February 27, 2008

The Ilocos Church Belt

Paoay Church

St. Augustine Church, more commonly known as Paoay Church

I decided to devote an entire post to the churches in Ilocos because seeing these structures was so special to me. And trust me, when you see them in person you'll realize that they demand your undivided attention.

Like many of the old churches in the Philippines, they stood as silent witnesses to centuries of struggle and joy; and served as places of refuge and revelry. Today they are no less commanding in their presence, perhaps even more so with the patina of age. And though we didn't see all of them, we saw many, I saw enough to leave me awe-struck.

Because Ilocos fell under the sole jurisdiction of the Augustinian order, (coincidentally that of my alma mater as well) the churches were built in a somewhat similar style usually with a detached belfry. But each church is unique and magnigicent in its own right and each town had one of their own to be proud of. As we hopped in and out of our van, touring the different churches, I thought about how the Ilocos church belt would make the perfect visita iglesia route for Holy Week.

The Paoay Church is incredibly beautiful! It's even more captivating in person especially when bathed in the glow of the late afternoon sun and brought to life with townsfolk practicing for the guling-guling festival at its lap. On the narrow side street next to the church was a small market selling mostly clothes and souvenirs. All together, it was a very moving sight.

The Paoay church was built at the turn of the 18th century using coral blocks (photo below) following the earthquake baroque style mixed in with some oriental qualities. Flanking the sides of the church are huge lateral buttresses that make the church appear even more massive. The pretty side windows and the foliage peeking through the cracks add color and character to an already stunning piece of work.

Paoay church  detail

coral blocks on the facade of the Paoay Church

As we admired it from a distance, a man perched on his parked motorcycle offered to take our group photo. After which he volunteered some facts about the church and how it is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Once again, the pride the Ilocanos have in their heritage shone bright and clear. Beside the church is a bell tower built with the same coral stone. I tried to imagine the view the Katipuneros had up there while they used it as an observation post.

Just north of Laoag city is the town of Bacarra, the home of the pretty red-brick Bacarra Church and it's famous belfry. The original church suffered heavy damages from past earthquakes and has since been restored while the belfry remains untouched, it's bell still hanging precariously from atop it's crumbling tower. At it's foot is the pile of debris which made for a fun, albeit pretty cheesy, photo op heehee.


Bacarra church


If Laoag has a sinking bell tower, Bacarra has a crumbling one

I don't have a picture of St. William's cathedral in Laoag (actually I do, but it didn't come out good) because the sun was directly behind it, preventing me from taking a decent photograph of it where it didn't come out as just a silhouette. The facade of the church, which is of Italian renaissance design, has a recessed niche with a statue of San Guillermo (St. William), the city's patron saint. I did however manage to take a photo of the interior of St. William during a Sunday morning mass. It was standing room only with people of all ages, a common sight around our deeply faithful country.

From the church we walked over to Laoag's Sinking Bell Tower across the street; it is said that the tower sinks about an inch a year because it was build on sand. Notice the upper half of the door on the two photos below. Not too far from the bell tower, in the center of the rotonda is the Tobacco Monopoly Monument, which commemorates the lifting in 1881 of the century-long Spanish tobacco monopoly.

St. William's Cathedral

Inside St. William's cathedral (above & below)

Sinking Bell Tower, Laoag

Laoag's Sinking Bell Tower (above & below)

Sinking bell tower

I regret not seeing the Bantay Church (St. Augustine church, Ilocos Sur) in daytime when we could appreciate it better. If you're driving from Vigan to Currimao or Laoag, you can't miss it. We were rushing on our way to Vigan so we could still catch some light at Calle Crisologo so we didn't stop at the Bantay church earlier. On our way back after dinner, we made a quick stop to check it out. The darkness prevented us from seeing the Bantay belfry which stands a few meters away on a hill. Nevertheless, the church was still a sight to behold.


Bantay church

Because the main reason for our trip to San Nicolas was the market, I have no pictures of the San Nicolas church facade to show you either. Sorry about that! But I hope you can appreciate this photo of the rear of the church with the pretty blue windows set off by the deep blue sky. Just ignore the ugly cables. The San Nicolas church holds the distinction of being the first church in the region, imagine that, and I don't even have a decent photo of it. tsk tsk. :)

San Nicolas church rear

San Nicolas de Tolentino church

The Magsingal Belfry was an unplanned pitstop. We saw it on the side of the road as we drove to Vigan. And being that it was the first belfry of our trip we all screamed in delight and asked Gani to stop the car. We never made it to the church as we were in a hurry, but just walked around the belfry and took some photos before we continued to Vigan.

Magsingal Belfry

Magsingal Belfry

Here again are some photos of St. Pauls Cathedral, better known as the Vigan Cathedral which I wrote about in my previous post.

Vigan cathedral

Vigan Cathedral (above) and bell tower (below)

Vigan belfry

So there you have it, the churches we were fortunate to visit in Ilocos. We never made it to the Sta. Maria church, the other Ilocos church included in the UNESCO World Heritage List or the Santa Monica church in Sarrat, but as I always like to reason : you gotta save something for next time! :)


Anonymous said...

I'll be visiting the PI next year with my parents. I can't wait to see the architecture of all the cathedrals.

Anonymous said...

awesome! you've inspired me and my wife to visit Ilocos with a couple of friends. great shots! what cam are you using? thanks

ben said...

Incredible! I like that you captured the coral blocks too, gives me a much better idea. Thanks for doing a separate post on the cathedrals. :-)

christine said...

Hi James, thanks for dropping by and hence leading me to your site - I love it! Hope you enjoy your trip to the PI next year. :)

Hi Anon, thanks, it's a Nikon D40 with a 18-200mm lens. :)

Thanks Ben, and you're welcome! :)

oggi said...

All the churches are magnificent specially Paoay! And I don't mind the cables, they add something interesting to the photo somehow.:)
I'm thinking of upgrading my camera, I will add Nikon D40 on my list of cameras to consider, thanks.:)

joey said...

I was so in awe of all their churches! Each one was truly beautiful in their own way...thanks for giving me a moment to relive the experience! :) Looking forward to the rest of your posts!

mtan said...

It definitely makes for a pilgrimage, but try not to do it during Holy Week, it's insane to drive up that week! I did it in 2003 and will never try that again.
Wasn't the Sta. Ana or is it the Sarat church that Imelda painted white for Imee's wedding? Then the earthquake soon after destroyed the facade and they said it was all karma!!!

christine said...

Oggi, I like how you look at it that way. :) The D40 I highly recommend, it's such a nice camera with all the functions you'll ever need without all the unnecessary weight.

Jo, so gorgeous no? To think we could have had more of those right here in Manila if we weren't carpet-bombed during the war. Sayang talaga.

Mila, I can imagine how crazy it could be during the Holy Week. I'm not sure which church that is you speak of though, as I haven't heard that story. But I like how quick they are to call it karma haha.

joey said...

Hi Nens! Sayang talaga! :( Btw, have you seen this month's Preview? There is a whole fashion editorial shot in the Ilocos church belt! Of course, the focus is more on the clothes but the the setting definitely adds something special...plus it's very Filipino. The fashion ed is called Visita Iglesia pa! Ganda! :)

Sidney said...

The Paoay Church is really impressive.

A very nice documentation of the Ilocos Churches. Very informative as usual. You should be a travel journalist!

christine said...

Hey Jo! No, I haven't seen that issue, since I don't buy Preview. But if you have it, can I see? :)

Aww thanks Sidney, you are too kind as usual! :)

Cyrus said...

I'm from Bacarra and it's so nice to get a glimpse of the church that I heard mass at growing up. Besides spending high school at St. Andrew Academy right beside the church (which is run by the St. Andrew Parish Church)I also had my wedding there.

I can't wait to pay another visit soon. Thanks for the post!

christine said...

Hi Cyrus! How blessed you are to have had such a beautiful church to visit as a child, and then to get married in. :)

chris said...

great pictures, especially my favourite of all ilocos churches - paoay church! i'm planning to take my holiday in the philippines in february and hopefully i can visit ALL the magnificent churches in ilocos sur and ilocos norte. thanks for the inspiration.

christine said...

Thank you, Chris. I hope you get to go as planned. :)

Jane of Three Block Media said...

I would love to go on one of these Ilocos heritage tours and see all these churches for myself. Thank you for sharing your trip!