The Dominicans in the Philippines

The original Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros is said to be based from the architecture of the York Cathedral in Great Britain. It was one of the first building bombed by the Japanese in WWII.

The original Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros is said to be based from the architecture of the York Cathedral in Great Britain. It was one of the first buildings bombed by the Japanese in WWII.

The Dominican Order (The Order of Preachers/Order of St. Dominic) was confirmed an Order by Pope Honorius III in 1216.

The first Dominicans to arrive in the Philippines was Domingo Salazar, the first Bishop of Manila and his companion Cristobal de Salvatierra in 1581. It was only ni 1587, after the Augustinians, Franciscans and the Jesuits, that the first batch of religious composed of 15 men arrived at the port of Cavite and established the Province of the Most Holy Rosary of the Philippines.

After their arrival, four were immediately sent to Bataan and six to Pangasinan while the remaining five established Sto. Domingo in Intramuros. They are credited with founding many of the important towns in these two provinces as well as a few in the present day province of Tarlac.

In Manila, they took charge in the evangelization of the Chinese at the Parian and made the country their base for missionary work in the rest of Asia. One such missionary trip in Japan during the first half of the 17th century saw the martyrdom, among others, of the Filipino-Chinese Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint.

Ivana Church in Batan Island, Batanes

Ivana Church in Batan Island, Batanes

Malaueg (Rizal) Church in Cagayan province.

Malaueg (Rizal) Church in Cagayan province.

In 1594, the Dominicans evangelized the fertile Cagayan Valley, establishing many of the major towns that we know today. They extended their missionary work in the Babuyanes in 1619 and permanently set-foot in Batanes in 1783.

In the intellectual front, the Order established in 1611 what now is the University of Sto. Tomas, the first university in Asia and predates Harvard University by 60 years. A few years before, in 1593, the first two books in the Philippines were published. Both are entitled Doctrina Cristiana, one in Chinese characters while the other was in Tagalog and Spanish. It was also the Dominicans who introduced movable type in the country. Other books were also published including ones on grammar and the local languages that they have extensively studied.

Some common Dominican symbols: (top left) fleur-de-lis, Dupa del Sur Church; (top right) marian symbol, Tuguegarao Cathedral; (bottom right) dog of St. Dominic, Bambang Church; (bottom left) Christ's monogram, Dupax del Sur Church

Some common Dominican symbols: (top left) fleur-de-lis, Dupax del Sur Church; (top right) marian symbol, Tuguegarao Cathedral; (bottom right) dog of St. Dominic, Bambang Church; (bottom left) Christ's monogram, Dupax del Sur Church

The Dominican seal found in Gamu, Isabela

The Dominican seal found in Gamu, Isabela

The Dominicans evangelized exclusively in Bataan, Pangasinan, where the popular devotion to the Lady of Manaoag is established, parts of Zambales, Cagayan Valley comprising the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan as well as the Babuyan and Batanes island groups. In Manila, they built the Binondo Church as well as the Sto. Domingo, now located in Quezon City after the mother church in Intramuros was destroyed, where the yearly devotion to the La Naval is well attended.

In many of the churches they built in these areas, the Dominican seal and other symbols can be found. The Dominican cross, with the fleur-de-lis at each end inscribed within a circle is a common emblem. Specifically in Tuguegarao, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya churches, the emblems of the Virgin Mary, Christ and St. Dominic (shown above) plus the sun and the moon are often seen on the façade or as decorative elements in the interior.

The peak of Dominican brick architecture, Tumauini Church in Isabela.

The peak of Dominican brick architecture, Tumauini Church in Isabela.

Dupax del Sur Church in Nueva Vizcaya, a national treasure

Dupax del Sur Church in Nueva Vizcaya, a national treasure

One of the lasting legacies of the Dominicans are the massive brick churches they built in the Cagayan Valley. The best example of this, and perhaps, can be said, the peak of Dominican brick architecture is the stunning Tumauini Church in Tumauini, Isabela.

The level of artistry and intricacy  found at its façade in the form of decorative elements just blows one away. It is also one of the few intact churches in the country sporting a circular belfry whose design reminds one of a massive wedding cake.

In Florentino Hornedo’s book, On the Trail of Dominican Engineers, Artists and Saints in the Cagayan Valley and Batanes, mentions a Cagayan style that is apparent in the many churches built in this area. Here, the silhouette of the Tuguegarao Cathedral is echoed in the churches of Alicia in Isabela, Bambang, Dupax del Sur and Bayombong Cathedral in Nueva Vizcaya and the former Calasiao Church in Pangasinan before it was renovated as a result of the earthquake of 1892.

Calasiao Church in Pangasinan

Calasiao Church in Pangasinan used to have the Tuguegarao Cathedral silhouette but was remodelled after the 1892 earthquake.

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  1. attn: mr. estan cabigas


    i am the assistant parish priest of the said parish in mamatid cabuyao. we’r now on the process of becoming a diocesan shrine and one of our drive is to trace the presence and roots of our parish. maybe you could assist us in this process. what we have right now are stories handed over through word of mouth and we’r trying to trace concrete and scientific proofs of dominican presence and involvement in the establishment of our parish. and particularly, we are tracing the families involved in this process plus the architectural and possible contributors in the construction of the first chapel/parish church. all records of our diocese were gutted down along with the old chancery office by fire. we’v been asking around for an old souvenir program that could have contain all these stories, but sad to say, i have only found one such book. any help would be greatly appreciated.

    hope to hear from you soon. Godbless!

    Fr. cletus nalda
    san vicente ferrer parish
    mamatid, cabuyao

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  6. I find your website useful and I was wondering if you know info about how the Friars in the Philippines were able to own large quantities of land. I have read somewhere in the past they were acquired thru land grants by the order of the King of Spain. I am particularly interested about the holdings of the Dominicans in the area of Calamba, Binan, and Sta. Rosa which the Rizal family interacted as Tenants to the land held by the Dominicans. Why do you think Don Francisco and others claim the Friars could not show proof of ownership to the land they till? Also, after the revolution of 1898 and the take over the American Imperialists, what happened to these lands? Where the Dominicans able to retain ownership or was it confiscated by the government? I have heard that some these Friar lands were entrusted to American Coporations? I found one source pointing to a certain Andrew, last name not given, which the Dominicans entrusted their holdings. I am researching these to help the people of Canlubang, Laguna if the Yulo’s did indeed have a land title for their Sugar Estate which apparently was bought from an American Trust (Ehrman). If so, where is the land title? Thanks for your time!

  7. Hi,

    Thanx for visiting. Regarding your query, the friars owned vast tracks
    of lands and this was one of the reasons for the many abuses and
    frictions with the Filipinos that time. Regarding specific details, I
    think you need to go to the UST archives/library and do research. I
    think, there is also a book on the friar estates but can’t remember
    the title and who published it. If its not UST, try to look the
    publications of Ateneo.

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  14. Hi! This website is very informative, and I would like to ask if you know anything about my concern. Other than typography, churches, and universities, do you know other significant contributons of the Dominicans to the Philippines? 🙂

  15. I am wondering how to obtain a movie called St. Dominic: Light of the Church (or something close to that). I have tried various online sources and am not able to obtain it. I work at a Catholic Book/Gift store and someone came in showing a trailer for the movie on his phone and wanting a copy. Is it available anywhere? Can a couple copies still be purchased? Thank you for any help you can give me. Blessings for the Advent Season and a very holy Christmas! Pamela

  16. Hi there sir estan, I’ve been to a remote island in cagayan called fuga, in naguillian beach I found a relic of Dominican church witch people there use it today as their church, but when I search the place called musa in fuga I’ve located a big Dominican church relic. In disturbed and hidden. I’ve got some pictures of it. If you’re interested I can send it to you privately. I’ve found some stories about it and how the Muslim from sulu raided the place and burned it down..

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