2013 is a banner year for the Lourdes Grotto, located at Mirador Hill, Baguio City. In 1913, the Philippines' best-known sculptor, Isabelo Tampingco, carved a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, which was installed at the grotto on the slope of Mirador Hill. Tampingco was known for his work at the Santo Domingo and San Ignacio in Intramuros. With his relative, Vidal, he was commissioned to do the high relief statues that grace the old Congress building, now the National Museum of the Philippines.
Fr. Jose Algue, SJ, Director of the Manila Observatory, was responsible for the construction of the grotto. Most likely it was the close association with Isabelo Tampingco that persuaded the Jesuit fathers to commission him to carve the image. Using molave, which he painted in naturalistic colors, Tampingco carved a more than life-size image of the Virgin. He signed his name at the back of statue and the year when it was completed.
Thirteen years earlier, the Manila Observatory had set up its scientific instruments on Mirador and then in 1907, the Jesuits built a temporary house at the foot of Mirador Hill. They had bought the property at a public auction under the American colonial government. A year later, they built a more permanent stone house for the Manila Observatory and joined to it, by a covered corridor, a wing to serve as vacation house for the Jesuits in Manila. This house was built using the technology common during the late Spanish era—limestone bound by lime mortar, plastered in lime and roofed with galvanized sheets.
When Fr. Algue built the grotto, Mirador was a barren hill characterized by limestone outcrops. Jesuits scholastics (seminarians) planted pine trees on the hill and on its slopes. They also built the stairs that would link the grotto to the base of the hill. They completed the work in 1918. In the grotto's early years, the steps were made of stone laid on the ground but in subsequent years, the stones were covered with cement. Its 282 steps are divided into a number of landings cut by a vehicular road that leads up to the Jesuit house on the hill.
Little did Fr. Algue know that the Grotto would become an important site in Baguio visited by tourists and devotees over the years. But he may have already had a sense of that because the family of Pres. Manuel Quezon, who had a vacation house on a hill opposite Mirador (now appropriately called Quezon Hill), also built a grotto. They asked the Jesuit fathers to bless the grotto. Devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes was spreading.
During the Second World War, the Jesuit house was occupied by the Japanese for a short-period when they positioned artillery that faced Naguilian Road to prevent any Allied troops from entering Baguio. Toward the end of the war, during one of the military campaigns in the Cordillera, the 1908 house was destroyed. By the end of the war the building was an empty shell.
Miraculously, the grotto and the image of the Virgin survived the bombardment of Mirador.
The Jesuit house was rebuilt in wood in 1952 following the plans of Gines Rivera, the same architect who designed the original buildings of the Ateneo. Fr. Leo Cullum, SJ was responsible for this initiative. Rivera opted to use wood rather than stone for the rebuilt house because of the cold and damp on Mirador Hill. A wooden house was less damp and to ensure this, Rivera placed insulation between the house's double walls.
In 1954, Jesuits fleeing persecution under the Communist regime of China sought refuge in the Philippines and were given the house at Mirador as a residence and school for scholastics studying philosophy and theology. Ten years later, the Jesuits from China transferred the school to Taiwan and since then the house, known as Mirador Jesuit Villa, was set aside for retreats and other spiritual activities.
The grotto developed a life of its own as a pilgrimage site and as a must-see place in any visit to Baguio.
Mirador Jesuit Villa has maintained the grotto over the years. During the time of Fr. Pascual Adorable, SJ, the grotto and the surroundings were planted with colorful flowering plants.
Beginning in 2004 and in preparation for the centennial of Mirador Jesuit Villa, the gardens around the villa were expanded, rehabilitated and improved. In 2007, the area around the grotto was expanded by the addition of over 250 square meters of flat space. The stairs, damaged by the earthquake of 1991 that destroyed Baguio, was repaired. Access was improved to allow for wheelchairs. The improvement and upgrading of the Lourdes Grotto is far from over. Over the next five years, many features are planned for the grotto.
The grotto's improvement and maintenance depends on the free love offering of many who have found solace and comfort in the prayers of the Virgin Mary. The projects to make the grotto at Mirador Baguio truly a hill of prayer will be possible with the donations that generous people can give.