of Church groups.Although the present house, designed by Architect Gines Rivera, dates to 1952 and it is the third residence built by the Jesuits in Baguio, the history of Mirador begins in 1876, when Don Manuel Scheidnagel, the Spanish governor politico-militar of Baguio, named the hill El Mirador. Meaning lookout or vantage point, Don Manuel named the hill so because it offered a panorama of Lingayen Gulf, La Union and the South China Sea.In 1890, Fr. Miguel Roces, Rector of the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, suggested acquiring a piece of property in the Province of Benguet to build asanatorium for Jesuits. The belief then was that the mountain’s temperate climate could restore the strength and health of Jesuits zapped by the humidity and heat of Manila and the lowlands. In 1894, a request was made to purchase El Mirador but the request was not acted on immediately and the Philippine Revolution caught the Jesuits in the middle of this turbulent time.In 1900, under the Americans, the Jesuits were able to establish a meteorological and seismic station at Mirador. In 1906, the Jesuits bought Mirador at public auction conducted under the auspices of the Philippine Commission in May of that year. The following year, 1907, the Jesuits built the first of three residences at Baguio. This three-bedroom house of pine boards and cogon roof was a staging point for the construction of a more permanent structure of stone and mortar. From 18 March to 5 June, several Fathers took their vacation in this house and also began administering the sacraments in Baguio and La Trinidad. The year 1907 is marked as the official beginning of Mirador as a Jesuit house.In1908, the Jesuits built a road to the summit of Mirador and on it constructed a building of stone and mortar. During the summer of that year a large contingent from Manila spent their time enjoying the Baguio’s cool weather. The house had separate two-story wings for the villa and for the Manila Observatory’s Baguio station, which were connected by a one-story covered corridor. The house underwent a number of renovations, the more extensive of which were the construction of a second story over the corridor for more rooms and a veranda extension for the villa.The Lourdes Grotto, a very familiar and much photographed spot, was constructed in 1913 at the initiative of Fr. José Algue, S.J., the director of the Manila Observatory. Five years later, the stairway from the grotto to the foot of the hills was completed. The steps began as stones laid on the ground but was later covered with cement.During the War (1941-44), the Jesuits were forced to abandon the house when Japanese soldiers occupied it. In 1945, the house of stone was completely destroyed during the retaking of Baguio by Allied Forces. The stone and lime mortar foundations of the 1908 house were uncovered recently when a koi pond was dug in the central garden of the villa.Meanwhile, the mission superior, Fr. Leo Cullum, S.J. decided to rebuild the villa and improve the Observatory’s plant. He designated MIT graduate, Gines Rivera, as the master planner. Rivera was concurrently designing for the Ateneo de Manila. For Mirador, Rivera planned three parallel wings, attached by a corridor; in many ways a development of the 1908 plan. But he opted to build using pinewood and galvanized iron sheets because a stone building was too damp, especially during the rainy season that lasted for more than half a year. He did not build on the summit as the Spanish Jesuits did rather he surrounded the summit with the wings of the house, sinking some of the house foundations on the slope of the hill. He left the summit free to allow residents of the villa an open space for exercise and sports.In 1952, the Manila Observatory decided to relocate its whole operation from Manila to Baguio. The Manila plant had suffered extensive damage during World War II. At this time too, the Ateneo had decided to leave its premises in Intramuros and Malate and transfer to Quezon City. This decision must have precipitated the Observatory’s decision to relocate. The Observatory remained in Mirador until 1962, when it transferred yet again to the Ateneo campus in Loyola Heights, Quezon City.Heritage Features: Gines Rivera designed the villa house following the type of construction used by the colonial government for cottages in Camp John Hay, Teachers’ Camp and the summer homes of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals justices. This is a house raised on stilts, away from Baguio’s damp earth. Wooden posts are bolted to a reinforced concrete footing. Structural beams, floorboards and walls are all of wood, usually pinewood. The exterior may be covered by galvanized iron sheets, especially where the wood would be exposed to the elements.The houses are generally whitewashed but had a deep green galvanized steel roof and deep green window and door trim. This building-type’s material and color scheme harmonize well with the terrain and landscape of Baguio. The fact that it is wooden echoes Baguio’s once rich vegetation. The green is reminiscent of tree-clad hills and the white of fog that at certain seasons of the year wraps Baguio in a predictable daily cycle. There is something magical about this color scheme as the fog obliterates all the white, leaving visible the dark green roof and the faint outline of doors and windows.
Mirador Villa has three fireplaces faced with rough limestone, quarried from the present site of City Camp. Its two chapels, all of wood, were decorated by a Jesuit brother from Hungary, who inlaid designs on the chapel pews, pedestals and altar. The same brother built inlaid tables for the house library.TheGrotto, an integral adjunct of the villa, was built in slow stages by Jesuit scholastics (seminarians), brothers and fathers over five years, usually during the summer when Jesuits on vacation would augment the community’s population. The grotto is made of the same limestone, probably gathered on Mirador Hill. The image of Our Lady of Lourdes is of polychromed molave. It was carved by Isabelo Tampingco, whose name is inscribed at the back of the statue. The inscription behind reads “I. Tampingco Manila 1913.”Since 2004, the villa has been undergoing seismic upgrading and physical improvement to meet the needs of its users. A new sunroom was constructed along the corridor linking Wing A (Resurrection) and Wing B (St. Joseph). This sun-drenched and enclosed area is ideal for those seeking respite from Baguio’s cold.The gardens around the villa have been expanded and greatly improved with the opening of terraced plots, limestone-paved walkways, meditation areas with private seats, and three Ifugao-style house. One of these three is an authentic 80-year old house from Mayaoyao, transferred carefully and reassembled in the gardens of Mirador.The centerpiece of the garden is located between Wings A and B. This has a Knidos-type labyrinth, a Bontocdapay-an or a communal gathering place, and a koi pond.In March 2007, work began on the grotto’s upper most section. As a popular tourist destination, visitors to the grotto have increased in numbers over the years. It is estimated that about 10,000 people visit the grotto on Good Friday. The upper most landing was extended by more than 150 square meters for the convenience of pilgrims and handicap access was provided. The stairs leading up to the grotto, damaged by an earthquake in 1991, was repaired and a center rail added for the convenience of the elderly. A perimeter fence is being built to preserve the sanctity of the grotto and to assist in its upkeep and cleanliness.New features are planned for the grotto including: (1) improvement of the grotto itself and restoration of the 1913 Lourdes image (2) addition of a water feature at the grotto (3) building of a Shrine to Jesus and (4) opening a quiet and separate pathway for an outdoor Stations of the Cross. Other planned improvements at the grotto are: (5) widening and resurfacing of the road to the grotto and Mirador Villa, (6) developing a Marian Garden and (7) developing a public space for visitors near the vehicular gate of Mirador. The Shrine to Jesus is slated for completion by Holy Week 2008. The year 2008 is the 150th anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes to St. Bernadette. The first appearance was on 11 February. Renovations at Mirador are done in harmony with the existing historical style.

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3 thoughts on “History of Mirador Jesuit Villa

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  2. Nice place for spiritual nourishment.
    May I know if you accept individual recollection with a priest as spiritual guide. I wish I could have on June 2 to 5. May I also know how much it will cost me to pay?

  3. Hi I am interested in your Holy Week silent retreat this year. How do I please inquire if I’m interested to join. I’ve already joined 2 Holy Week retreats.

    You may contact me at corner7butterfly@yahoo.com

    Please hope you can help thanks

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