Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish Church

Enrique Villanueva was erected as a town and parish close to 50 years after the creation of the first five parishes in the island of Siquijor.

It wasn’t part of the cluster of five parishes that were already established by 1877 under the religious administration of the Augustinian Recollects.

Formerly known as Talingting, from the species of fish that used to thrive abundantly in the area, it used to be a barrio of the Siquijor town of Cano-an that is now called Larena.

Talingting became Enrique Villanueva after the Negros Oriental governor who was instrumental in its creation as a town in 1925. The island of Siquijor was ceded to Negros Oriental from 1854 to 1892, becoming a sub-province in 1901 and independent province in 1971 by virtue of Republic Act No. 6398.

Modern construction

Enrique Villanueva doesn’t have a church that can trace its beginnings to the Spanish period. The parish, which has Our Lady of Mt. Carmel for patron, features a church of modern construction built in the early 20th century.

While it’s a fairly new structure, the church of Enrique Villanueva is one of six visited by devout Catholics as part of an island pilgrimage called Round Siquijor.

If you’re doing the pilgrimage, you are in the fifth stop of your undertaking. The chapel that houses the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is where you light the seven candles and pray your special intention.

Next stop — the St. Vincent Ferrer Parish Church in Larena — is just 20 to 30 minutes by car or public transport.

Sacred Sites Siquijor

Our Lady of the Divine Providence Parish Church

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.


San Vicente Ferrer Parish Church

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.

Tabique Pampango

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.


San Agustin de Hippo Parish Church

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.

Old belfry

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 Convent

The San Isidro Labrador Parish convent was patterned after the “balay na bato,” a residential style introduced by the Spaniards in the Philippines.

Fr. Toribio Sanchez, who took over as Lazi parish priest in 1882, laid in 1887 the cornerstone for what later became the largest convent in the country and throughout Asia.

Construction of the Lazi convent happened less than five years after its church was erected. Lazi became a parish independent from Siquijor and dedicated to San Isidro Labraror in 1857.

Typical of Spanish architecture of the period, the convent had walls of huge coral stone slabs at the first level. This gave way to hardwood panels and wood stubs in the second level.

When it was completed in 1891, it served as the summer house of Augustinian Recollects assigned in the region.

The convent measures 42 by 38 meters and houses the Siquijor Heritage Museum. Inside are religious artifacts and historical displays.

Sacred Sites Siquijor

San Isidro Labrador Parish Church

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.

Grand church

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.”

Cultural treasure

“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.”

Sacred Sites Siquijor

St. Francis of Assisi Parish Church

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.


Welcome to Siquijor

A small island ringed by bigger neighbors, Siquijor is better known for its moniker Isla del Fuego. It is also known for a group of inhabitants known locally as mangkukulam that dabble in witchcraft and the mystic arts.

Just as widely established but not as publicized is its popular standing as a religious pilgrimage destination and pilgrims regularly follow a route of church visits, candle lighting, and prayers to ask for blessings and healing or plead for intercession.

It might seem hard to imagine sorcery existing alongside piety but this small island province of highlands and caves and waterfalls and coastlines has somehow managed to find harmony in the contradictions of mysticism and religion.

Siquijor beginnings

The Spaniards called it Isla de Fuego or Island of Fire because of the reddish glow created by swarms of fireflies that used to congregate in abundance on local trees, some stories say.

It later became Isla de Siquijor, from the name of the only town in the island at the time. Siquijor, the town, still exists today and it started out as a Catholic parish like all but one municipality in the province.

The founding of Larena (Cano-an), Lazi (Tigbawan), San Juan (Macapilay), Maria (Cangmeniac), and Enrique Vilanueva (Talingting) followed throughout the years.

Siquijor was separated from Dumaguete and turned into an independent parish on Feb. 1, 1783 under the patronage of St. Francis of Assisi, the first to be established in the island. The Diocese of Cebu ministered to the parish on ecclesiastical matters but civil administration of Siquijor was done by Bohol, which already had its own governor, and later by the Province of Negros Oriental. Siqujor became a full-fledged province on September 17, 1971.

Island parishes

The second island parish, Canoan, now Larena, was established on June 14, 1836 with St. Vicente Ferrer as patron saint.

A visita or district of Siquijor called Tigbauan was declared an independent town named Lacy, records in the National Archives showed, “by virtue of a decree of Governor General Manuel Pavia y Lacy on 31 May 1854.” The separation of the parish of Lazi from Siquijor followed in 1857. Fr. Toribo Sanchez, who became Lazi parish priest in 1882, was credited with the town’s current stone church and convent.

In 1863, the parish of San Juan was founded and had Fr. Nicanor Arciniega as its first priest. One more parish, now the town of Maria, became independent from Canoan in 1877. Talingting, meanwhile, was founded as the town of Enrique Villanueva in 1925.

Round Siquijor

The churches in these six Siquijor towns are part of the circuit that makes up the Round Siquijor pilgrimage.

Pilgrims go on Round Siquijor for various reasons, among them for thanksgiving or pray for blessings and healing, or to ask for intercession.

First stop
St. Francis of Assisi Parish Church

Many pilgrims start the round in the St. Francis of Assisi Parish Church, also known as Siquijor Church.

Devotees light seven candles just near the church where a chapel houses the image of St. Francis of Assisi, the town’s patron.

Prayers that accompany the lighting of the candles:
Patron Saint prayer
The pilgrim’s special intention

The Siquijor church is plain and functional and its style may have been inspired by the simplicity of its patron.

Second stop
St. Augustine of Hippo Parish Church (San Juan town)

San Juan is 10 kilometers away or 15-20 minutes by car from Siquijor town via circumferential road. The Spanish friars who named the town may have been reminded of the life and times of St. John the Baptist when they named the town of San Juan.

The fully renovated church, which overlooks a clear spring, still has its old coral stone belfry.

Devotees light another seven candles at a spot beneath the shade of a huge tree.

Prayers that accompany the lighting of the candles:
Patron Saint prayer
The pilgrim’s special intention

Third stop
San Isidro Labrador Parish Church (Lazi town)

Dedicated to the patronage of San Isidro Labrador, the town of Lazi has a grand church and an even grander convent.

Historian Fr. Pedro Galende describes the town’s stone church as magnificent and noted such design rarities as the triangular pediment made of wood instead of coral blocks and floorwork with herringbone pattern.

Candle-lighting is done at a spot by the sprawling convent patterned after the balay-na-bato, a building style introduced by the Spaniards. Pilgrims light another seven candles here.

They also say the:
Patron Saint prayer
Prayer for special intention

It takes around 30 minutes to reach Lazi from San Juan still following the circumferential road.

Fourth stop
Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish Church (Maria town)

The town of Maria where the church of Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish is located makes up the fourth stop in the Round Siquijor pilgrimage. From Lazi, Maria is only 12 kilometers away or about a 20-minute drive.

A mission of Spanish priests and laymen from neighboring islands went around spreading the faith in Siquijor, converting first the town that’s also named Siquijor, then Larena and Lazi, before doubling back to a settlement that later grew into what is now Maria.

The church in Maria is built on a plateau that is around 15 kilometers above sea level and the irregular terrain may have been a contributing factor to its conservation.

Devotees light their seven candles near the main church entrance. It houses an image of town patron, the Virgin Mother of Divine Providence.

With the lighting of the candles, they solemnly recite the:
Patron Saint prayer
Prayer for special intention

From Maria, pilgrims proceed to Enrique Villanueva.

Fifth stop
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish Church (Enrique Villanueva town)

Locals named the place Talinting after a kind of birds that made it their home. It was part of Cano-an, which later became the parish and town of Larena. After many years had passed, Talingting was also established as a town named after the late Governor Enrique Villanueva on January 1, 1925.

Enrique Villanueva, dedicated to the patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, is the fifth stop in the Round Siquijor pilgrimage.

As they light seven candles at a chapel that houses the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, devotees also say the following:
Patron Saint prayer
Prayer for special intention

The townspeople of Enrique Villanueva are mostly into farming and fishing.

Sixth stop
St. Vincent Ferrer Parish Church (Larena town)

Less than 10 kilometers away from Enrique Villanueva is the St. Vincent Ferrer Parish Church, the final stop in the religious undertaking that is Round Siquijor.

Larena is located on a hilly perch that has a clear view of the neighboring islands of Dumaguete, Bohol, and Cebu. Called Cano-an at one time, it was renamed after the late Gov. Demetrio Larena.

The St. Vincent Ferrer Parish Church is a modern structure. Devotees light their final seven candles and say their prayers before an image of the town’s patron saint.

The same prayers are said as candles are lighted:
Patron Saint prayer
Prayer for special intention