Siquijor: A Hidden Paradizzze in the Philippines (The Final Part: The Lazi Church)

Currently, there are four churches in the Philippines, inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites: San Agustin Church inside Intramuros in Manila, Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur, and Miag-ao Church in Iloilo. Collectively, these churches are known The Baroque Churches in the Philippines. These churches possess cultural significance and influence on future architectural design in the Philippines. They display certain characteristics expressive of what is called fortress baroque: thick walls and high facades, offering protection from marauders and most importantly, from natural disasters.

This is important because the Philippines is located in the Pacific ring of fire. There are about tens of thousands of earthquakes annually in the islands. Some of these are so violent, destroying many historical structures such as historical churches in the island of Bohol, Cebu, in Luzon, and in Batanes. Surprisingly, the four churches were never harmed by any natural disasters. This is the reason why for many, these are not only culturally significant but theologically significant – they provide religious narratives to believe in miracles. The group of churches established a style of building and design that was adapted to the physical conditions in the Philippines which had an important influence on later church architecture in the region.

The four churches further exemplify the baroque style with elaborate and detailed scenes from the Scriptures/Holy Bible combined with local elements such as palm trees, carabao, karitela, or patron saints dressed in traditional clothings. Foreign influence notwithstanding, the ornaments in the facades and in the various designs of these churches also reflect Filipino aesthetics, particularly that of  horror vacui, or ‘fear of empty spaces.’

Since 2013, the national government drafted a proposal to extend the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. In the revision, Lazi Church in the island of Siquijor was cited as one of the five churches proposed to be included in the extension of World Heritage Site list.

Lazi Church is currently a National Cultural Treasure (enlisted in 2001 by the National Museum of the Philippines). In 1984, it was declared a National Historical Landmark. As a National Cultural Treasure, the Church is entered in the national cultural property of the country because of its outstanding historical, cultural, artistic, and/or scientific value.

The beautiful and massive fortress-like Lazi Church (Photo: SAPT)

The imposing facade – see the stack of bricks called tabilla, composed of coral stones. (Photo: SAPT)

Main Gate of the Lazi Church (Photo: SAPT)

Interior of the Lazi Church, the original retable still stands despite earthquakes in the Philippines. (Photo: SAPT)

The original floor of the Church (Photo: SAPT)

In the brief, Lazi Church is said to have been built by “the Augustinian Recollects in the latter half of the 19th century. The church has two pulpits, the original retablos, and wood floors with herringbone pattern. The church walls are approximately a meter thick, The walls are reinforced with log post which are embedded in the wall. The façade is veneered with coral stone, while the rest is made of fill. The pediments of the church are made of wood panels.”

The use of coral stone makes the Church very ingeniously local. Lazi Church is in the island of Siquijor, in the Central Visayan region. The Visayans are very popular for their coral stone structures. In Siquijor’s neighboring island of Bohol, popular churches such as the Baclayon and the Loboc Church (another Church included in the extension proposal of the Baroque Churches in the Philippines) were made of coral stones hewn into blocks (known as tabilla) and were stacked together using argamasa, a mixture of lime,  sand and egg whites. The same materials were used to strengthen the fortress-like structure of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Miag-ao Church in Iloilo City: tabilla composed of coral stones stacked together via a mixture of lime, sand and egg whites.

Also in the brief: “Across the church is a large convent, which was used for rest and recreation of the Friars. It is a U-shape structure, with stonewalls at the first level, and wood studs and panels at the second floor. The convent has width of about 50 meters and a depth of about 50 meters. Most of the partitions of the convent have been removed, but the design elements are seen in most parts of the structure.”

The Lazi Convent (Photo: SAPT)

The massive buttresses and in between them are arches (Photo: SAPT)

The grand staircase of the convent (Photo: SAPT)

The interior of the Lazi Convent – second floor (Photo: SAPT)

The convent stands across a 2500 square meters of land. According to many sources, the Lazi Convent was the biggest in many Hispanic colonies in the 19th century. The ground floor was created in the same way as the Lazi Church: stones made up of corals, hewn into bricks and stacked together. But unlike the Lazi Church, the exterior is composed of several arches as if entering another structure. The second floor, on the other hand, is a massive structure of beautifully stacked local hardwood, and fancied by windows made of colorful capiz shells.

The once-upon-a-time recollect-convent is now the Siquijor Heritage Museum which has collections of important church relics and paraphernalia.

In my view, the entire complex may be nominated as an independent UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nonetheless, I cannot wait to see it safeguarded and protected via the inscription to UNESCO either as part of the Baroque Churches in the Philippines or as the Lazi Church and Convent Complex.

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