Santa Monica Parish Church

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.


Molo Church

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.

MOLO FIESTA. An undated photo of a fiesta celebration in front of the Molo Church.
MOLO FIESTA. An undated photo of a fiesta celebration in front of the Molo Church.

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.”

A composite of images of Molo Church and plaza taken in the early 1900s.
A composite of images of Molo Church and plaza taken in the early 1900s.

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.


St. Thomas of Villanova Parish Church

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.

Facade embellishments

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.


Santa Maria Parish Church

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.

Parish beginnings

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.

Solemn blessing

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.


Espousal of Our Lady Parish Church

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.


Jaro Cathedral

Among the most illustrious in Iloilo City is the heritage district of Jaro. This is the home of the national hero Graciano Lopez y Jaena. The district pays him tribute through the numerous streets and buildings named after him and statues built in his honor.

The Jaro Cathedral is the seat of Catholicism in Western Visayas and is the center for devotion to the Our Lady of the Candles. The stairs on the cathedral’s facade leads to a shrine of the Our Lady of the Candles above the main entrance of the church.

This photo reportedly taken in about 1889 shows the Jaro Cathedral and belfry with a bamboo replica of the Eiffel Tower, the icon of modernity in its times. Note the absence of the two church towers that were added much later.
This photo reportedly taken in about 1889 shows the Jaro Cathedral and belfry with a bamboo replica of the Eiffel Tower, the icon of modernity in its times. Note the absence of the two church towers that were added much later.

What’s distinctive about the church is that it’s bell tower is located across the street, near Jaro Plaza. While belfries are typically built next to their churches, the Jaro bell tower was built away from the church because the area is prone to earthquakes.

The cathedral was built in 1874 but was damaged by an earthquake in January 1948. It was repaired in 1956 by the first Archbishop of Jaro, Jose Maria Cuenco.

The Archdiocese of Jaro is one of the oldest dioceses in the country, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines website.

“It was created a diocese by virtue of a papal bull of Pope Pius IX on May 27, 1865, according to a document signed by Archbishop Gregorio Martinez, then Archbishop of Manila, under whole ecclesiastical province the new diocese belonged as suffragan,” the site said.

Its fiesta every February 2 is marked with pageantry, gastronomy and cockfighting.

A gift shop is found beside the church and blessed candles are always a good buy – for pasalubong or personal use.

A street separates the church from its belfry, which is built high so it can be seen almost all throughout Iloilo City.


Welcome to Samboan

As one of the few towns located at the southernmost tip of Cebu, Samboan is an unspoiled gem of natural wonders and ancient stone monuments.

It is home to rivers, springs, waterfalls, caves and clean coastlines as well as structures that are hundreds of years old and bear silent witness to Samboan’s early years.

The town center is perched atop hill and forms a landscape that offers a panoramic view of the Tañon Strait and neighboring islands like Negros.

Town officials explain the name Samboan as coming from “sinamboang,” a method of fishing once commonly used by local fishers.

The story goes that during the early Spanish period years, the Spaniards who were the first to reach the town asked a fisherman for the name of the place. The fisherman, who didn’t understand a word of Spanish, thought they wanted to know what he was doing and so he answered “sinamboang.”

For reasons of simplicity and brevity, the name was shortened to Samboang which later on became Samboan.


Located shorly before the very tip of the island, Samboan is one of the oldest towns in Cebu.

Historical accounts state the town was spotted by combatants of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi while they were doing reconnaissance of the island from March 15 to April 22, 1565, during the first few months of their arrival in Cebu.

The tranquil place started out as the Encomienda Canamucan and became one of the visitas of the Parroquia de Barili de Santa Ana (parish of Barili) in the 1600s. As a visita, it was under the jurisdiction of the parish priest of Barili who made scheduled visits to hold masses and other religious activities.

Samboan was made an independent parish on November 3, 1784 under the patronage of San Miguel Arcangel (St. Michael Archangel), with Ginatilan, Malabuyoc and Alegria under its territorial jurisdiction. Its first parish priest was Romualdo Avila, a Franciscano Decalzo.

One of the priests that came after him was the great Fray Melchor de Vera, a Jesuit priest that was credited with having built the Spanish fortifications that served as protection against pirate raids.

People’s paradise

Life in Samboan, which is 140 kilometers or four hours of travel by bus from the central city of Cebu, is rustic and simple.

The town has progressed with the times while preserving the old ways, evidenced by the extant centuries-old structures and collection of rare items that offer glimpses into Samboan’s distant past.

People still live on the bounties of the water and the soil.

They seek to preserve the seas that provide them with an abundant catch by creating marine sanctuaries and the land that yield a plentiful harvest by keeping the forests untouched and the waterways clean.

As a result, they’ve created a people’s paradise for everyone to enjoy, in the form of unspoiled waterfalls, rivers, and seas.

Quick facts

Classification: 5th class municipality
Population: 18,140 (2010 census)
Land Area: 4,500 hectares
No. of barangays: 15: Barangays Basak Bonbon, Bulangsuran, Calatagan, Cambigong, Camburoy, Cañorong, Colase, Dalahikan, Jumangpas, Monteverde, Poblacion, San Sebastian, Suba and Tangbo
Distance from Cebu City: 140 km, southwest of Cebu City
Estimated time of arrival from Cebu: 4 hours via public transport
Means of transportation from Cebu: Bus
Livelihood: Farming and fishing


Campanario de Antigua

A painstaking restoration of the original watchtower, the Campanario de Antigua in Samboan formed part of a series of fortifications in southern Cebu aimed at providing coastal settlements early warning of pirate raids during the Spanish colonial era.

The watchtower in Samboan is located over 200 feet above sea level.

When it was constructed in 1878 under the supervision of then parish priest Toribio Gerzon, coral stone slabs were used for its foundation and walls and terracotta tiles for the roof.

It was built on a plateau that was the nucleus of the Spanish settlement in Samboan beginning in the 17th century.

Now the location of the town center, the flat hilltop also hosts the Municipal Hall and other local government buildings, St. Michael Archangel Church and belltower, Samboan Museum, and a small picturesque plaza.

A series of stone steps hand-carved on the side of the hill connects the coastal area with the plateau.

Called the Escala de Jacob or Jacob’s Ladder, the staircase ends at the foot of the watchtower. Before the coastal road that snakes around the island of Cebu was built, the steps reached as far down as the shore.

Samboan’s Campanario de Antigua faces the Tañon Strait. A 1970 photo of the watchtower owned by the Filipinas Heritage Library showed the structure to be in ruins, without a roof and with only one side of the square base and the two pillars remaining.

The three-storey Samboan watchtower has been restored to its former glory, with stone walls, sturdier flooring and steps leading to the two higher levels, and wooden railings.

Visitors may go up to the watchtower’s third level for a breathtaking vista of the town center, sea, and neighboring islands.


Escala de Jacob

This flight of steps in Samboan that goes all the way down to the coastal highway is called Jacob’s Ladder or Escala de Jacob.

It was named after Jacob, the biblical ancestor of the 12 tribes of Israel who in his dream saw a ladder extending all the way from earth to heaven, explained the Filipinas Heritage Library.

Before the coastal highway that snakes around the island of Cebu was constructed, the steps that ascend up to the town center, which is located on a plateau over 200 feet high, began on the seashore. A portion of the stairway was demolished to make way for the coastal road.

Built in 1878 upon the instruction of then parish priest Fr. Toribio Gerzon, the hand-carved staircase of flat stones and lime was intended to make it easier for parishioners in the low-lying areas to attend mass.

Like any Spanish settlement in the Philippines, the central complex was where all the important buildings were located. In the case of the Philippine pueblos, the blueprint was for the settlement center to host the church, rectory, municipal hall, and plaza.

In the case of Samboan, the St. Michael Archangel Parish Church was built atop the plateau and best accessed from the lowlands through the Escala de Jacob.

The staircase, now made up of 147 steps, immediately ends at the town’s three-storey Campanario de Antigua (Ancient Watchtower).


Museo de Samboan

For its cultural treasures and heritage memorabilia, Samboan finds a fitting repository in what used to be the town’s old municipal hall.

The Museo de Samboan was inaugurated during the town’s fiesta celebration in 2010. It displays stoneware and pottery, wooden implements and tools, celadons, and religious artifacts.

Some of the relics exhibited – such as Chinese pottery – date back to even before the Spanish colonial period.

Paintings of local artists like Benji Goyha, John Dinglasa, Mimitz Carredo, Lito Nellas, and Roel Fisalbon are also displayed in several galleries.

Another feature of the museum are wooden handicrafts fashioned in the workshop of French exporter Fabrice Desvaux. These were created by native craftsmen.

Prior to its conversion as the town’s two-storey museum, the building was used for a time as the municipal jail and a storage facility by an electric cooperative.

The town ceased using it as a Municipal Hall when the new one beside it was completed.

Prior to its conversion as a two-storey museum, the building had to be stripped of its cement finishing to reveal the original coral stone block walls underneath.