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Philippine Colonial Churches | Ilocos Sur

In October of 2013, the world witnessed how the islands of Cebu and Bohol in the Philippines lost lives, property, livelihood and its precious heritage churches to a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Ten Spanish colonial monuments that have stood for hundreds of years crumbled into rubles and returned to earth where it all came from. Its dramatic intensity slapped the government with issues on budget appropriation to restore these churches and fortify the hundreds or more scattered across the country terrifyingly waiting for its fate. Netizens, conservation agencies, the Church and pseudo-culturattis (whose bereavement are stuck under their noses bleeding with personal interests) shook the entire nation with all sorts of battle cries. 

And then there was silence.

The Roman Catholic churches in the Philippines are the most overwhelming hallmarks of Spain’s 300 years of colony. Whatever belies in history on its real intent of conquest, it left cultural elements such as its religion and churches that Filipinos continue to wake up to each day. The Ilocos Region, in northwestern Philippines is perhaps the holy grail of colonial churches in the country. The Archdiocese of Nueva Segoviasits in Vigan, the capital city of Ilocos Sur and the 3rd oldest Spanish settlement founded in 1572. Being an important link in the Galleon Trade, Spanish settlements expanded across the region, thus the presence of many colonial churches.
These heritage churches, in essence are mostly adaptations of baroque architecture, a popular building style in late 16th century Europe. The constructions of these churches were led by Spanish friars and put together by Filipino and Chinese laborers and artisans. These unique adaptations were products of collective realities in those times, being: in a tropical and seismic challenged environment, available building materials and technology and most importantly the various cultural influences that dictate its aesthetic values.
My journey in the churches of Ilocos Sur and in many other Spanish dominions in the Philippines is a continuing process of my understanding of colonial religiosity, the unity of denominations and the religious divide it created in traditions within traditions. Over days of travel and endless coffee, I had hearty discussions with Tito Burt, a close elder relative from the maternal side and who is equally passionate about art and history. It was a mutual affirmation of the facts that our colonial religion as shown in the aesthetic idioms of our churches is divine, deep and diverse.
Santa Lucia Church, Santa Lucia, Ilocos Sur
Built in 1586. Dedicated to the dark image of Santa Lucia. The only renaissance-inspired church in Ilocos as characterized by its simple symmetrical lines & a dome at the back of the facade (not seen). Feast day, Dec 13.
San Juan de Sahagun, Candon City, Ilocos Sur
Built in 1695. Dedicated to San Juan de Sahagun of the Crown of Castille. Feast day is celebrated every June 12.
Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur
Built in 1765. Inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Done in massive earthquake baroque architecture. Set on top of a hill accessed by long flights of steps made of piedra china. Feast day, August 15.
St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
Built 1574 in dedication to St. Paul. The bell tower (not in sight on this photo) is on the right side,  edging Plaza Burgos. Adjacent to the church is the Arzobispado de Nueva Segovia.
San Agustin de Hippo, Bantay, Ilocos Sur
Built in 1591. It is also the Shrine of Nuestra Senora de Caridad, the patroness of Nueva Segovia. The Bantay Bell Tower is also one of the most photographed sights in Ilocos Sur.
Sta. Catalina de Alexandria, Sta. Catalina, Ilocos Sur
Built in 1795. One of the small churches in Ilocos Sur that exemplifies late baroque-inspired architecture, where the ornate facade is muted into clean lines. It keeps an 1836 campanille bell.
San Guillermo el Hermitano, Magsingal, Ilocos Sur 
Built in 1692. Inscribed by the National Commission of Culture & the Arts as National Heritage Site. Feast day, Feb10.
San Juan Bautista, San Juan, Ilocos Sur
Built in 1799. Founded by the Augustinians as Visita of Cabugao in 1711.
San Nicolas de Tolentino, Sinait, Ilocos Sur
Built in 1660. Enshrined in this church is the image of Santo Cristo Milagroso fondly called Apo Lakay. This is a pilgrimage church where its devotees flock every 3rd day of May.

Our Roman Catholic churches are not just impressive emblematic structures of conquest. These were the refuge from the marauding pirates, the seat of triumphant power and the shelter of spiritual development. Its ornate vaults, niches, pillasters and buttresses keep the stories of unique variations of European artistic style in a dramatic and culturally diverse Asian setting. However, the greatest challenge to steadfastly restore and fortify these structures remain and that the praying nation fervently awaits for it to happen.
  • The following churches in Ilocos Sur were not covered yet due to lack of time but I promise to share with you as soon as I am able to revisit the province: San Vicente Ferrer Church (1795), Santa Catalina Church, Santa (1849), San Esteban Church (1800), The Church of Santiago apostol (1829), and Sta Cruz Church (1641).
  • The following churches were covered but due to lack of sufficient light, I opted not to post them. I will cover it extensively in my next post: Sto. Domingo Church (1742), San Ildefonso Parish (1709), San Agustin Church in Tagudin (1796).
  • Reference on dates and history were taken from various sources: historical markers outside the church, leaflets from the church office, cross-references from various publications (online & printed).
  • I highly recommend to find time to talk to the people you meet in these churches and hear their stories. They provide beautiful insights you will never find in history books.
Special Acknowledgment
  • Burt Maybituin (educator, historian), for a good walkthrough of the churches in Ilocos Sur.    
  • Nell Obach (educator, historian), for always inspiring me to travel to places filled with history.
  • The church staff and devotees whom I had hearty chats during my visit.

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