Baroque Churches in the Philippines: 500 Years of Christianity (Part 2 of 3)

In an earlier post about the UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) collectively named the Baroque Churches in the Philippines, I have discussed the impact of Hispanic colonialism in Philippine culture. In particular, I was pertaining to how Catholicism influenced the everyday life of the Filipino people.

I also described how the Church through the Hispanic government pushed for forced labor in order to construct city centers, particularly the edifying church structures inspired by the baroque and gothic traditions of Europe. Many of these baroque churches today are well preserved and are still being used as places of worship. To reiterate, many of these are protected by the national government by inscribing them as either National Cultural Property or National Cultural Treasures.

I have already presented two of the four baroque churches inscribed as UNESCO WHS: San Agustin Church in Intramuros and Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur. This post is about the Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte. In the next post, I will focus on the last Philippine Baroque Church listed as a WHS: Miag-ao.

I implied in the previous entry that the remaining two churches are my favorites. This is because Paoay is so massive and enormous, and it may be used to assert the Philippines’ connection with Southeast Asia. Miag-ao, on the other hand,​ is a favorite because it is, for me, the most localized in terms of creativity (Let me elaborate this soon).

As also mentioned in the previous post, this is to continue celebrating these heritage sites and to continue the role of Catholicism in the continuous development of a Filipino heritage.

As also mentioned in the previous entry, I also intend to pay homage to the natives: the workers, the unsung​ heroes. Without them, these structures would not even be constructed.

The construction of Saint Augustine Church or more popularly known as the Paoay Church commenced in 1694 and was completed in 1710. One of the most visited destinations in Ilocos Norte, Paoay Church may be comparable to the Angkor Wat of Cambodia and the Borabadur Temple Complex in Indonesia in terms of massiveness and grandiosity.

The facade of Paoay Church and the Bell Tower (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
An obligatory pose in front of the Paoay Church (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The facade and the bell tower from another angle (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The enormous buttresses on the left side of the Church (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The buttresses on the right side; one buttress resembles a staircase (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The bell tower adjacent to the church (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The dream like accent of the garden (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

The 24 enormous buttresses on both sides of the structure, complete the magnificence of the Church. If one takes a photo in one of the 1.67 metres (5.5 ft) thick buttresses, she may even be mistaken to be standing before a temple complex from Hue in Vietnam or Java in Indonesia or Seam Reap in Cambodia.

These buttresses are believed to be the supporting structure of the church from collapsing should earthquake strike anytime in the region. The buttresses are also carved to look like huge art pieces. Some locals comment that with their design, the buttresses are often used to access the roof. On the right side of the church, there is a buttress that resembles a staircase.

According to an architect friend from the University of the Philippines Diliman, large coral stones were used to construct the lower part of the wall and red and copper bricks at the upper levels. To strengthen the structure, the laborers used a special mortar that included sand, lime, sugarcane juice, mango leaves, leather and even rice. According to my friend, these ingredients were also common in Ancient Southeast Asia. This and the resemblance of the structure with other Southeast Asian edifices prove the close link of the Philippines to the rest of the region. Besides, the architectural style of Paoay Church is Javanese.

Adjacent to the facade is the belfry or the bell tower. This three-storey tall structure was constructed separately from the church building on the right side beginning in 1793. During my visit, my impression was that the belfry resembles a pagoda, popular in Vietnam, Indonesia and even in East Asia. According to my friend, the design was also a significant link with our Austronesian ancestry and heritage. As he pointed out, our Austronesian ancestors stayed a long time in North Luzon before spreading all over the Pacific.

Some locals also narrated that the belfry served as an observational post for the revolutionaries (Katipunan) during the 1898 Philippine revolution against Spain. It was also used as an observational post against the Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. But the belfry was also once-upon-a-time used to signal the status of people engaged in the church such as weddings. According to one local, there were instances that the bells would ring more loudly (and several times) during the weddings of prominent families something that never happened if weddings were from poor families.

Another interesting feature of this complex is the garden, beautifully landscaped with sporadic spiral accents. In my view, these accents resemble surrealist art because of their depiction of fantasy and dream imagery. They are like motions or movements in a spiral direction. Nonetheless, one local eagerly mentioned that the spirals were inspired by the spirals found at the buttresses and nothing fancy about them.


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