Fr. Miguel Selga S.J.’s lamentation on the burning of Manila Observatory by the Japanese in 1945

In 1942, with the occupation of Manila by the Japanese army, all work in the observatory ceased and the following year the building was used as a military hospital. All American Jesuits were taken to concentration camps, and only Selga who was still the Director, remained free, Spain being a neutral country. In 1945 when the American troops were close to Manila, the observatory was destroyed by the Japanese. On the 9th of February four Japanese soldiers poured gasoline on the floor of the different rooms and on the astronomical dome and set fire to them. The dome, all the instruments, and the large library, with more than 20 000 volumes, were lost in the fire. Five days later incendiary bombs destroyed part of the building of the Ateneo where the offices of the meteorological service were located. Selga, his eyes filled with tears, contemplating the ruins of what had been a magnificent observatory and paraphrasing the Spanish poet Rodrigo Caro, wrote: “These, my soul, which you see now as fields of solitude, mounds of rubbish, were, once upon a time, a famous observatory.” (Estos, alma, Ay dolor! que3 ves ahora, campos de soledad, monton de escombros, fueron un tiempo cupula famosa).

Source: Agustin Udias, Searching the Heavens and the Earth: the History of Jesuit Observatories (Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, 2003), pp. 155-156.

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