The lost church of Oton, Iloilo

The stunning church of Oton, Iloilo was one of a kind in the Philippines but was destroyed not by war but by an earthquake. Archival image from the San Agustin Museum.

It would have been one of the country’s spectacular churches, if not the most beautiful were it not for a natural cataclysm that razed it to the ground. Oton’s once majestic church, in the form of a Greek cross, was unique as it was the only one with such a plan and architecture blending Byzantine with Gothic and classical elements.

The town of Oton was established by the Augustinians in 1572 after Cebu and Manila and was the center of their administration in Iloilo. In fact, the former name of the province is a namesake of the town. It’s name is the hispanized version of ogtong, meaning reef or tidal flat which is a main feature of the area and was then the encomienda of Don Miguel de Loarca.

The history of church building is a bit hazy but its first prior, Fray Martin de Rada was said to have built a church of good quality which was eventually destroyed during a Dutch attack in 1614. It was only in the 19th century that we get to know of a church being constructed during the curacy of Fray Demetrio Cobos who was parish priest from 1844-1854 that the first stones were laid.

Fray Diego de Hoz continued the project when Fray Cobos died in 1854. Fray Joaquin Fernandez, named in charge of construction in 1883 finished the edifice. The grand church was consecrated and blessed in 1892 by Fray Nicolas Gallo.

The edifice was spared during World War II but an earthquake on 5 January, 1948 destroyed it. It has never been rebuilt and only two bells, dated 1817 and 1887, and a portion of the wall, now built with a grotto, remain of the structure. The ruins of the old church can still be found in the area.

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  3. Such a beautiful church but now sadly seen thru the pages of history. A mark of a once glorious past.

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  5. Yes, sayang talaga. I grew up in this town and old folks would always tell stories how the Immaculate Conception saved the town from a tsunami caused by the same earthquake. The image which now stands on top of the new church was said to have survived the earthquake. Oton was the oldest pueblo of Iloilo but there’s no trace of that left now. Even the campo santo was renovated to look new. It’s so sad that some people just don’t give much value to our heritage.

  6. Glady, there are still parts of the original church. The place where the grotto is now is one. There’s also at the far right of the church

  7. Yes, that’s all that’s left of it. There’s also the burial gold mask unearthed in Oton which is now at the national museum. There was already trading along the Batiano river even before the Spanish came. It just don’t feel like an old town without an old church. 😀

    Thanks for this find. You can really see how grand and beautiful it was.

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  10. Bai Estan, if maka-sulod ka sa Jaro Arcdiocesan Archives, there is a corner there where you can find a photo of Oton Church a few days after the earthquake of 1948. The walls were reclining, to the point of dangerously collapsing. The dome is still standing on that photo.

    Anyway, in my opinion, it’s better to hear that the church was destroyed due to a natural calamity or in this case, an earthquake, rather than hearing the church being destroyed due to either neglect, ignorance, or sometimes “arrogance” of man.

    Pero nakakapanghinayang guihapon. Today, it is immortalized in Oton’s seal. The great church is a remnant of the past.

  11. would be nice if somebody can post pictures of whats left of the church. just standing on the grounds where the old church once stood would surely bring nostalgic feeling and reverence.

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