Pampanga Colonial Churches; Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical (Part 1 of 2)

I am Kapampangan and I am proud of my heritage.

Most of the time, many Filipinos associate Kapampangan heritage with food. One of the most articulated cultural stereotype (in a positive sense) of a Kapampangan is her skills in cooking (hmmmm, Atching Lilian embodied!). This is also the reason why Pampanga is commonly associated as the food paradise of the Philippines. My friends, for instance, always think of good food every time I take a visit to my hometown. Their common requests: “please bring me tocino (in Pampanga, we call it pindang, sweet-cured meat, commonly pork)” or “sisig (a pork dish), from Aling Lucing (a famous restaurant in Angeles City)” or “don’t forget my LA Bakeshop (a popular bakeshop famous for their cheese bread and Spanish bread),” etcetera, etcetera!

While I am inclined to say, “yes this is true” (yeah, I am proud to say, my mother cooks well and I can say I learned from the best! hahaha); it is, however should not be treated as the end all of being Kapampangan. It must not also be the only reason for tourists and visitors to go to Pampanga.

I was a seminarian from the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary in the City of San Fernando. A few of my memorable experiences in the seminary were the visits to many baroque (and rococo and neo-classical) churches in the province. From the oldest to the youngest, largest to the smallest – these churches are all grand!

One reason why Pampanga must be included in the bucket list because it is home to beautiful baroque and rococo churches including the second oldest church in the country, San Agustin Church in Lubao, Pampanga and the Sistine-like-church Saint James the Apostle Parish Church.

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The facade of San Agustin Church in Lubao, Pampanga (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)
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Inside San Agustin Parish Church (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)
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The almost 500 year-old retablo of San Agustin Church (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)

San Agustin Church is a 17th-century neo-classic, Spanish stone and brick church located at Brgy. San Nicolas I in Lubao.

In 1952, the then Historical Committee of the Philippines installed a historical marker bearing a brief history of the structure on its facade. The inscription reads: “Founded in 1572 in Barrio Santa Catalina. Moved to this site thirty years later due to yearly floods. Architect Fr. Antonio Herrera, Augustinian, constructed this church, 1614-1630, out of locally-made brick and sand mixed in egg albumen contributed by the people of Lubao. Occupied 1898 by the Revolutionists. Used as hospital 1899 by American Forces. Destroyed 1942 by Japanese shelling. Repaired 1949-1952, under the direction of Fr. Melencio Garcia and other priests.”

In 2013, the National Museum of the Philippines declared the Church as an Important Cultural Property.

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The facade of the Betis Church (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)
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The retablo of the Betis Church (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)
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The ceiling paintings at the Betis Church (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)

St. James, the Apostle Parish Church. An 8.9 kilometers north of Lubao is another popular Pampangan church: the St. James, the Apostle Parish Church (Betis Church), a Baroque style church located in Betis, Guagua. Established in 1607 and dedicated to Saint James, the Apostle, the National Museum of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts declared the church a National Cultural Treasure in 2005.

The main attraction of the church: the original ceiling paintings and murals by  Simón Flores (1839–1904). Not to be missed are his original painting of the Holy Family.

Many Kapampangans also identify the church as the Sistine Chapel of the Philippines because of the elaborate and detailed mural and ceiling paintings.

Victor Ramos (+) repainted almost 80% of the ceiling paintings and murals, which most present-day annotators (and bloggers) identify as Simon Flores originals. Victor Ramos worked hand-in-hand with Daning Henson in the 1980’s, commissioned by the Betis Fiesta Committee under Emias Roque’s leadership.

In 2008, Marilou Diaz-Abaya (+) shot many of the church scenes of her box-office hit and critically-successful movie Rizal in this church.

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The current facade of San Guillermo Parish Church; half of the facade was covered by lahar in 1995 (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)
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Inside San Guillermo Parish Church (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)

The San Guillermo Parish Church. A baroque and rococo-inspired church in Bacolor, Pampanga, San Guillermo Parish Church’s original foundation was laid on the ground in 1576.

In 1886, a strong earthquake destroyed the church. Through the financial support of Don Guillermo Manabat, a new church was built by Fr. Manuel Diaz in 1897.

The main retablo, side retablos and the grand pulpit are covered thinly with gold leaf.

On 1 October 1995, lahar from Mount Pinatubo (which erupted in 1991) devastated many towns in Pampanga, including Bacolor. The church is one of the many national treasures that was destroyed by the raging mudflow. About 65% of the structure was covered with lahar. Despite the lahar, the structure was still used as a “place of worship.”

San Guillermo Church was also used as the primary set of the television drama series May Bukas Pa in 2009 to 2010.

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The facade of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, Pampanga (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)
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The figure of Our Lady of Assumption inside the Metropolitan Cathedrdal of San Fernando (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)

Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando was formerly called the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. The cathedral was built in 1755 by the Augustinian friars through the leadership of Fray Sebastian Moreno. Sooner, it was transferred to the secular (diocesan) priests, which paved the way for its completion in 1808.

The original structure of the church was made of wood. This is the reason why the church was burned to the ground in 1899 when General Antonio Luna ordered the Philippine Revolutionary Army to burn it. The reason behind it: I will get back to you as soon as I have the details.

Today, the Cathedral is home to flagellant-pilgrims (a group of men who perform self-mortification as a sacrificial vow) during the maleldo (Holy Week).

Also, the cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, home to the Archbishop, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the province.

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The facade of the Holy Rosary Parish (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)
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Facade of the Holy Rosary Parish taken from the second storey of the Old City Hall (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)
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The retablo of the Holy Rosary Parish (Photo: Loyd Jayril Pineda Tiatco)

The Holy Rosary Parish in Angeles City is called “Pisambang Maragul” by the locals and was completed in April 1886.

The church location had a dark history: the backyard of the church (where a shopping mall now currently stands) was an execution ground of the Spanish soldiers against suspected rebels. At the turn of the 20th century, the US Army used the church as a military hospital.

According to an altar-boy friend of the church, the belfry was destroyed during World War II but was immediately rehabilitated.

Like any other Catholic churches in Pampanga, or elsewhere in the archipelago, Pisambang Maragul is located in front of the old city hall, now a heritage museum. The local government and the church’s official worked hand-in-hand in the rehabilitation of the vicinity of the church and the old city hall. A section of Santo Rosario Street and Santo Entierro Street were dressed with cobblestones to reconstruct the colonial era. A section of Sto. Rosario street is now exclusively a pedestrian lane. Some of the original buildings along Sto. Entierro Street were reconstructed. The entire area is now identified as the heritage area of Angeles City.

Other Pampangan churches that will be discussed in a later post include the Apung Mamacalulu Shrine (The Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lord of the Holy Sepulchre); San Luis Gonzaga Parish Church; Santa Ana Parish Church; and the San Pedro Apostol Parish Church.

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