Visita Iglesia: The old churches of Bulacan, Part 1 of 2
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. Click the image at the right to access the rest of the posts.
The province of Bulacan is rich not only in history but it is one of the earliest, about 1572, to be Christianized. Testament to this are the presence of several colonial era churches that can be found in several towns and cities. Two religious orders divided the province: the Augustinians took care of the central and northern part while the Franciscans the south. For purposes of these two posts, and due to the availability of content and photos, I will focus only on 14 churches, with Obando and Marilao built by the Franciscans. The rest were constructed by the Augustinians. The second part can be viewed in this post.
1 The Parish Church of Sta. Monica in Angat, Bulacan is situated in the hilly and mountainous southern portion of the province. It was here that Fr. Manuel Blanco, a prior in 1805, conceived his idea of the landmark Flora de Filipinas as he was so impressed with its vegetation.
The facade is simple. But upon closer inspection, one is greatly moved with its intricately carved embellishments. A pair of angels can be found at the top of the portal. Floral elements profusely decorate the niches, windows and pediment while at the central niche, a carving of the sun and moon top the decorative columns. Eye catching is the equally exquisitely carved main door that holds the images of St. Augustine and a crying St. Monica, his mother. A tear flowing from one of her cheeks.
The interior has already been renovated and the ceiling has been painted with a poor imitation of Michelangelo’s work at the Sistine Chapel.
2 The Parish Church of San Agustin in Baliuag is striking not only for its massiveness but also for its lofty and airy belltower. The present structure, probably the second or third church to be built, was finished in 1830. However, it suffered considerable damage during the earthquake of 1880.
The style of the facade is said to be Baroque. It has two levels topped by a triangle pediment. The huge, unharmonized relief at the lower portion of the belfry was only a later addition that entailed covering up the circular window.
Unfortunately, the facade is marred by a huge portico that blocks out a good view of the front including the main doors with its simple but elegant decorations. Equally disturbing is the current state of the stones and bricks that are in danger of pulverizing as the protective paletada is no longer present. This can be readily seen at the right niche wherein portions of the decorative carvings have started to disintegrate.
3 Formerly called Quingua, Plaridel is one of the earliest towns to be established at around 1599. Its Parish Church of Santiago Apostol has one of the unique pediments in the province. It was here that the money and jewels of San Agustin in Intramuros, Manila were kept during the British Occupation in 1762-63.
The church is small and its two level facade is bare. However, the crowning pediment is elaborate consisting of a pair of volutes with the inner space filled with triangular patterns and floral embellishments that at first glance can be mistaken as having a Moorish influence because of the minaret like dome formed. In between the volutes are a series of spaced relieves of cherubs, ramilletes, two saints including that of St. Agustin and the pierced heart which is the symbol of the Augustinians. The octagonal and tapering belltower on the other hand sits on a quadrilateral base and rises 4 levels.4 The current Parish Church of San Miguel Arcangel in San Miguel de Mayumo that is the bounding town with Nueva Ecija to the north was constructed from 1848 – 1869. Of the fourteen churches featured in these two posts, this differs from the rest as it is the only structure that has its belfry integrated with the simple facade, a departure from the usual separate belfry. Here, simplicity rules.
There’s not much embellishments that can be seen here. Other than the busts of angels and the patron saint which might have been added later, what catches the eye are the pairs of fluted columns found at the three levels. The portico however was added later and really breaks the harmony of the facade.
Inside, the altar retablo is old and beautiful.
5 Located just along the highway leading to Malolos and fronting the Guiguinto River, the Parish Church of San Ildefonso in Guiguinto is one of the oldest in the province. It is believed that building of the church and convent was started prior to 1691. However, it took sometime to finish maybe because of the economic situation of the town that by 1734, it was still unfinished.
The facade is simple and Baroque and has an affinity with the design of the church in Baliuag. While the latter is huge, this one is small. It used to have an ugly portico (a later addition) but last year, just before the quadricentennial of the town’s foundation, it was demolished, the front repainted and the top of the pediment including the cross were replaced. Now, it looks better.
6 Calumpit borders the town of Apalit in Pampanga and is the first town in Bulacan to be Christianized in 1572 as a visita of Tondo in Manila. Construction of the Parish Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino is thought to be started in the middle 17th century but over the years, it has been renovated many times. In 1899, the revolutionaries burned the church.
The facade is simple with four decorative Corinthian columns seemingly carrying the pediment. One of the notable features of this church is the presence of an elaborate carving done in stucco that can be seen at the top of the main and side portals featuring Christ, the apostles, animals symbolizing the four evangelists and angels. Originally, the pediment is only up to the wavelike decorations but later, probably 20th century, was extended.
7 The Parish Church of Santa Ana in Hagonoy is an imposing structure dominating the town’s center with its massiveness. Its architecture is simple compared to the many baroque churches in the province but its notable features are the massive Tuscan columns that gives the structure an upward thrust and the rose window at the center that marks the location of the choir loft. The belltower, lofty and tapering, has six levels and harmonizes with the facade. The images of Augustinian saints as well as the large portico were only added in the 20th century.
The church has three aisles. Each starts with a really elaborately carved door made from hardwood that is a big contrast to the rather austere facade. Unfortunately a good view from a distance is not possible as it is blocked by the portico. These exquisite portals are breathtaking in intricacy with religious relieves of Augustinian saints and symbols including the sun and moon as well as of Christ and Mary. The main portal calls to mind the one from Angat but more massive.