A mission of Spanish priests and laymen arrived in Siquijor from neighboring islands in 1790 and set about christianizing the inhabitants.
They went from one community to another and came upon a place that surprised them for its abundance of molawin and other local hardwood trees.
It was occupied by a settlement of Boholanos that was hostile at first but gradually accepted them. They built a temporary chapel for the sacraments and it remained that way from 1868 to its founding as a parish.
When the community’s population had grown enough to merit the attention of the Diocese of Dumaguete, it was established as a parish on the feast day of the Virgin Mother of Divine Province in 1877.
They named the place Maria and dedicated the parish to the patronage of Our Lady of Divine Providence.
When Maria was still part of Cano-an (now Larena), Cano-an parish priest Fr. Timoteo Gonzalo already laid in 1859 the groundwork for the construction of a church.
Maria’s first parish priest was Fr. Ramon Cavas but it was Fr. Pedro Corro, who served beginning in 1894, that was responsible for the construction of the stone edifice that exists today.
Fr. Ramon Alegria was credited with completing the Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish Church. He also built a new convent.
Known today as Larena, this town in the Province of Siquijor was once named Cano-an and it became a separate parish back in the early 19th century.
Since it was the religious order that started administering to communities in the early part of the Spanish colonization around the mid 16th century, many towns started out as parishes.
This was also the case of Larena, which was erected into a full parish dedicated to San Vicente Ferrer on June 14, 1836 after being a visita of Siquijor for some time. A visita is a place visited by a priest from the parish it is attached to for the obligatory religious observances.
The town of Cano-an got its current name after the late governor of the Province of Negros Oriental, Demetrio Larena.
Once, Larena had a church that dated back to the Spanish period. Church historian Felipe Redondo, in a book published in 1886, described it as one of the churches in the Visayas made of tabique and with a nipa roof.
The tabique Pampango was the ancient Philippine version of wattle and daub construction. It was made by raising vertical pieces of wood interspersed with horizontal ones, while split bamboo is woven in the empty spaces between. Over these is laid a mortar from lime and sand. Tabique is a Spanish term that comes from the Arabic tashbik or wall and was first popularized in Pampanga.
Today’s Larena Church is of modern construction, with only the stone belfry a few meters serving as link to its distant past. Inside the church are beautiful murals on the Last Supper and stations of the cross.
The Church of San Vicente Ferrer is your last top in the Round Siquijor Pilgrimage.
Perhaps the clear water that springs from beneath a huge rock and flows to form an aquamarine pool before rushing off to sea reminded the Spanish friars of the life and times of St. John the Baptist and led them to name this place northeast of Siquijor island as San Juan.
Long before it was organized as town and parish at the same time by virtue of the Acta del Año 1863, the community was already called San Juan.
Hence, the choice of San Augustin de Hippo as patron over the more logical St. John is also a bit confusing. It might be due to St. Augustine’s standing as “holiest among wise men and wisest among saints” or because the first San Juan parish priest, Fr. Nicanor Araniega, was an Augustinian but — whatever the reason — the town celebrates its traditional fiesta every August 28.
Fr. Ramon Eraso replaced Fr. Araniega as parish priest in 1864 and he began construction of the town church and convent. The opening of a four-kilometer road to the north and another 13-kilometer stretch to the south was also credited to him.
The St. Augustine de Hippo Church has undergone full renovation and the only evidence left of the old stone structure is the belfry.
It is however among the six churches visited by pilgrims who go on a Round Siquijor pilgrimage.
Village of Macapilay
Before it was even called San Juan, the community went by the name Macapilay. Folklore says Capilay was the name of the ruler of the village when the Spaniards first arrived in Siquijor island. He and his wife were said to be the first to seek baptism.
Its establishment into San Juan town and parish in 1863 concluded negotiations between the gobernadorcillos of Siquijor and Lazi. Don Francisco Ortiz represented the politico-military Governor of Cebu Don Miguel Creus y Campos and acted as moderator.
Worded in Castilan, the Acta del Año 1863 delineated the present territorial boundaries of San Juan. It was signed by the concerned parties on Oct. 24, 1863 and ratified by Governor Creus on November 6 that same year.
Lazi started out as a visita that was regularly visited by priests based in the parish of Siquijor.
Augustinian Recollects, who administered the island beginning in 1794, would come to Lazi and hold masses in a makeshift structure of nipa and bamboo that served as chapel.
When its population reached over 7,000 in 1857, Lazi was created as the San Isidro Labrador Parish and Fr. Victor Garcia assigned as its priest.
The first church was erected in 1858 but the current stone structure that still stands today was made possible through the efforts of parish priest Fr. Toribio Sanchez who began his term in 1882. It was thanks to him that Lazi has the best church and convent in the island.
Records said the Lazi Church was completed in 1884, a record time of a few years after Fr. Sanchez became parish priest. He started work on the church as soon as he took over and was able to immediately build the nave, part of the transept on the side of the “Epistola”, and the bell tower.
Historian Fr. Pedro Galende described the Lazi Church as “grandly conceived” in a book published in 2007.
He only had praises for the church’s wooden floorwork with its herringbone pattern, calling it “magnificent” and “among the best in the country.”
“The barn-like facade is a study in simplicity. The only references to elaboration are fluted rectangular pilasters that stand out in low relief, plain cornices that run through the wall expanse, and the saint’s niche flanked by small circular columns above the arched main portal,” he wrote in his book “Philippine church facades” to describe the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church.
While most of the church walls were fashioned from cut coral blocks, the triangular pediment was created using wood. The three-tiered belfry has a rectangular base while the upper layers are octagonal, featuring arched windows on each side. A cross sits atop its domed roof.
In 1972, the church was declared a “national cultural treasure.”
Siquijor was established on Feb. 1, 1783 and was the first and only parish in the island for more than 50 years.
Dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi for his love of nature, which the island has in abundance, the parish was administered by secular clerics until the Augustinian Recollects took over in 1794.
The choice of St. Francis as parish patron saint may have also inspired the appearance of the Siquijor stone church.
Simplicity of St. Francis
Started by cleric peninsular Fr. Setien in 1793 and continued by first Siquijor parish priest Fr. Alonso Delos Dolores, the St. Francis of Assisi Church may have been planned without adherence to a period historical style to reflect the simplicity inspired by its patron.
In his book published in 2007, church historian Fr. Pedro Galende describes its exterior as “plain and unpretentious” that “has one smooth wall built of coral blocks.”
Church of stone
When it was first put up, the church was just a simple nipa structure. Fr. Setien started the initial work to erect a stone edifice, a task that Fr. Dolores continued from 1795-1831.
The church was built using mostly limestone materials. Just a few meters away is the belfry that was added in 1891.
Historians believe the tower also served as lookout, from where the people of Siquijor first received warning of island intruders and other dangers.
In 2006, the Siquijor Church underwent repairs and renovation. The project was intended to preserve the grandeur of the church for generations to come.
Sibonga was originally a visita of Carcar starting in 1690. It was later annexed to Argao until it became a parish in 1830.
Sibonga’s first church was made of light materials. It was replaced by the present church of coral stones and bricks. Its construction was started by Fr. Juan Alonzo, who was the parish priest from 1868 to 1881. Work on the church continued until the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in 1898. Construction continued until it was finished in 1907.
Its blessing was attended by a distinguished group of prelates including Archbishop Jeremias Harty of Manula and Bishop Thomas Hendrick of Cebu. They were accompanied by several priests from Cebu City, including Fr. Juan Gorordo, who would later return to Sibonga as the first Cebuano and Filipino bishop of Cebu.
The church’s ceiling painting was done in 1924 by Raymundo Francia, who employed a method called quadrature, a type of ceiling painting popular during the Baroque period. He painted fictitious architectural details like ceiling ribs meeting curved walls on flat surface, giving 3D illusions. The grandest feature is the seven-panel painting of the creation of the world by God.