Santo Tomas University

Universidád de Sto. Tomás: Domingo de Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order, was noted as a preacher. His emphasis on learning produced a friar order noted for scholarship and for teaching. One of the orders renowned scholar was Thomas Aquinas whose voluminous, Summa Theologica, was for centuries the textbook for students of philosophy and theology throughout the Catholic world. When the Dominicans opened an institution of higher learning in Manila, they named it after this scholar, known as the “angelic doctor.”

The oldest existing university in the Philippines traces its origins to the second archbishop of Manila Miguel Benavides, OP, who initiated the establishment of the university in 1611 with the donation of his personal library and 1000 pesos. It received the name Colegio de Sto. Tomás in 1617 and in 1619 occupied its own building. In 1623, Philip IV authorized the college to teach grammar, arts, and theology and a papal brief authorized it to confer degrees. In 1680, it was given royal protection and came to known as a “royal university,” hence the honorific title the university bears today “Real y pontificia universidád.”
After the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Philippines in 1768, the Dominicans acquired the abandoned buildings of the Jesuits where they opened the university’s college of medicine and pharmacy. They also took charge of the diocesan seminary, housed in what was formerly the Colegio de San José.

Fernandez de Roxas map of 1727 depicts Sto. Tomás as a simple atrial-type structure near the convent of Sto. Domingo. The structure enclosed a garden and was distinguished by a tall tower on its northern flank. From 1625 to 1940, the famous printing press of Sto. Tomás was located in the wing nearest the Pasig. The press had moved from the Parian to different provinces and then to the Hospital de San Gabriel from 1621 to 1625. It was finally moved to Sto. Tomás new campus in Sampaloc in 1940, the year before the outbreak of the Pacific War.

The principal entrance to the university faced a plaza located between Sto. Tomás and the Beaterio de Santa Rosa. A façade built in the 18th century was remodeled to give it more monumentality some time in the 20th century, a few years before the building’s destruction in 1945. Remnants of the university’s principal gate were transferred to Sampaloc after World War II and serves as a reminder of this important educational establishment. The bronze statue of Abp. Benavides that stood at the plaza de Sto. Tomás was also transferred to Sampaloc. Plaza Sto. Tomás in Intramuros is surrounded a parking lot and the Dominican compound is now occupied by Far East Bank.

Plaza Sto. Tomás has been restored. It is surrounded by a grille fence and a replica of the Benavides statue is the focal point of the plaza. The floor plan of the university and other relevant historic pictures etched in metal are mounted on concrete stands in the plaza. Unfortunately, the plaza is in an area high in human traffic and is often locked.


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