Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Aside from the art of guisa and religion, one of the greatest Spanish contributions to the Filipinos is the concept of nationhood. Before the Philippine Revolution of 1898, most rebellions against the Spanish colonist were confined on reasons of personal injustices (like the refusal of a priest to bless Dagohoy’s dead brother that ignited the longest running insurgency against the colonial government), excessive colonial policies (like the Wine Monopoly which triggered the Basi Revolt), and religious fervor (like the cause of Hermano Pule). The concept of independence began to take shape only in the years leading into 1898 but even this is within the parameter of a Tagalog kingdom or republic. The transition into the idea of nationhood was espoused and weaned by a principalia that have been leveraging with the colonialist government ever since. This principalia is dominated by the Tagalogs and Kapampangans who eventually steered the Philippine Revolution of 1898 that started our march into nationhood. This fact is stated in the Philippine flag where the 8 rays of the sun honors the first provinces to revolt against Spain. They are all Tagalog and Kapampangan provinces.

The epitome of these dominant ethno-linguistic groups are the provinces of Bulacan (synonymous with the Tagalogs) and Pampanga (synonymous with the Kapampangans). Aside from a rich political history, these provinces are also teeming with ecclesiastical structures whose sheer number is too much for a single article. The story of my visita iglesia in these provinces were therefore divided into 5 parts: McArthur’s Church(es) which is about colonial churches along the McArthur Highway and have been previously blogged, the colonial churches along the Manila Bay coastal area, Pampanga colonial churches along the Angeles City-Dinalupihan and the Gapan-San Fernando-Olongapo Roads, and those in Bulacan along the National Highway and the province’s interior. This article is about my visita to the coastal churches.

The first stop will be Bacolor’s church of Nuestra Senora del Rosario along the road to Olongapo that was half-buried by lahar from Mt. Pinatubo. The Bacolot or Vacolot of old meant “surrounded by land” in Kapampangan. It was established in 1576 by a landlord named Guillermo Manabat and accepted by the Augustinians as a mission on the same year. There are no records on who built the first parochial buildings although it was cited that a church was rebuilt and damaged in the earthquake of 1645. The present church might have been built under the supervision of Fr. Jose Coronel (OSA) from 1617 until 1629. During the British invasion, the church and convent served as a seat of Governor-General Simon de Anda’s government in exile and was later ransacked by the invaders. The church was restored by Fr. Manuel Diaz (OSA) in 1852 and was repaired after suffering damages from the 1880 earthquake.

A left turn from the Gapan-San Fernando-Olongapo Road will lead to the town of Lubao that was accepted by the Augustinians as a visita of Tondo in 1572, and served as their missionary center for the Pampanga and Bulacan provinces. Fr. Juan Gallegos (OSA) probably built the first parochial buildings in 1575 with light materials at Sitio Sapang Pare. Fr. Jose Coronel (OSA) started the construction of another church in the current site probably in 1602. Fr. Antonio Herrera (OSA) initiated building what is probably the present church of San Agustin in 1614 that was finished in 1638. An earthquake damaged the church in 1645 and was probably repaired. In 1729, Fr. Vicente Ibarra (OSA) supervised the building of a convent that was once the most beautiful in the whole Philippines. Repairs and improvements to the church were initiated from 1877 until 1893. It was occupied by Katipuneros in 1898 and used as a hospital by the Americans in 1899. It was damaged by Japanese shelling during World War II and repaired under the supervision of Fr. Melencio Garcia and other Filipino priests from 1949 until 1962. President Diosdado Macapagal was baptized in the church in 1910 by Fr. Francisco dela Banda.

My next stop from Lubao is Sasmuan --- the town once scandalously known as Sexmoan which is a hispanized form of the Kapampangan word sasmoan meaning “to flock”. It was founded as a pueblo and established as an Augustinian mission in 1590. Fr. Jose Duque (OSA) probably built the first parochial buildings from 1659 to 1677. The rising waters of the river washed these away and new buildings were probably erected in the early 18th century. The present church of Santa Lucia was built in 1735 and was restored and improved from 1884 until 1898. The church has lost much of its original design after being recently enlarged.

A short drive from Sasmuan is Guagua, a town whose name was derived from the Kapampangan word uaua that means “the mouth of the river”. The Augustinians built the first church from light materials after accepting it as a mission in 1590. New parochial buildings were reported to be being constructed in 1641. Fr. Jose Duque (OSA) --- a major participant in the pacification campaign of Pampanga after its revolt of 1660 --- initiated the construction of what is probably the present church of La Imaculada Concepcion from 1661 until 1684 that was said to be as big and beautiful as the San Agustin church in Manila. Further improvements were later made from 1862 until 1886. The church once had the best organ in the whole of Pampanga.

National Heritage: Church Art at its Best

The Augustinians accepted Betis as a visita of Tondo in 1572. Fr. Fernando Pinto (OSA) later had a church built from light materials from 1596 until 1604,. A stronger structure was probably constructed under the supervision of Fr. Jose dela Cruz (OSA) from 1665 until 1687. The present church of Santiago Apostol was built early in the 18th century and, because of the lack of laborers, was only completed in 1770. It was probably repaired in 1789 and again in 1855. Fr. Manuel Camanes (OSA) had the church and convent repaired from 1868 until 1898. He also introduced other improvements like digging the well beside the church that still exists today, and the probable installation of the artistically painted ceilings. The church is acknowledged to have the most beautiful retablo in the whole province of Pampanga. Betis today is a barrio of Guagua and its church has been declared as a national heritage site by the National Commission on Culture and Arts.

From Guagua, the next colonial churches along Pampanga’s coast of Manila Bay are Minalin and Macabebe which have been previously blogged. And along the way, a refreshment of halo-halo and pancit malabon at Razon’s is a must. The pancit malabon is simple in both ingredients and presentation: white spaghetti-like noodles topped with a thick sauce, garnished with chicharon bits and slices of hard-boiled eggs, and spiked with a head of calamansi. Its lot different from the pancit malabon I usually have but perhaps better in taste. It goes well with the famous halo-halo that’s made up of fine-shaved ice, soft sweetened bananas, lots of milk, and 2 slices of creamy leche flan.

In Bulacan, the entry point to the province’s coastal towns is the historic city of Malolos that Fr. Diego Ordonez (OSA) first evangelized. He probably baptized the town’s first Christians in the old town of Kanalate which is now the northern part of Malolos. The Augustinians later accepted Malolos as a mission in 1589 and built the first parochial buildings in 1591. Fr. Roque Barrionueva (OSA) initiated building a larger church in 1691 that was probably finished in 1707. This was again probably damaged and was rebuilt under the successive supervisions of Fr. Fernando Sanchez (OSA), Fr. Fr. Juan de Meseguer (OSA), and Fr. Manuel Baceta (OSA) from 1734 until 1744. Fire destroyed both church and convent --- including the 18th century retablo --- in 1813 and were rebuilt in 1819 under the supervision of Fr. Melchor Fernandez (OSA). This is the present church of La Imaculada Concepcion that was consecrated in 1826. Both church and convent were again damaged in the earthquake of 1863 and were restored from 1859 until 1872. The Katipuneros burned the church and the newly restored convent in 1898. Since then, both buildings underwent restoration that lasted until 1976. Malolos is a place rich in history. It was one of Governor General Simon de Anda’s seats of government during the 1762 British invasion, and later of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo who held office in the convent as president of the First Philippine Republic from 1898 to 1899. At the front of the church is what had been called the Kalayaan tree: a mute witness to the unfolding of these great events.

The more famous colonial church in Malolos is of course the nearby Barasoain Church which is actually the Church of our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Barasoain was originally established as a visita of Malolos. In 1816, Fr. Melchor Fernandez (OSA) built a small ermita that served as the temporary church. Fr. Francisco Royo (OSA) later had a stone church built from 1871 to 1878. This was burned down and the cemetery chapel became the temporary church until it was also destroyed during the 1880 earthquake. A nipa and bamboo church was built but this was razed by fire in 1884. The present church was built during the time of Fr. Juan Giron (OSA) in 1885, and the bell tower during Fr. Martin Arconada’s administration in 1889 who also had the convent restored. The convent served as the seat of General Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government who promulgated the Malolos Constitution. General Aguinaldo also established the Literario-Cientifica Universidad de Filipinas in the same place in 1898. The church and convent were declared as a national landmarks in 1973.

The way to Hagonoy from Malolos is through narrow roads passing through the town of Paombong and various scenes of fishing life. Agonoy already existed in 1571, ruled by a chieftain called Salpingan who fought Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s soldiers during their raid on Manila. It became a visita of Calumpit in 1581. Fr. Diego Ordonez de Vivar (OSA) had an early church made of nipa and bamboo built in a barrio called Quinabalon which is now the present barrio of Sta. Monica. Fr. Juan Albarran (OSA) supervised the building of a stone church from 1731 to 1734 that was razed by fire in 1748. Fr. Eusebio Polo (OSA) had another church built in 1749 that was completed in 1752 but was probably destroyed because from 1815 to 1836, Fr. Juan Coronado (OSA) had another stone church built. This was damaged by fire in 1856 and replaced by a bigger church --- probably the present one and dedicated to Santiago Apostol --- that was built in 1862 under the supervision of Fr. Manuel Alvarez (OSA). The church was repaired after being damaged in the 1871 earthquake. Further restoration work were done from 1936 until 1970.

Next on the itinerary is the town of Bulacan that was first established as a visita of Tondo in 1575 and founded as a pueblo in 1578. Parochial buildings were started to be built in 1578 that were finished in 1762. Immediately after, it was occupied and burned by the invading British and were later rebuilt. Repair works were made in 1812 until around 1827. Earthquakes in 1863 and 1869 later damaged the walls and the bell tower, respectively. The church (dedicated to San Agustin) was damaged in yet another earthquake in 1880 and was started to be rebuilt in 1884 under the supervision of Fr. Francisco Valdes (OSA) who would later become a bishop in Spain. The bell tower was also rebuilt in 1889. Bulacan is the hometown of two Filipino heroes --- Marcelo H. Del Pilar and his nephew Gen. Gregorio del Pilar --- who were probably baptized in the church. It would be worthwhile to drop by the Marcelo H. Del Pilar Shrine near the church, which I did, where the hero’s remains are interred and some historical documents are displayed.

The visita culminated in Obando where my search for the past and my passion for colonial churches started…

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