Friday, December 07, 2007


I was negotiating out of a traffic snarl one afternoon in Ermita, Manila when my nephew asked who Padre Faura was. I was startled. At that very moment, I had just made a right turn to a street named after that man, while my nephew, prompted by the sight of the street sign, posed the question. I grappled for an answer but only lost my driving concentration in the process; almost running over a cigarette vendor who suddenly crossed our path.

Just as I suspected -- based on the wide grin on my nephew's face when we found the entrance to the parking area of Robinson's Mall -- his asking about Padre Faura was nothing more than a means to arrest a growing boredom from sitting in a car stuck in traffic. However, curiosity stayed with me throughout the rest of the afternoon. I could only guess that Padre Faura was probably someone of an authority on our judicial system since the Supreme Court is located on a street named after him. Nonetheless, I promised myself I would find out more about the man behind the name even if only for personal edification.

Padre Faura, as it turned out, was a Jesuit priest acknowledged for having founded the Manila Observatory (Observatorio Meteorologico de Manila) with the help of his fellow Jesuits. The observatory was to serve as his laboratory to predict the passing of typhoons.

The 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia documented the early successes of Padre Faura in meteorological forecasting. On July 7, 1879, it noted that he predicted a storm would pass over northern Luzon; it proved to be accurate. This incident marked the first time that the existence, duration, and course of a typhoon had been duly documented in the Far East.

On the following November 18, Padre Faura predicted a second typhoon, which he said would pass through Manila. The announcement enabled the public to take proper precautions; thus comparatively little damage was experienced in Manila. Unfortunately, due to a
lack of telegraphic communication, other regions suffered enormous losses. Forty-two vessels were wrecked in Southern Luzon alone, and many lives were lost.

Eventually, the Manila Observatory began to provide other services: time in 1885; seismology in 1887; and astronomy in 1889.

In 1901, the Americans named the observatory the country's official weather bureau. For the next 50 years it would pursue numerous studies, win many awards, and receive inclusion in a 1940 National Geographic article on world-famous observatories.

Regarding its early days, Ambeth Ocampo wrote, "Imagine the Manila Observatory during Padre Faura's day perched in the pigeon coop atop the Ateneo in Intramuros with a thermometer, hygrometer, a barometer of oil (not mercury!) and an anemometer (a piece of cloth tied to the end of a pole to get direction and force of wind)."

The services provided by the Manila Observatory has since been taken over by PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration), PHIVOLCS (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology), and other agencies in and outside the Philippines.

Now, here's a very interesting addition to this tale of Padre Faura:

The construction of a 19-inch refracting telescope and dome in 1897 in Manila marked the first big step in astronomy in the Philippines. Unfortunately, Padre Faura died before its completion, but his successors pursued his plans.

In 1926, Spanish astronomer Father Miguel Selga from Georgetown University Observatory was assigned to the Manila Observatory. The first professional astronomer to work in the Philippines, Father Selga studied the speed, color and rotation of variable stars, gave the first precise latitude and longitude of Manila, studied lunar and solar eclipses, and improved the time service.

In 1938, another young priest from Georgetown was assigned to Manila, the German-American Reverend Francis J. Heyden. After having served a few years in the country, he was sent back to the US to pursue his doctorate in Astronomy. However, he returned to Manila and rejoined the Manila Observatory in 1972 after his retirement from the Georgetown University Observatory. He was later named the new Chief Astronomer of the Manila Observatory, as well as its subsequent chief of the Solar Studies Division.

The Georgetown University Observatory was later renamed Heyden Observatory in his honor. Also, New York City's famed planetarium was named after him.

Personally, I have many fond memories of the Heyden Planetarium, especially its Saturday night series of dazzling light shows set against a soundtrack of awesome, transporting music. Henceforth I remain indebted to my nephew's smarmy cerebral proclivities, for it incited me to learn about Padre Faura, as well as discover Father Heyden's connection with Manila.


Additional sources:
Georgetown University Astronomical Society

Manila Observatory: A Stellar Legacy
by Bamm Gabriana

Typhoons 'Ordinary' to 'Very Remarkable'
by Ambeth Ocampo
Bonifacio's Bolo
Anvil Publishing, Inc.

Shot from a rooftop in Antipolo City overlooking Metro Manila


posted by Señor Enrique at 6:43 AM


Blogger Amadeo said...

Eric, don't you recall that the Ateneo de Manila College of Law was in its Padre Faura location for a very long time? Before it was transferred to Loyola Heights.

Maybe that is the same location where the original observatory was housed.

When you visit again, maybe you can ask if the Jesuits still own that old site. As I recall, there was a boarding house close to it called the Pius Center.

Around that same vicinity but not on the same street is another exclusive girl's school whose name escapes me now. Will recall it later. St. Paul's?

December 07, 2007 7:39 AM  

Blogger Photo Cache said...

thanks for the info. sometimes we learn more from young 'uns question. i never even asked who he was. :) guess never curious enough.

December 07, 2007 8:21 AM  

Blogger pusa said...

thanks to your nephew for asking =) and you for doing the research for us
btw where is that photo taken from?

December 07, 2007 9:54 AM  

Blogger ScroochChronicles said...

Isn't the Robinson's mall where the old Ateneo used to be? Obviously di ko na yan naabutan but my Lolo used to tell me about it because he was studying in UP at that time.

BTW, there is a Faura Hall in the Loyola campus.

December 07, 2007 10:20 AM  

Blogger Daisy said...

Hi Senor Enrique,

Great post on history. Ang galeng ng nephew mo for being very observant and inquisitive. Nasagot din ang tanong na hindi naririnig minsan dumaan sa isip ko :)

According to my husband who studied in UP Manila back in 1993 he said he still remembers that there were ruins of the old church and the old Ateneo in Padre Faura. The side of the now Robinson's Mall (where maybe you and your nephew are when you promised to look this up?)

great post!

December 07, 2007 12:05 PM  

Blogger Unknown said...

So Padre Faura was our Galileo pala! :-) Nice photo, Eric. Ingat sa pag-aakyat mo sa bubong...sayang ang camera! hahaha

December 07, 2007 2:01 PM  

Blogger nutart said...

Wow! I didn't know we had a weather observatory way back then! Of course, as your research had produced---lack of effective communication still made their warnings inutile to some areas. Thanks for the post! And thanks to your nephew :-)!

Children are usually our repositories of unconscious "wisdom." I know bratty ones and sainted ones...but they have something in common---spontaneity. Thus, they give us questions that make us think and ponder...and research on! Like the child in the story "Emperor with no Clothes."

December 07, 2007 6:10 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess,i must thank your nephew for bringing up this question about Padre Faura,huh?
If not for him, we would´nt be reading this information that his good Uncle Eric dig for his readers to learn as well.
BTW,nice night shot! And also next time,pls dnt lose your concentration when driving:)

Thanks again SE!!

December 07, 2007 10:59 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

My pleasure, Aura. I find it a lot more interesting whenever I could share with others new things that I learn. Makes the effort more inspiring :)

Yes, I ought not to space out, especially when driving ... hehehe.

December 08, 2007 11:30 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I was once in a bus (in NYC) Bernadette, when this kid of about 4 or 5 in age kept asking her mom all these factoid-type questions; some were as obscure as my nephew's question. Poor lady, there was a point when she got so flustered for not having any quick answers. But most passengers were kind-hearted, though; offering their sympathetic smiles at her.

Thank God we were inside a car when my nephew asked me that question ... hehehe.

December 08, 2007 11:36 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That roof wasn't a typical one because it was flat and made of cement with some nice potted plants and benches all around, Luna. It was nice. But nonetheless, the stair leading up to it can be rather steep.


December 08, 2007 11:39 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I must admit, Daisy, I don't think he was being smart and inquisitive at all. He was just plain bored -- you know how kids are sometimes. He most probably asked that question instead of the usual and highly annoying, "Are we there, yet?" Hehehe :)

December 08, 2007 11:42 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Daisy's husband is correct then Scrooch -- Robinson's now occupies the site of the old Ateneo. When I came back from NYC, nakatayo na duon ang mall; I don't remember either the buildings that used to be Ateneo's.

December 08, 2007 11:44 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

The photo was taken on top of a house in a subdivision near the Ynares Stadium in Antipolo, Pusa. It is in a compound that is very much like an artists commune. I heard they they planning to open it to the public with a cafe (lunch and merienda menu). As soon as they do that, I will announce it.

It's a pretty place and worth the trip :)

December 08, 2007 11:49 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Yes, I never would have thought of finding out who Padre Faura was had he not posed the question. Photo Cache.

However, now that I know it, I hope no one changes the name of this street to some aging, nouveau rich, pot-bellied politician ... hehehe.

December 08, 2007 11:53 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Since I never ventured much into this area when I was young, Amadeo, I never got to know its landscape. However, I only knew of Sta. Isabel because it was next to the Jai-Alai fronton, and La Salle over at Vito Cruz because I once planned on going to college there. But everything changed when I went to NYC instead.

However, as what some fellow bloggers say, Robinson's either own the land now, or leasing it from the Jesuits.

December 08, 2007 11:59 AM  

Blogger Amadeo said...

Eric, did a little Googling and found out Ateneo moved to Padre Faura when the Intramuros site got burned.

But in 1952, Fr. William Masterson (who is buried in the old hometown of Cagayan de Oro) moved most of the school to Loyola Heights, leaving among others the Law School.

A little trivia. Our Ateneo in Cagayan became a university first before Ateneo de Manila, but we shared the same rector, the late Fr. Francisco Araneta (of the famed Araneta family), in 1958.

And indeed it is St. Paul which is the exclusive girl school along what used to be Herran St., now Pedro Gil St., close to Padre Faura.

I am familiar with Sta. Isabel along Taft because my sister went to college there. I posted a couple of pics of the site in one of my blog entries, from old postcards my sister sent to my mom when she was still schooling there.

Another first for us was that Fr. Araneta was the first Filipino Jesuit to be named rector.

December 08, 2007 1:07 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That is another significant finding, Amadeo -- the first Filipino Jesuit to be named rector.

Two of my cousins attended Sta. Isabel high school. The school is still right there on Taft Avenue, but the lot next to it remains fenced and empty since the fronton was demolished during the Atienza administration.

So I assume most of the Ateneo facilities are now located in Loyola.

December 08, 2007 2:50 PM  

Blogger -= dave =- said...

I've been to the Manila Observatory at Loyola Heights. They now focus more on down-to-earth studies like the environment. It's fine with me, but I hope they could have a telescope large enough to do serious astronomy with (I think there's none of that in the Philippines).

As for the Intramuros site of Ateneo, I've recently heard that there are talks for the surviving facade of the San Ignacio Church (across which is where the school once stood) to be moved somewhere.

December 12, 2007 2:15 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

And I think the last huge telescope we had was destroyed during the war, Dave :( But we do need one like that in Hawaii as I had seen in Discovery Channel.

I wonder what their reason is for moving the facade of that church?

December 12, 2007 3:37 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir -

My name is Mike Heyden and Fr. Heyden is my Great-Uncle. I wrote to him many times while in Manila. However, I'm almost positive the Hayden (note the spelling) planitarium in New York is NOT named after him. You are correct the the Georgetown Observatory is named after him. I was at the dedication and he baptized my son and niece just before the ceremony.

January 07, 2008 6:54 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Mike,

Many thanks for dropping by and leaving a message.

Truly appreciate your setting the record straight, though disappointed to learn that New York's planetarium was not named after your great-uncle.

But unarguably, the country is much indebted to Fr. Heyden's scientific contributions.

Thank you, Mike!

January 07, 2008 8:08 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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