Thursday, January 25, 2007


In 1572, Juan de Salcedo, the 22-year old grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, came to a place where the sea and the mountain collide. He found prosperous communities of traders and skilled craftsmen who, hundreds of years ago, came from another land far away through their boats looking for a new place to settle, perhaps escaping from a war in their homeland or fleeing from a plague or a curse. They came to the place where the sea and the mountain fight their eternal battle and called it sao mi daytoy or Samtoy meaning “our language”. Salcedo claimed the place in the name of his king through the guns of his Kastila soldiers, and renamed it Ylocos after the loocs that were carved by the clashing sea and mountain.

In 1578, the Kastilas formally established their claim on Ylocos when the first missionaries to the Philippines (i.e. the Augustinians) started building their mission house in what will be known as Villa Fernandina which is now the Heritage City of Vigan. The town became the Augustinian’s base in evangelizing Ylocos and eventually building the magnificent churches in what will become the Ilocos church belt along the Luzon Sea coastline from Bangui in the north to Balaoan in the south.

In 1818, Ilocos was divided into 2 separate provinces (i.e. Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur) with the demarcation line between the towns of Badoc and Sinait. Thirty-two years later, another Ilocano province was created from parts of Ilocos Sur (i.e. Bangar, Balaoan, Namacpacan) and Pangasinan (i.e. Bacnotan, San Juan, San Fernando, Bauang, Agoo, Naguilian, Aringay, Sto. Tomas). It was called La Union and further stretched the Ilocos church belt up to the Lingayen Gulf. With the creation of the Ilocos Region, the church belt further reached up to the Dominican domain of Pangasinan from San. Fabian until Agno in the Lingayen Gulf-Cape Bolinao corridor. This article will focus on the Ilocos Sur segment of this church belt.

CHURCH OF SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, SAN JUAN. The third town from the Ilocos Norte boundary after Sinait and Cabugao is San Juan which is formerly called as Lapo or Lapog. It was a young town compared to the other towns of Ilocos Sur, having been established only in 1895. But it’s ecclesiastical history goes way back having been founded by the Augustinians as a visita of Cabugao in 1711. The present church was built in 1799 but because of lack of funds, it remained unfinished until Fr. Gervasio Pizarro and Fr. Francisco Escobar who are both secular priests probably completed it in 1829. The church is already in a bad state when the convent was built. Both structures were damaged during World War II. In 1994, the bell tower fell down.

A National Heritage: Magnificent Woodworks

CHURCH OF SAN GUILLERMO EL HERMITANO, MAGSINGAL. Magsingal in Ilocano means wanderer. The Augustinians established it as a visita of Bantay in 1676. Fr. Alonso Cortes (OSA) initiated building the first church in 1692 that was probably finished by 1723. It was soon damaged by an earthquake and was said to have been burned during the rebellion of Diego Silang leaving only the bell tower and part of the walls. The stone school that now serves as a museum was probably built at the same time as the church was. The bell tower that can bee seen beside the museum today was probably started to be built in 1692 but was only finished by Fr. Pedro Berger (OSA) at around 1824 and 1829. Around the same time in 1827, a second church was built in a new site not far from the bell tower. This structure that is now the present church was probably the same one that was restored in 1848 and again in 1865 --- the year the convent was built --- by Fr. Jose Vasquez (OSA). The church features a magnificent Baroque retablo or main altar that was carved by Nepomuceno Tolentino, and an equally beautiful pulpit and choir loft that was made by Pablo Tamayo. The National Commission on Culture and Arts had declared the church as a national heritage site.

CHURCH OF STO. DOMINGO. STO. DOMINGO. Just after Magsingal is the town of Sto. Domingo that was established in 1742. On the same year, Fr. Jose Millan (OP) started building the church bell tower and probably the church itself. Diego Silang once served as a bell ringer in the church.

CHURCH OF SAN ILDEFONSO, SAN ILDEFONSO. San Ildefonso is formerly Bantay’s visita of Bantaoay that was established by the Augustinians in 1709. It became a pueblo in 1769 with Fr. Manuel Munoz (OSA) as the first vicar, and an independent parish only in 1875. The convent was the first parochial building to be built in 1803 probably through the initiation of Fr. Domingo Duquenay (OSA) and Fr. Antonio Castano Rodriguez (OSA). In 1821, Fr. Francisco Escobar and Fr. Juan Zugasti (OSA) probably initiated building the present church but was left only half finished. This shows that the building of the church and convent was apparently a joint project of the Augustinians and secular priests. It was recently renovated with the facade totally rebuilt. Today, only the sidewall of the old structure is visible.

CHURCH OF SANTA CATALINA (VIRGEN Y MARTIR), SANTA. Santa Catalina is probably the oldest town in the whole of Ilocandia having been established in 1576. Its name was later shortened to Santa to distinguish it from a nearby town with the same name (i.e. Sta. Catalina in the Vigan church loop). There are no records about the early parochial buildings until 1849 when a church was reported to have been built under the supervision of Fr. Pedro Torices (OSA) that was completed during the administration of Fr. Luis Lagar (OSA) in 1854. This was probably damaged and then rebuilt in 1863. Fr. Jose Rodriquez Prada (OSA) initiated restoration work on the church and had a new bell tower built in 1886. Fr. Rafael Redondo (OSA) --- who was later executed by Filipino revolutionaries --- had the convent built in 1875. These parochial buildings were reported to have been swept by the nearby river. The present church might have been built in 1914 under the supervision of Fr. Matias Bustamante.

CHURCH OF SAN ESTEBAN, SAN ESTEBAN. Just after the towns of Narvacan and Sta. Maria is San Esteban which the Augustinians founded as a visita in 1625. Fr. Alejandro Peyrona (OSA) probably initiated building a church in 1800. Fr. Damaso Vieytez continued its construction until 1848 and initiated the building of two magnificent bell towers with the assistance of Don Agustin Santiago and Don Domingo Sumabas. These bell towers must have been destroyed because it no longer exists. The church was probably damaged and rebuilt into the present structure in 1860.

CHURCH OF SANTIAGO APOSTOL, SANTIAGO. The Augustinians established Santiago as a mission in 1625. In 1823, a lighting reportedly burned an early church. It was rebuilt in 1829 perhaps by Fr. Manuel Foj (OSA) who also enlarged the convent. Fr. Juan Martin (OSA) repaired what is now the present church in 1883 after the 1880 earthquake damaged it. The church is situated on a hilltop and it is probable that its first builder was the same priest who initiated the construction of the San Esteban church.

CHURCH OF SAN JUAN DE SAHAGUN, CANDON. The Augustinians accepted Candon as a house in 1591. Fr. Pedro Bravo (OSA) initiated building one of the early churches in 1695. This was badly damaged during the 1707 earthquake and was rebuilt under the supervision of Fr. Jose Carbonel (OSA) until 1710, and by Fr. Diego del Castillo (OSA) until 1713. It is probable that the present church is the one rebuilt in 1829 that Fr. Gaspar Cano (OSA) have restored in 1865. Candon is the hometown of Isabelo Abaya --- hero of the Cry of Candon and one of the Ilocano Katipunan leaders.

CHURCH OF SANTA LUCIA, STA. LUCIA. Sta. Lucia was a former visita of Candon and the Augustinians established it either in 1586 or 1602. There are no records about early churches being built in Sta. Lucia. The building of the present church and convent probably started only in 1871 under the supervision of Fr. Juan Pascual Barreda (OP). It was completed in 1887 under the watch of Fr. Manuel Arguelles (OSA) and is said to be one of the most beautiful churches in Ilocos. Fr. Venusto Mata initiated major restoration work on the dome and ceiling in 1977. The top portion of the bell tower collapsed during the 1989 earthquake and has been reconstructed since then. The image of a dark skinned Sta. Lucia is enshrined in the church and is credited for performing miracles for people with eye ailments.

CHURCH OF SAN AGUSTIN, TAGUDIN. Tagudin was once called Tagurin and the Augustinians accepted it as house in 1586. It served as the base of the Augustinian missions among the Igorots. There are no records of the early churches and the construction of the present church started in 1796 under the supervision of Fr. Bartolome Gutierrez (OSA) and continued by Fr. Francisco Hernandez (OSA) until his death in 1821. Fr. Juan Sorolla (OSA) who also initiated the building of the convent finally finished the church in 1832. The same priest installed the sundials behind the church in 1841 and in front of the town hall in 1845 that today are tourist attractions of Tagudin. Fr. Mariano Ortiz (OSA) initiated restoration work on the church in 1880 and Fr. Geronimo Rubio (OSA) supervised the construction of the bell tower in 1881. Since then, the church has been faithfully restored several times and is among the best preserved in Ilocos Sur.

CHURCH OF SANTA CRUZ, STA. CRUZ. The last town of Ilocos Sur before La Union is Sta. Cruz that was established as a visita of Candon at around 1600. The church that was started to be constructed at around 1641 and might have been rebuilt at around 1710 by Fr. Jose Carbonel (OSA) and in 1776 by Fr. Nicolas de la Fuente (OSA). It was repaired by Fr. Juan Gallego (OSA) after being heavily damaged by the 1880 earthquake. Sta. Cruz was ceded to the Dominicans in 1891 in exchange for the missions of Bangued, Tayum, and Dolores in what is now the province of Abra. The parochial buildings were again repaired after being damaged in the 1989 earthquake.

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