This is a series on the different churches in various areas in the country that can be followed as a guide for the much observed Filipino Catholic Lenten tradition of the Visita Iglesia. Check out the other posts on Cebu Churches: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
For the first part of this post, and the first of the visita iglesia series, I am featuring the Augustinian built colonial era churches in Cebu where the oldest city in the country is found and is considered the cradle of Christianity in Southeast Asia. These churches stretches from the heart of the old district of Cebu City down the southeastern coast ending with the municipality of Oslob. In between are about thirteen of these structures that the order founded and built. Note that I’m not including the churches of San Nicolas, Alcoy, Mabolo and Opon as the originals were either long gone and replaced with new edifices or have been heavily remodeled. Cordova was not included also due to lack of photos.
1 The Convent and Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño in Cebu City is the sanctuary and center of the Sto. Niño de Cebu devotion in the country where the image of the Holy Child, brought during the Magellan Expedition that arrived in the country in 1521 and rediscovered in 1565 by one of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s men is venerated under the custody of the Augustinians.
The first structures were made of light materials but were razed by a fire in 1566. It was only during the third attempt, that the structure was made of stone but was again destroyed by fire.
The present structure, made from coral stones hewn from Panay and its wood from Talisay and present day San Fernando is probably the fourth to be built, was started in 1735 and finished in 1739. The facade is said to be a blending of Muslim, Romanesque and neo-classical features.
In 1965, during the occasion of the quadricentennial of the christianization of the Philippines, heavy restoration work was undertaken.
2 The beautiful and imposing Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Pardo, which is still part of Cebu City, just along the main road is such a sight. Originally a part of the matrix of San Nicolas, it became an independent parish in 1866.
The first church was made of light materials and was replaced by a second one but, unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1877 by a typhoon. It was made of stone and tabique pampango with nipa roofing and connected to the convento.
The current structure was started at about 1880. based on the plans of the Spanish engineer-architect, Domingo Escondrillas, adopted the Latin-Byzantine order for its facade noting that no other church in the district have this kind of architecture.
Its massive belfry is integrated into the center flanked by two smaller towers. When viewed from a distance, it looks like a fortress.
3 As early as 1589, the first recorded rebellion in Cebu happened here when a Spanish colonist acquired land and angered the natives of the area.
Talisay eventually became, like Banilad, an hacienda of the Augustinians. It was part of San Nicolas and was declared as an independent parish in 1836 under the advocacy of Sta. Teresa de Avila.
The second structure to be built on the site, the current stone church was constructed between 1836 – 1848 by Fray Juan Soriano. It is one of the unique churches in the country with its Graeco-Roman style of architecture which is shared with only a few churches in La Union, Pampanga and another church in Cebu, Carcar. It is marked with a recessed pediment and entrance covered by a porch and flanked with massive bell towers.
During World War II, it was one of very few structures left standing while the rest of the town was leveled. A good part of the church, including the convento, was destroyed but the facade survived unscathed.
This church has been dealt with in more detail starting with this post.
4 Just before reaching San Fernando is the town of Minglanilla with its Church of the Sacred Heart of Mary standing proudly at an elevated area overlooking the coast. The present structure was started in 1886. This was preceeded by a temporary church which might have been built in 1856.
This church is just one of five structures built by the Augustinians in Cebu that have hints of Gothic architecture. The rounded arches of the windows and portals are said to be Baroque and blends well with the former. The lateral low structures were added later.
5 The Parish Church of San Isidro Labrador rests at the center of a spacious ground. Ever since it became an independent parish in 1858, the only religious structure that existed was made of light materials.
It was in only in 1870 that the current church was started during the curacy of Fray Miguel del Burgo, however, probably due to lack of funds, it was only finished in 1886. The belltowers, incongruous in size and made of cement were only added later. A coat of paletada used to cover the the walls and facade but has been stripped. The interior has also been renovated and is now modern looking.
The style of the church is Gothic as one parish priest considered it to be serious and majestic for this type of building. It was designed by the same architect who did the church in Pardo.
The convento, made of stone in the lower level and upper parts of wood still exists but has been converted into a school.
6 The small but impressive Parish Church of San Francisco de Asis in Naga is a gem.
One who visits or just passes by this church can’t help but take a second look at the intricate geometric patterns and whimsical figures of cherubs playing musical instruments, human faces, rosettes and other floral designs on its pediment contrasted by its bare lower part. At it’s side, two columns are crowned with minaret like domes. According to Coseteng in her book “Spanish churches in the Philippines,” the heavy embellishments of the facade is reminiscent of Islamic and Mexican art called “tequitequi.”
Naga became an independent parish in 1829 and the church was built in 1839 based on the plans of the Augustinian Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon. During World War II, the belltower located at the left side, if facing the facade, a portion of the triangular pediment as well as the convent were destroyed. The current belfry and convent were added in 1979 and mid 70’s respectively.
Much of the interior has been renovated.
7 Built on a hill with a good view of the coast, the Parish Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandria in the newly declared City of Carcar is one of the beautiful churches in Cebu. It is probably the second or the third structure to be built in 1860 at the present location after it relocated from the original site in Barrio Valladolid when it was burned during one of the many Moro slave raids.
The facade is Graeco – Roman with a massive arch. Its twin belfries topped by a minaret-like design, no doubt Muslim inspired, is one of its distinguishing feature. The statues of the 12 apostles at the patio, with that of Judas located at a good distance were added later.