Baroque Churches of the Philippines: UNESCO World Heritage List

Posted: July 24, 2012 in Blog, Travel
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I had my first glimpse of a Baroque Church when we had a bike ride some time ago where we have passed by a church in the Intramuros area where I later learned that it was San Agustine Church. Then we had a trip up north and visited The Ilocos Region, and passed by the churches of Santa Maria Church (Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion Church) and Paoay Church (San Agustin Church), which I later learned that they are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site List, and upon researching there are 4 Baroque Churches in the Philippines and the last one is in Iloilo, Miag-ao Church (Sto. Thomas de Villanueva Church), which we had a chance to visit last July 09, 2012.

Here they are in detail:

San Agustine Church

Concealed behind the walled city of Intramuros, built by the Spaniards in 1570, is the church of San Agustin. This church is a significant monument to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, being the first religious structure built in the island of Luzon, after the Spanish relocated from Cebu in the south.

Built within the administrative center of the Spanish government, San Agustin church enjoyed privileges not commonly dispensed to most colonial churches. It was built by the Spaniard Juan Macias in 1586 and was completed in 1606. Luciano Oliver later renovated it in 1854. The book Great Churches of the Philippines points out that the church was designed “according to the plans approved by the Royal Audencia of Mexico and by a Royal Cedula.”

Jesus Encinas, who wrote San Agustin Manila, states that the design of the church was derived from other churches that were built by the Augustinians in Mexico. Pedro Galende, OSA, in his book San Agustin Noble Stone Shrine, adds that the Augustinians “who came from Spain and those born in Mexico had a great opportunity to observe and study the South American monastic architecture which they later used in the Philippines. They took into consideration the quality of the local stone and the weather conditions which required them to sacrifice aesthetic requirement for durability.”

This practical and banal approach to aesthetics is evident on the church’s facade. It may have been the most sought and copied facade in the colonial period, but its static appearance and dark adobe stone lack grace and charm. Even the Augustinians themselves were not too kind with the church’s displeasing appearance. In another book, Angels in Stone, Galende recalls the Augustinian historian, Agustin Ma. de Castro’s critical comment of the church’s facade: “It was of triangular form, very ugly and of a blackish color; flanked by two towers, one of which has no bells and does not serve for anything. Due to the frequent earthquakes in Manila, they (towers) have only one body, ugly and irregular, without elevation or gracefulness.”

Sedate and direct to the point, the facade follows the style of High Renaissance. The symmetrical composition are prefixed by pairs of Tuscan columns that flank the main door of the two-tiered facade. The vertical movement of the paired columns is adapted at the second level by equally paired Corinthian columns. At the second level, mass and void alternate in a simple rhythm of solid walls and windows. The two levels, are emphasized by horizontal cornices, are then capped by a pediment that is accentuated with a simple rose window. The facade’s hard composition are held together by two towers; unfortunately, the missing left belfry further exaggerates the lackluster facade. It was taken down after a destructive earthquake hit the church in 1863 and 1880, splitting the tower in two.

The facade has a touch of Baroque by the ornately carved wooden doors that depict floras and religious images. Baroque is also evident in the carved niches that quietly reside between the paired lower columns. The church is bequeathed with Chinese elements in the form of fu dogs that emphatically guard the courtyard entrances.

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Santa Maria Church (Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion Church)

Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion: Municipality of Santa Maria, Province of Ilocos Sur Built in 1765 under the direction of the Agustinian order, the ensemble resembles a citadel sited on the crest of a solitary hill rising above one side of the Santa Maria town plaza. The architectural ensemble presents its side and detached pagoda-like bell tower rather than its façade to the town. Thick contrafuetes (buttresses) are attached to the walls, reinforcing the structure against earthquake damage. The bell tower is constructed a distance away, protecting the main church structure from possible earthquake damage. Approached on foot by ascending a long, wide flight of Piedra china, steps that rising from the edge of the town plaza, the small, cramped plaza at the top of the steps is bounded by the church façade that faces the convento, enclosed by an arcaded bridge that connects both structures.

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Paoay Church (San Agustin Church)

The best-known earthquake Baroque church in the Philippines is Paoay Church, which has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The cornerstone of the church, was laid by the Augustinian Missionaries in 1704, while the cornerstone of the belfry was laid in 1793. The people already used it even before completion in 1894,but it was formally inaugurated on February 28,1896. It is said that large coral stones were used for the lower level of the church structure, and bricks were used for the upper levels. The walls, which were made of coral blocks, tree sap, lumber and stucco-plastered bricks are 1.67 meters (more than 3 feet) thick, and are supported by 24 massive buttresses of intricate design. The church was partially destroyed twice by earthquakes in 1706 and 1927.In the restoration, permanent columns were built to support the ceiling. Today, this uniquely beautiful church still stands, wowing tourists with its majestic structure of Oriental, Gothic and Baroque influences.
The belfry stands a few meters from the church. As in other belfries of Ilocos churches, Katipuneros used the belfry as watch point in the 1896 revolution, and guerrillas of World War II also used it to check out coming enemies.

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Miag-ao Church (Sto. Thomas de Villanueva Church)

The town’s first church building was constructed in Ubos by Nicolas Pangkug, the first capitan of the town. The church was completed three years before the first Spanish priest came in 1734, but this was burned by the Muslim pirates in 1741. Miag-ao was officially created as a parroquia on May 15, 1734.
The second church was constructed under the leadership of Parish Priest Fray Fernando Camporedondo (1746-1747). This church was also burned and looted by the pirates. The raids discouraged the people from building another church. But they needed one not only as a house of worship but also as a stronghold against pirate attacks. So they decided to build a third church in Tacas where the townsfolk have a commanding view of the mouth of the Miag-ao river, the usual route followed by the pirates in entering the town. This church still stands after defying elements and catastrophes for two centuries.
Construction of the present Miag-ao Church was started on a Saturday, the town’s market day, in December 1786, half a century after the founding of the Miag-ao parish. The parish priest at the time was Fray Francisco Maximo Gonzales and the town head was Capitan Domingo Libo-on. When it was finished in 1797, Fray Gonzales was still parish priest and Tomas Paguntalan was the town capitan.
The blocks of stones used in the construction of the church were quarried at Sitio Tubog in nearby San Joaquin town and in the mountains of the town of Igbaras. Work was supervised by a certain Matias, a fore-man from Igbaras, who later on was replaced by a certain Aquino from Alimodian, Iloilo, when the former was called to direct the church construction in his own town.
In baroque-romanesque style, the church sinks six (6) meters deep into the ground with walls, one-and-a-half (1 1/2) meters thick and buttresses thrice thicker in size. A truly ‘Philippine Church’, it exudes a native touch. Its artistic facade is decorated with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. A large stone image of St. Thomas of Villanova, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Carved life-size statues of the Pope and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance. Supporting the facade are the twin belfries, one towering two-story and the other three-story high.
When finished in 1797, the left tower was lower than the right. In 1830, thirty-three (33) years after it was finished, an additional structure was added to the left belfry to make them equal in height. Fray Francisco Reyes was then the parish priest and Capitan Bernabe Paguntalan was the towns-head.
Now 206 years old, Miag-ao Church is one of the few remaining old churches in the country. The earthquake of January 24, 1948, the strongest ever to hit Panay, toppled the bell tower of Jaro and the old church of Oton as well as many other Spanish-built churches in the island, but not the Miag-ao Church. Only a small portion of its concrete beam gave way sending some stoneblocks loosened by heavy tremors.
While Miag-ao Church stood the test of time and calamities, it did not somehow escape the trauma of two wars. It was burned during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1944.
When liberation came in 1945, the people of Miag-ao undertook the herculean task of reconstructing the church. Led by then Reverend Father now Msgr. Wenceslao Enojo, parish priest, contributions came readily and it was not long after that the church was put back in shape.
When Msgr.Fernando Javillo took over as parish priest in August 1959, he not only continued the rehabilitation work but also expanded the repairs and renovations. Msgr. Javillo renovated and restored the church facade and the twin towers that were left untouched for more than one century and a half.

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Now that we have seen the 4 Baroque Churches in the Philippines included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, our next goal is the 33 Churches included the Natural Cultural Treasures List.

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.

Comments
  1. Paolo says:

    Hi,

    At what time of the day did you shot Sta Maria Church?

    Thanks,

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