Around a decade after it was established as a town separate from Dumaguete in 1837, Bacong became a parish dedicated to St. Augustine of Hippo.

Christianity, however, was introduced in Bacong centuries before by Spanish Augustinian friars back when it was known as Marabago and administered as part of Tanjay Parish.

Marabago was located in the interior highlands seven kilometers away from the current location of the town. Lured by the bounty of the sea, the people moved down to settle along the coastal plains.

When Bacong became a parish in 1849, Augustinian Recollects in charge of the community started the construction of the stone church that exists today and completed it in 1883.

Bacong etched its name in history as the birthplace of that legendary revolutionary Pantaleon Villegas, also widely known by the nom de guerre Leon Kilat. His monument can be found in the town plaza just beside the church.

Style rarities

The St. Augustine of Hippo Parish Church features a few differences from the usual building style of the period. Portions of the church and even the convento are made of bricks, a departure from the usual coral stone blocks used in similar structures throughout the country.

In places where coral stone was used, and it’s very noticeable in the church belfry, the builders used L-shape masonry. This technique and the bell tower’s caracol-type stairs are unique among Philippine churches.

Church historian Fr. Pedro Gallende, in his 2007 book on Philippine church facades, also took note of the finely cut stonework of the bell tower and its material that wasn’t of the “ordinary white coralline type.”

Study in contrasts

According to Galende, “The tower and the church facade are a study in contrasts: the tower with the charm of bare masonry work and the church with the smooth plaster finish.”

He also described as outstanding the use of the painted friezes in the main altar, considered the oldest in the region.

The church in Bacong, declared a national cultural treasure in 1972, also houses the oldest and one of the few remaining pipe organs in the Philippines. It was purchased from the organ-building family of Roques Hermanos Constructores in Zaragosa owned by brothers Juan and Manuel. Made in Spain, the instrument was shipped to Bacong and installed in 1894.