The town of Arevalo was founded in 1581 by the son of an illustrious family in Spain who was appointed Governor-General of the Islands, Don Gonzallo Ronquillo de Peñalosa.
He arrived in Manila on June 1, 1580 and one of the things that greatly impressed him was the wealth of the Panay settlement established by Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1567 right after Cebu. This place was known as Sta. Cruz and it now forms part of the town of Arevalo.
When Don Gonzallo created the town in 1581, he named it “La Villa Rica de Arevalo” or the rich town of Arevalo after his hometown in Spain.
The Sto. Niño de Arevalo Parish Church is a fairly recent construction. A historical account in the parish book said the community had come together to have its damaged belfry repaired on October 23, 1976, finishing it two months later, and then starting on the main building the following year.
Work on the structure took years and under several parish priests. When Fr. Nemesio C. Espinosa and his assistant Fr. Jerry R. Locsin assumed stewardship of the parish on Nov. 3, 1982, they focused in earnest on the church building.
Fr. Espinosa solicited financial aid from the German Mission and when he took a leave of absence, Fr. Locsin carried on the reconstruction until its completion and blessing on October 30, 1986.
The church is considered uniquely situated in the middle of the district plaza, unlike the others that are only built beside or near their town squares.
Another distinct feature of the church is its altar, which is supported by Solomonic or helical columns inspired by the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The altar centerpiece is a large wooden cross with the image of the crucified Christ. Enshrined in the parish is the third oldest Sto. Niño image in the country, after the Sto. Niños of Cebu (1565) and Tondo (1572).
Town records were only able to identify its curates (parish priests) from 1581, but it is believed that the community before this time was under the Augustinians and seculars that Legaspi was known to never travel without.
Msgr. Amadeo Escañan showed a written list of town curas which noted that it was very likely the town was under the care of the religious group that accompanied Legaspi from 1567 to 1580.
It is even believed, he said, that Legaspi brought with him the Sto. Niño image enshrined in the parish, which is officially accepted as the third oldest in the country.
An account of this Iloilo City district’s story written by Atty. Rodolfo G. Alcantara says it is very likely that Arevalo’s possession of the image may have occurred earlier than 1581 for Legaspi had used the Sto. Niño image to spread devotion to the faith in Cebu and could have done the same in Panay.
Sto. Niño devotion
The accepted account, however, is that it was Peñalosa who brought the image with him from Spain when he founded Arevalo in 1581.
Alcantara said in his book “A Brief History of Arevalo and the 1581 image of the Sto. Niño” that devotion to the Child Jesus in Panay began in Arevalo.
Arevalo, which became the capital of the settlement in Panay in 1582, was one of the few places in the Philippines to be named in Spanish. It was incorporated as a district of Iloilo City on July 16, 1937.
A Spanish colonial era structure with a distinctive feature on its facade, the San Joaquin Parish Church was constructed from 1855-1869 through the efforts of Fray Tomas Santaren.
The church distinguishes itself from similar buildings of the period in the bas relief of “Rendicion de Tetuan” that occupies the whole pediment.
Shallow carvings on the upper triangular part of the facade depict the triumph of the Spanish army over the Moors in the Battle of Tetouan of 1860 in Morocco. It is probably the only church in Panay and even the whole Philippines with a military theme.
St. Joachim who is venerated together with St. Anne as the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the titular patron of the San Joaquin Parish. Considered the secondary patron and revered just as deeply by town parishioners is the Sto. Niño del Joaquin.
Information from the San Joaquin Parish said the design of the church, with its walls made from coral stone blocks quarried from nearby barrios, is neo-classical.
It added that the location of the structure and the adjoining areas for the Casa Real, town square, and burial grounds was donated by Tan Esta (Atanacio Santiagudo) who was then the Gobernadorcillo of Pueblo de San Joaquin. He was also the chief collaborator of Fr. Santaren, the parish priest who served for over 30 years, in the church construction.
According to church records, San Joaquin existed as the Parish of Suaragan from 1692 to 1703. When the central area was moved to Punta Talisay, the territory was merged with the Parish of Guimbal and then added to the Parish of Miagao 28 years later.
It was finally established as San Joaquin Parish in 1801.
Historical site, cultural treasure
Filipino guerillas reportedly burned the church, damaging its interior, as well as the convent and all buildings in the town center during wartime in 1943. Only the facade of San Joaquin Church remained intact.
The structure’s belfry also sustained heavy damages from the strong earthquake called Lady Caycay in 1948.
When it was declared a National Historical Site through Presidential Decrees No. 260 in 1973 and No. 375 in 1974, this marked the start of the earnest restoration of the building.
The San Joaquin Parish Church was also identified as a National Cultural Treasure in 2001.
La Paz is a district in Iloilo City that was under the supervision of Jaro until it became an independent parish in the 1870s.
It used to be called by different names; it was “Lobo” meaning “needle” or “retreat” at one time, according to Spanish era records discovered by parish officials.
In the decree that separated La Paz from Jaro, it was given the name “Ilawod” to refer to its location downstream, that part of the river that spills out to sea.
The same document said it was also called Iznart once after the Spanish alcalde of Iloilo, Manuez Iznart, who governed from 1868-1869.
None of the three names prevailed because the inhabitants of the place chose to call it La Paz, after their Spanish patroness Nuestra Señora de La Paz.
La Paz church beginnings
The first priest appointed to La Paz when it became a parish was the Augustinian Fr. Candido Gonzales. He was followed 13 other Augustinians until the parish was turned over to a diocesan priest, Fr. Pedro Trano, in 1910.
When he started his duties in La Paz, Fr. Gonzales oversaw the construction of a temporary church and convent made mainly of wood and bricks for the Nuestra Señora dela Paz y Buen Viaje Parish.
From 1870 to 1874, he started erecting a more permanent structure from a combination of bricks, stone, and cement.
Fr. Mariano Ysar had this enlarged and completed in 1895. There were those who likened it to the San Jose Church in the city center but said it had a look and style that is its own.
The Nuestra Señora dela Paz y Buen Viaje Parish Church was damaged during World War II and the infamous earthquake of January 25, 1948. Only its facade withstood the man-made and natural calamities.
Neo-classical facade design
According to parish records, the convent was immediately renovated. It was another story for the church as its restoration work took many years, gaining traction under the leadership of Msgr. Melecio Fegarido in the 1960s.
The fully restored church was inaugurated during the May 24 fiesta in 1995.
A parish feature on the church described its facade as neo-classical with mainly dark brown bricks and white window pillars and frames.
Two columns supporting the triangular pediment are new additions as they bear the inscription of the year 1970.
As the population of La Paz grew, new parishes were also erected. Aside from Nuestra Señora dela Paz y Buen Viaje Parish, there are also now existing the parishes of Our Lady of the Assumption in Barrio Obrero (1962), St. Clement in Barangay Luna (1962), Our Lady of Fatima in Lapuz (1972), and San Lorenzo Ruiz in Barangay Caingin (1992).
The St. Vincent Seminary is the fifth oldest and the last founded in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial regime.
It was established around the same time as the creation of Jaro as a diocese separate from Cebu through a papal bull issued by Pope Pius IX on May 27, 1865 and put into effect by Manila Archbishop Gregorio Meliton Martinez on October 10, 1867.
Fray Mariano Cuartero, the first bishop of Jaro, took possession of his diocese on April 25, 1868 and immediately put into motion his plans for the establishment of a diocesan seminary.
Aware of the great work of the Vincentian Fathers in the formation of native secular priests in other areas, the bishop sought their help in the creation of a seminary where he could train good pastors for the different parishes that were then almost entirely under the spiritual administration of the Augustinian friars.
First Vincentian priests
Vincentian priests arrived in Jaro in December of 1869, according to parish records, to organize and direct the seminary, and Fr. Ildefonso Moral was appointed as its superior.
Fr. Moral was joined by Fr. Aniceto Gonzales, who oversaw the construction of the seminary building and later succeeded as rector, and newly ordained priest Fr. Juan Miralda. They made up the community of Vincentian Fathers that first came to Jaro.
At the start, the seminary operated out of the bishop’s residence.
Through the generous donations of parishioners, in particular the sisters Ana and Maria Sitchon, the priest Mariano Sitchon, and Doña Gregoria Hingson, all from Molo, and from other smaller contributions, Bishop Cuartero was able to buy a 22,000-square meter lot near the Cathedral and his residence for the seminary. Not long after, on March 11, 1871, the cornerstone was laid and construction started under the direction of Fr. Aniceto Gonzales.
Third seminary building
The current St. Vincent Seminary building is the third erected since its founding in 1869. It was completed on June 19, 1954 with then Jaro Bishop Jose Ma. Cuenco spearheading efforts to raise funds for its construction.
Two previous structures were destroyed, the first by fire in 1906 and the other in a bombing run by American liberation forces on February 20, 1945 near the end of the Second World War.
The seminary complemented its new and modern building with an enlarged plan of studies. Its Departments of Latin and Philosophy received government accreditation and soon the number of enrolled seminarians broke previous records.
In 1959, seminary obtained government recognition of its studies to grant the AB degree.
The first seminary building, put up under the rectorship of Fr. Gonzales, was completed in November 1874. A parish book described it as quadrilateral in shape measuring 54×52 meters, with a central 23-square meter patio. The ground floor was stone and brick and the second floor made of hardwood.
When it was opened to lay students in 1875, the number of enrollees became so high that another 46 meters was added to the right wing of the building.
An entry in “Exposición General de las Islas Filipinas en Madrid, 1887 – Memoria” recorded a total seminary enrollment of 5,344 from 1875-1885.
The most flourishing period for the seminary during Spanish times was between 1891-1925 when it introduced five-year course of studies leading to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. It was the first of the Vincentian-run seminaries to become a first-class college, getting fully incorporated into the University of Sto. Tomas in 1891.
In the course of its 150-year history, seminary life was interrupted twice by war. School days came to an abrupt end during the outbreak of Filipino-Spanish hostilities at the close of 1897 and returned to normal only in 1904-1905.
Filipino revolutionaries in the Visayas, taking their cue from the proclamation of Philippine Independence in Kawit, rose in arms against Spain and on November 17, 1897 formed their own revolutionary government in Santa Barbara with Roque Lopez as president and Martin Delgado as commander-in-chief.
Spanish forces surrendered Jaro to rebel forces after five hours of savage fighting in December 15. They then took over the use of the seminary and ordered the priests expelled over fears they acted as spies.
In the early months of 1898, American soldiers managed to wrest the city away from Delgado’s forces that withdrew to the outskirts and began a guerilla war that lasted for two years
The death of Cuartero’s successor Bishop Leandro Arrue Agudo shortly before the war on October 24, 1897 left the Diocese of Jaro an orphan at its most critical time and the situation was exacerbated by a third of Filipino priests refusing to accept a Spanish friar, Andres Ferrero, as his replacement and their animosity towards the Vincentians who were also Spanish.
Schism of Panay
The Schism of Panay, as it was called, dragged on until Bishop Ferrero was forced to hand in his resignation to the Holy See. He sailed back to Spain on October 27, 1903.
Monsignor Frederick Rooker took over that November and required all priests to renew their oath of obedience and reverence to the bishop. A special meeting was also held in Manila for all major superiors of religious communities and bishops to bring the conflict to an end.
Everything returned to normal beginning in school year 1904-1905 only to be interrupted again by a fire that hit the seminary and reduced it to ashes in 1906. It was caused by a candle left burning in the sacristy by a seminarian.
Classes proceeded but housed temporarily in a spacious building owned by Don Teodoro Benedicto.
With financial support of the priests, people of Jaro, his friends in America, and a substantial amount from Pope Pius X, Bishop Rooker began reconstruction just two months after the fire. The seminary was substantially finished and able to house 100 interns in less than a year. It returned to its own home on September 17, 1907. Just a day after, Bishop Rooker suffered a heart attack and died just hours after.
Seminary, college separation
Two great benefactors of the seminary came in the persons of Jaro Bishop Dennis Dougherty, who succeeded Rooker, and seminary rector Fr. Mariano Napal.
They took on the job of completing the building and achieved this on March 12, 1912.
While enrollment was at an all-time high, accepting lay students affected the original purpose of the seminary which was to train the youth for priesthood.
Vincentian priests took this strong admonition of Pope Pius XI to heart and created a separate Colegio de San Vicente Ferrer that operated out of the Jaro Cathedral convent. However, it closed down definitively two years later.
The separation proved beneficial to the seminarians but caused the seminary to suffer economically as the college was its main source of income.
Bishop McCloskey remedied this by subsidizing the seminary through a system of burses beginning in 1925. While admitted at a hospital in Manila in 1942, he even instructed Msgr. Luis Capalla, Vicar General, to continue assisting seminary.
Another interruption to seminary work occurred during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that generated alarm in the Philippines.
The incident prompted Fr. Mariano Auzmendi to close classes, perhaps prematurely. The seminarians went home to the provinces while the priests, 12 of them, and 10 ordinands remained.
Japanese forces began to occupy Iloilo on April 16, 1942, causing a state of terror. The rector brought the ordinands with permission from the Japanese to Bacolod for their priestly ordination in June 29. The priests were allowed to leave for safer places and three of the nine that remained including the rector were said to have died as a result of tension and fear.
Shortly after his consecration, Bishop Jose Ma. Cuenco came to the Jaro Diocese in February 1943 as Auxiliary of Bishop McCloskey who was being treated for an illness in Manila.
Despite the efforts of Cuenco and his newly appointed rector, Fr. Eliseo Rodriguez, the seminary only began to operate normally beginning in January 1946.
Rising from destruction
Iloilo City was liberated from the Japanese by American forces on May 19, 1945, but their bombing runs had levelled the seminary’s home just a few months before.
The task of rebuilding the diocese, which lost not only the seminary but 60 percent of its churches and rectories, fell to Cuenco, who was appointed residential bishop in November 27 of that year with the death of McCloskey.
After a vote of confidence from the Jaro Diocese, the Vincentian fathers returned and focused their efforts on clearing out debris and covering the walls that remained standing with bamboo strips and nipa leaves just to be able to reopen the seminary. On January 7, 1946, classes did resume attended by 32 major seminarians.
The St. Vincent Seminary slowly got back on its feet and a new building, the one you see today, once again rose from the destruction through the efforts of Bishop Cuenco.
Work on the last part of the construction, the right wing, took 10 months and was completed on June 19, 1954.
The Church of St. Clement came about as an offshoot of the mission work undertaken in Iloilo by Redemptorist priests belonging to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
They first came to Jaro on January 23, 1928 at the behest of Jaro Bishop Denis O’Dougherty, who later became the Cardinal of Philadelphia, and his predecessor Bishop James McCloskey.
Several years before their arrival, there had been discussions for a foundation in Jaro. Bishop O’Dougherty had known for sometime about the mission work of the Redemptorist fathers in Cebu and invited them to form a house in his diocese.
Bishop McCloskey, also aware of the Redemptorist apostolate that had already reached Oriental Negros, formalized the invitation. Negros was still part then of the Diocese and now Archdiocese of Jaro.
Parish records said McCloskey and the Vice Provincial Superior Rev. W. Byrne, simultaneously wrote to the Father General in Rome asking him to accept the Jaro foundation. The cable of acceptance arrived on October 17, 1927.
The Jaro Diocese offered all possible assistance to the Redemptorist priests: McCloskey secured them a house on Number 9, Calle E. Lopez in Jaro and even generously spent on its repair; the Padres Paules supplied altar wine and other items for their residence; the Superioress of St. Paul’s Hospital donated tables, chairs, kitchen utensils, and an alcohol stove.
The first missionaries to come to Jaro, appointed by Irish Provincial Superior Fr. John Fitzgerald, were Fathers Raymund Cleere (superior), Joe Wright, Patrick O’Connel, Joe O’Gorman, Brothers Jarlath and Charles.
Beginning January 23, 1928, the fathers occupied the house and offered mass on their first day. The altar they used was a gift from Bishop McCloskey, the very same one used in the first convent of the Carmelite sisters in the Philippines that was located in Molo.
Parochial missions were a long established thrust of the Redemptorist congregation. Its mission work from its home base in Cebu expanded to Negros Oriental, Bohol, Cebu, and even went as far as Mindanao.
The Redemptorist community in Jaro spent four months learning Ilonggo from a local teacher before embarking on their first mission in Dumangas in June 1928 upon the invitation of parish priest Fr. Vicente Militar.
Pleased with their work, he sent them to Lublub the following November and then to Pototan. Despite the heavy rains and the fact that it was rice planting season, many gathered to listen to the Redemptorist priests.
Within the apostolic community in Iloilo, in their early years, the priests helped out in the Jaro Cathedral upon the invitation of Msgr. Luis Capalla, heard confessions in Ilonggo, English, and Spanish. They also administered retreats to fellow priests, sisters, and students.
The congregation picked La Paz as the permanent site for its new foundation in the Diocese of Jaro. It decided to build its monastery in the area, signing the contract for construction on January 15, 1931. The finished structure under the advocation of St. Clement, picked because of his influence over students, was blessed by Bishop McCloskey.
The diocesan apostolate for the students of the Provincial High School and Normal College (now West Visayas State University) was continued by the Redemptorist fathers. They held regular masses for the people and later on established a Confraternity of the Holy Family as a weekly service for male students and adults in the area. The Confraternity survived for 30 years and had a weekly attendance of around 250.
With attendance growing steadily over the years, the Catholic Truth Hall was no longer an adequate venue and a decision was reached to build a permanent church.
St. Clement’s Church was inaugurated on February 23, 1941, with then Cebu Archbishop Gabriel Reyes delivering a special sermon for the occasion. The following day, a solemn mass was celebrated for benefactors, with a misa de requiem offered for those already deceased.
St. Clement’s College
Over a period of 10 years, the number of Redemptorist missions increased from 1930-1940. This was however interrupted by the advent of war in 1941.
The realities of war were brought home to the congregation in December 18 of that same year. Japanese forces began dropping bombs in Iloilo City, damaging the airfield and oil installations along the docks. They invaded Panay on April 6, 1942.
It was decided after the war to establish a Minor Seminary as a first step in the training of Filipino vocations. The superiors agreed to the proposal in October 1946 and construction of seminary was immediately started. Fr. John Ryan was Vice Provincial at the time.
The college was completed in time for school year 1949-1950 and Fr. Patrick Nulty became its first director. It became known for discipline, high academic standards, and basketball and has supplied the nucleus of the Philippine vice province/province.
Filipino priests who studied in the college included Msgr. Ramon Fruto, Bishop Ireneo Amantillo, Willie Jesena, Filomeno Suico, Emerardo Maningo, Gerry Loarca, Tommie Tancinco, and the late Fernando Yusingco, Luis Hechanova, and Rudy Romano.
A new development happened for the foundation in 1967, when it was established as the Perpetual Help Parish on Easter Sunday.
In his inauguration address during the occasion, first Jaro Archbishop Jose Ma. Cuenco said: “The more parishes in the diocese, the less chance of error among the people; the supreme law is the salvation of souls. This responsibility was brought home to me very clearly during the Second Vatican Council.”
Another apostolate of Perpetual Help Parish is the enclosed retreat movement. The first enclosed retreat was held in the convento on December 7, 1963. The new retreat house was completed in 1967.
Pavia was founded both as town and parish by Spanish authorities in 1862 and a church was built almost at the same time but of less solid material.
Fr. Policarpio Minayo, the first priest of the parish established under the advocation of Saint Monica of Africa, oversaw the construction of this church from 1862 to 1864.
Reconstruction of the Santa Monica Parish Church with the use of bricks began during the tenure of Fr. Antonio Fermentino, who served from 1882 to 1887 and then from 1889 to 1890. A stone convent was added by Fr. Calixto Fernandez in 1887.
Work on the structure continued under the term of Fr. Lazaro Ramirez from 1895 to 1899, when it was finally opened for public worship.
Unique church features
The church is of Byzantine mold, with exterior and interior walls made entirely of red bricks, according to parish records. It is the only one of its kind in the whole island of Panay.
Mass goers and visitors can still see two Greek crosses that decorate the facade today.
Unlike many Spanish-period churches of cruciform design with rectangular transept, Santa Monica’s is round and set against the rear wall.
Fr. Felix Caronongan Jr., writing about parish history in the souvenir program for its 100th founding anniversary in 1988, said the structure is unique because it combines elements of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. He added that it looks like a simpler and smaller version of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in the Iloilo town’s namesake of Pavia in Italy.
The first native priest, Fr. Mansueto Zabala, took over the parish in 1911.
Years of construction, repair
When war broke out in 1941, Japanese forces used the church as garrison and it became the subject of constant raids by Filipino guerillas resulting in the walls getting defaced.
The structure was further damaged by bombing runs of American liberation forces.
After the war, rehabilitation works were undertaken throughout the years by a succession of parish priests. Fr. Melicio Rubrico (1946-1951) repaired the main altar in 1946, Msgr. Ciceron Tumbocon (1951 to 1953) replaced the roof with salvaged galvanized iron, Fr. Vicente Declaro (1953-1958) started on four of the current 18 columns, Fr. Victor Casa (1959-1964) added new wooden benches made possible by donations, Fr. Domingo Tabifranca (1964-1967) had a new wooden altar table made so the priest could face the congregation while saying Mass (Vatican II), and Fr. Victor Piansay (1969-1977) installed steel windows and as well as new marble altar table.
Fr. Casa was also behind the building of a single level wooden rectory because the old two-story structure was already dilapidated and unsafe. Other works by Fr. Piansay included marble flooring for the main altar and cement for the whole church. He added a concrete arch in the man altar.
A new concrete two-story rectory was built under the term of Msgr. Juanito Ma. Tuvilla, who took over the parish on August 27, 1978. With subsidies sourced from West Germany, Msgr. Tuvilla also continued construction of the concrete columns in the church. Incoming priests up to the 1990s contributed their share to building the church and parish.
Solemn, festive celebrations
The Catholic Church decreed Sta. Monica’s day of honor every August 27, moving it close to the feast day of her son St. Augustine, which is every August 28.
While the Santa Monica Parish celebrates it with the usual 9-day novenario and concelebrated mass, it is without the food and funfare characteristic of traditional Philippine fiestas.
Instead, according to parish records, the revelry that marks Fiesta Day happens every May 4.
No one knows why this is so, said Fr. Caronongan. It may be because November weather is not conducive to outdoor activities or it is before the harvest time of the town’s main crop of palay and household funds are already depleted.
Whatever the reason, the townspeople continue to fulfill the spiritual aspect of St. Monica’s feast day in August 27 and conduct festive activities by May 4.
St. Anne’s Church, more popularly known as Molo Church, is one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines. It was declared a national landmark by the National Historical Institue in 1992.
The church is of Gothic Renaissance architecture and is the only Gothic church in the country outside of Manila, according to an article in The News Today published last July 24, 2007.
The newspaper wrote that the church was was constructed in 1831 under Fray Pablo Montaño and further expanded and finished by Fray Agapito Buenaflor in 1888 under the supervision of Don Jose Manuel Locsin.
The church is dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has 16 larger-than-life images of female saints arranged in two rows. These female saints are Sta. Marcela, Apolonia, Genoveva, Isabel, Felicia, Ines, Monica, Magdalena, Juliana, Lucia, Rosa de Lima, Teresa, Clara, Cecilia, Margarita and Marta.
On August 4, 1886, national hero Jose Rizal dropped at Molo on his way back to Manila from exile at Dapitan in Mindanao. He went to see his friend, Raymundo Melliza who showed him the church. In his diary, Rizal wrote, “We went to Molo to see the church painted by a lad who has left the locality. The church is pretty (iglesia bonita) outside with paintings inside mostly copies of Biblical scenes by Gustave Dore.”
During World War II, it served as evacuation center under parish priest Msgr. Manuel Alba.
One of the church’s original towers was destroyed on March 18, 1945. It was used as a machine gun nest by Japanese forces and was shelled by the Americans.
When it comes to structures built during the Spanish colonial period, the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish Church is among the more notable ones in the Philippines.
The present edifice, constructed from 1786-1797 under the supervision of Fray Francisco Gonzales Maximo, is the third built in Miagao during Spanish times and was intended not just to serve as sanctuary from pirate raids but also to withstand earthquakes and typhoons.
Its simple and massive form points to its function as fortress, while the ornate details on the facade embodies its spiritual function as the House of God, according to the book Great Churches of the Philippines co-authored by priest historians Pedro Galende and Rene Javellana.
The first church of Miagao was built in 1734, three years after it was established as town and parish, in a low-lying area called Ubos but it was burnt during the pirate raid of 1741.
The destruction of a second church constructed in 1754 by Fray Fernando Camporredondo in another raid prompted the Spanish authorities to move it to a higher elevation in Tacas Hill where it now currently stands.
Spanish colonial Baroque church
Completed in 1797, the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish Church depicts the typical “Spanish colonial Baroque style” in the Philippines.
What makes the edifice an architectural masterpiece are the features and elements uniquely its own: explosion of botanical motif on its facade, centerpiece relief of St. Christopher carrying the Child Jesus on his shoulders that dominate the pediment, massive buttresses that serve to reinforce walls that are already one and a half meters thick.
A book on “The Miagao Church” published by the National Historical Institute described it as a single-nave edifice that follows the Augustinian pattern of “church-convento-atrium.” It added that the bulk of the structure consists of “tabriya” stone blocks quarried from the mountain of Igbaras.
The book also cites the uneven configuration of the bell towers added in 1830: the left side has four tiers and low-pitched dome while the right one only has three but with a steeply conical roof that somehow balances out the whole composition.
Galende and Javellana talked about the exceptional elements on the facade, including:
A heavily drawn frieze and balusters that set the first level apart from the second as well as the integrated pediment.
Relief of overlapping palm fronds that suggest movement.
The columns flanking the arched entrance that reinforce this suggestion.
Curvilinear undulation of the facade intensified by oval and arch openings that partly eases the upward motion.
They likened the two-dimensional quality of the Miagao church reliefs to “de gajeta” or cookie cutouts, which was also how 16th century Mexican architectural reliefs were described.
A statue of the patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova, stands on an elaborately framed central niche above the arched entrance.
The church was declared a National Shrine through Presidential Decree No. 260 dated August 1, 1973. It was included in the World Heritage List in 1993, the only one in the Visayas and Mindanao.
This church dedicated to Our Lady of China developed from a lowly Quonset hut into the imposing structure you see today.
There are two beginnings to its story: in 1953, when Mexican missionary Padre Miguel Pardenas came to Iloilo for a retreat and, about a decade earlier, when the rise of atheism led to the expulsion of the Jesuits from mainland China.
Fr. Pardenas, among the Jesuit missionaries expelled from China, was pastor of the newly created personal parish for the Chinese and Chinese-Filipino Catholics in Cebu City when he came to Iloilo City in 1953 for an Ignatian retreat at Assumption.
The Mother Superior, herself Mexican, told him there was also a need to minister to the big Chinese and Chinese-Filipino population in Iloilo.
The idea to create a personal parish for the community got strong support from then Jaro Archbishop Msgr. Jose Ma. Cuenco, and Jesuit China mission superior Fr. O’Brien that same year gave the task to 39-year-old Italian missionary Fr. Guerrino Marsecano.
Marsecano was expelled from Mengkuang, China in December 1952 after four years of hard work in communal farms.
He spent a few months studying the work of Fr. Pardenas in Cebu before going to Iloilo with only 30 pesos in his pocket and with nothing arranged in advance for accommodations.
Marsecano arrived on March 1, 1953 to a warm welcome from the leaders of the Iloilo Catholic Chinese Association (ICCA) and a sizeable crowd of Chinese-Filipino Catholics.
Pope Pius XII decree
On July 5, 1953, during the Holy Mass in Assumption chapel, Msgr. Cuenco read the decree from Pope Pius XII authorizing the creation of a personal parish for Chinese and Chinese-Filipino Catholics in Iloilo City.
Fr. Marsecano became the first priest of the parish dedicated to the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary that first appeared in Donglu, China in the 1900. Although Archbishop Cuenco had given him leave to use any church in the city, Fr. Marsecano had taken to regularly using the Assumption chapel for services.
After a year of services in various churches, Fr. Marsecano and the community realized the need for the Santa Maria Parish to have its own church.
With money raised by ICCA and the Propaganda Fide, Fr. Marsecano bought a lot by the strait of Guimaras not far from the city center with two Quonset huts that housed hospital services during the Second World War and became later on as repair shops for buses.
Quonset huts for chapel, convent
One Quonset hut became the convent and the other was renovated into a chapel under the supervision of the Italian Jesuit missionary Bro. Schiatti. The new chapel was inaugurated on July 25, 1954.
With the parish growing and attendance at church services increasing, plans were made for a bigger structure as the chapel could only sit around a hundred.
Fr. Marsenaco oversaw the initial preparations for a new church but this was cut short when he was transferred to Formosa, the present Taiwan, to work among the French Canadian Jesuits in the Kuangshi district in 1956.
A French Jesuit missionary, Fr. Andre Joliet, who was pulled out of the Chinese apostolate in East Malaya, took his place. The 60-year-old priest spoke English with a heavy accent and had problems with the languages spoken by the Chinese and Ilonggos but he made up for it with his evangelizing zeal. Helping him out beginning in June of 1956 was assistant parish priest Fr. Santiago Leon, who completed a course in the Xiamen language Amoy.
First church mass
When Msgr. Juan Velasco, a Dominican bishop of Amoy and national director of the Chinese mission in the Philippines, came for a pastoral visit in November 1956, he discussed with the Parish Board and ICCA the need for a bigger and more permanent church.
This refreshed efforts to put up a new structure, estimated at 80,000 pesos, and work immediately started with the money left over from Fr. Marsecano’s tenure and donation of 25,000 pesos from Swiss Catholics. A committee chaired by Trinidad Chu organized fund-raising activities to come up with the rest of the funds.
Work on the new church was primed by a donation of 2,000 hollow blocks from the Lopez family. The building design was conceptualized by Benjamin Hilado, dean of the College of Architecture of the University of San Agustin. Construction was undertaken by Oriental Lumber.
Christmas Day of 1957 became a significant milestone for the Santa Maria Parish when it celebrated the first mass in the new church.
The Santa Maria Parish Church was solemnly blessed by Msgr. Teofilo Camomot, D.D., auxiliary bishop of Jaro, on April 27, 1958.
After five years, the Chinese-Filipino community finally had a church to call its own. With the donation of a lot and house to serve as parish rectory by Mr. and Mrs. Eduardo Lopez, the physical structure was strengthened for an evangelized and evangelizing Chinese-Filipino community in the city.
Then dean of the College of Fine Arts of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Francisco Ricardo Monti, sculpted the bas relief of Our Lady of China that dominates the facade of the church. He based his work on Chinese artist John Lu Hungnien’s drawing.
Miraculous cross replica
On the wall of the altar in the sanctuary is a cross inspired by the miraculous crucifix of Limpias in the Church of St. Peter in Santander, Spain.
Its Chinese inscription in stained glass is the work of sinologist Fr. John Wang Chang Chi. It reads: Offering-Sacrifice (above the cross beam); The world has been saved by the instrument of torture (under the cross beam, right side); and To feed your soul, you must have spiritual food (under the cross beam, left side).
The statues of the Sacred Heart and the Holy Family are also from Spain. The bell was made by the makers of America’s Liberty Bell.
Today’s Espousal of Our Lady Parish Church is a modern structure, inaugurated just at the turn of the 21st century.
But the very first church was built in the early 1900s and served the people of Mandurriao in Iloilo City until the 1940s when it was burned down by guerillas during World War II.
Parish records said Fr. Felimon Galutina ordered the creation of a temporary place of worship made out of coconut trunks bearing a nipa roof when the war ended. Mandurriao had to make do with this makeshift church for 35 years.
When Msgr. Perfecto Capalla took over as parish priest, he oversaw the construction of a more permanent structure in the 1970s. He was also behind the building of an adjacent two-storey convent and Cursillo House.
Major church renovation
A major renovation happened during the tenure of Fr. Andres Sagra from 1985-1998. The first thing he did was put up a concrete fence around the church for security purposes using funds from the 1985 May Flower Festival.
He then spearheaded fund-raising activities beginning in 1987 or 1988 for church renovation.
Bishop Fernando Capalla, Archbishop of Davao, presided over the formal launching of the church reconstruction during the patronal feast on November 26, 1989.
A building plan prepared by the late Engr. Timoteo Jusayan was fine tuned by Engr. Ermelo Porras and Architect Rolando Siendo. The final design was later approved by then Jaro Archbishop Alberto Piamonte.
Blessing and inauguration
Fr. Severino M. Montiague administered the second phase of the project when he took over the parish on September 8, 1990. This lasted from 1991-1997.
The reconstructed Espousal of Our Lady Parish Church was blessed and inaugurated in December 1997. The cost of its rebuilding amounted to around 15 million pesos.