Mindanao has always been a frontier of the colonizing Spaniards, always a challenge to her 300 year colonization in the Philippines. It’s not only the terrain that hampered her efforts but the proud and fierce Muslims as well as several tribes who have refused to be cowed under her flag through the sword and the cross.
Although several missions have been established in the island, from Jolo to Zamboanga, from Dapitan to Cotabato and Surigao to Davao, most of these places usually have the church made of wood and other light materials. These missions also have been built and later burned, rebuilt and sacked and rise again as attacks by pirates, slave raiders and proud tribes made it a struggle. Natural calamities also took their toll.
But Mindanao has also been the playground of the tussle between the orders: the Augustinian Recollects who took charge of parishes left when the Jesuits were expelled and later on returned, plus the action of the then Spanish government to appease these orders and left the Seculars disgruntled have indirectly altered the course of Philippine history starting with the GomBurZa and culminating in the Philippine revolution against Spain.
Today, there are only seven Spanish era churches in Mindanao, all built wholly or in part by masonry, bricks, or coral stones scattered across the island with Misamis Oriental and Zamboanga del Norte having two. Dipolog, built during the close of Spanish rule still retained it’s building but the facade has been redesigned in the 20th century.
San Juan Bautista Church
Jimenez Church is, by far, the best preserved Spanish era built church in Mindanao. Building the church started in 1862-63 by Fr. Roque Azcona and probably finished in the late 1880s. It has retained much of its interior including a neo-gothic style retablo mayor, a ceiling painting done on canvas was installed in 1898. The original belltower clock is still intact.
The church was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2001.
St. James the Greater Church
The current church might be the fourth structure built in Dapitan City ever since the first one was built in 1639. This church, now much covered in concrete has been historical as it was where the National Hero, Jose Rizal, during his exile used to hear mass. A particular spot is marked inside where he used to stand. Infront of the church is a relief map of Mindanao that he has also built.
Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral
Dipolog City’s cathedral is one of two churches built during the Spanish colonial period in Zamboanga del Norte. Fr. Eusebio Barredos erected the structure on 1 April 1894 and the first mass was said on 29 June of the same year. It Dipolog became a parish in 1896.
Notable are the two remaining original side altars and the beautiful ceiling. The main retablo was removed after Vatican II but a marble copy was reinstated in time for the centennial celebration, 30 June 1996. The original retablos were said to be designed by National Hero, Jose Rizal. The facade was renovated 2009.
San Salvador Parish Church
The church was built in 1884 by the Jesuit priest Pablo Pastells after the order replaced the Augustinian Recollects in 1871. Made from rubble, it is located at a promontory offering great views of the town and the coast. During its centennial celebration, the interior and retablos were renovated and replaced with new ones.
Read more: Caraga, the oldest church in Mindanao
Immaculate Concepcion Church
Built starting in 1887 by the Jesuits and finished in the early 20th century, the church is said to have been an attempt at a modest copy of the Order’s mother church, the San Ignacio (the second one after their return to the Philippines) in Intramuros. The first level is made from bricks while the second level is of wood. The church was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2001.
Sta. Rita de Cascia Church
Construction of the brick church is said to have started in 1892 by the Jesuits and finished in 1895 at the present location as the original wooden church near the coast was eventually destroyed by an encroaching sea. The lower level is made of bricks while the upper level made of wood. Two wooden belfries stood at the sides and three altars were installed.
During World War II, the guerrillas hastily burned the church because Japanese soldiers were stationed there. After the war, only the stone structure was left standing.
Sto Rosario Church
Although the town of Sagay was established in 1848, it’s quite difficult to find information when this church was constructed. The lower levels of the belfry, the facade plus a portion of the fence at the front are the only remaining original parts. Even these have been altered much.