Isabela province has been evangelized by the Dominicans as early as the late 17th century but it was only in the 18th century that stone churches, of which some are still standing today, have been built. Of the five existing churches, only the one in the municipality of San Pablo is mostly made of adobe, while the rest are of bricks.
When it comes to the Cagayan style pediment, only San Pablo also differs. This architectural style, which is prevalent in the Cagayan Valley churches, including that of Nueva Vizcaya also extends to these churches which were part of Cagayan province, geographically, before the province of Isabela was formed in the 19th century.
There used to be other old churches. However, the one in Echague is in ruins, with only the first level standing and a much newer but architecturally not interesting has been built a few meters from it. The one in Ilagan still has its old belfry, adjacent cemetery and other parts except for the facade which has been remodelled. I’m not sure about the one in Cabagan but only the cross on a pedestal of bricks remain. A newer church is built in front of it.
Tumauini Church, under the patronage of San Matthias was built in 1783 by Fray Domingo Forto, OP. This edifice is considered as the grandest of the brick structures in the country. While it has traces of the Cagayan style (Tuguegarao cathedral silhouette), it has diverged a bit by the inclusion of the circular pediment where a massive rose window is inserted.
The architecture is baroque and is heavily decorated with high bas reliefs of saints, flowers, wheels, spirals, and other motifs including those of the Dominican order. The adjacent belfry is one of the few belltowers that is circular and looking at its decorations and whitewash, looks more like a wedding cake festooned with ribbons, diamonds and clams.
It still has its original and beautiful low waving wall surrounding the church front with its stylized decors. At the back are flying buttresses, one of the few churches which has this one. The left side of the church are the ruins of the kumbento and chapel. The old cross with a brick pedestal has been replaced with a kitschy image of the patron saint.
Tumauini Church was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 1972.
San Pablo Church
San Pablo used to be the capital of Cagayan province with its church having one of the tallest belfries in the Valley. The structure is different from the rest of the Isabela churches: it is mainly built with adobe and later bricks, and it doesn’t follow the Cagayan style pediment which places it as much older than the Tuguegarao Cathedral.
Florentino Hornedo, in his book On the Trail of Dominican Engineers, Artists & Saints in the Cagayan Valley & Batanes writes that the present ruined church is probably the third structure to be built, possibly by Fr. Diego de la Torre. It may have been erected before the brick kilns in Tuguegarao were built. He places the date of construction between 1706-1766.
The church has been ruined and the facade damaged during World War II. Now, a galvanized iron roof covers part of the ruins to serve as a parish church.
Gamu Church was built around 1750 under the patronage of Sta. Rosa de Lima. Compared to the other Isabela Churches, it is more austere and quaint with its facade quite simple and decorated with a few bas relief of which notable are the Dominican Order symbols at the arch framing the main entrance. Even the Cagayan style pediment is much simpler.
Cauayan Church, under the patronage of Nuestra Senora del Pilar has only its original facade remaining. The original belfry is in ruins while a new nave and belfry was constructed. Like Tumauini, the facade has lots of interesting bas relief and portions of the bricks have numbers and symbols etched on it.
Alicia Church has the Nuestra Senora de Atocha as its patron saint. It was built by Fr. Tomas Calderon, OP and inaugurated in 1849. The facade is reminiscent of Cauayan Church less the bas relief and other embellishments. The balustrades are interesting in form.