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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte » Architectural Heresy and Our Obsession with Heritage

I had already poked my head into enough elegant churches in Bohol and other old towns in the Philippines but I should not miss Paoay Church, although I used to think all Spanish-era churches in the Philippines are alike. San Agustin Church in Ilocos Norte, popularly known as Paoay Church is definitely unique.  

The uniqueness of this church lies in the unceasing nature of its struggles against time and the history it depicts, in its dramatic architecture and the mysterious heresy hidden within its elaborate brick design.
 
I approached the church from a nearby dry and impotent brick fountain, excited like a virgin bride walking at the long patio decorated by white bougainvilleas at each side. Waiting for me at the other end is the pyramidal and deliberately flat church façade like an unlit altar, gray yet graceful against Ilocandia’s arid air. Above me are dark clouds stripped of its silver lining, painted like the church’s high frescoes, tragic like the life of Judas.

View of Paoay Church from the fountain
But halfway through the patio, I heard it. This church is whispering heresies of the past. Its fourteen buttresses are like old papyrus, documenting the fusion of the conquistadores and the pagans.

Sic transit gloria mundi,” thus passes the glory of the world, wrote the monk Thomas à Kempis. The survival of churches through time, architecturally and historically, is a subject matter for the architects and historians. My reaction or theory about this specific church, about it being architecturally heretic is mine alone. But let me expound.

Paoay Church history


The Official Marker: WORLD HERITAGE SITE, Church of San Agustin Paoay Ilocos Norte. One of the four Baroque Churches of the Philippines inscribed in 1993 on the World Heritage List pursuant to the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The Church of San Agustin possesses exceptional universal value the deserves protection for the benefit of humanity. 
Paoay Church is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, under the Philippines four Barqoue Churches collection composed of San Agustin Church in Manila, Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur and Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church in Miag-ao, Iloilo. It is currently a property of the Diocese of Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

Church main altar and roof under renovation
According to the official historical marker at the entrance of the church, the parish was founded by Augustinian missionaries in 1593, cornerstone of church laid 1704; of convent, 1707; of tower, 1793. It was used before completion and kept in repair by the people under joint auspices of the Church and the town officials. An inauguration ceremony was held 28 February 1896.

The bell tower
It was damaged by earthquake in 1706 and 1927. Katipuneros used its tower as observation post during the Revolution and by Guerilleros during the Japanese occupation in World War II.    

The massive coral stone bell tower, which was added half a century after the church was completed, stands at some distance from the church, again as a protection against damage during earthquakes.
According to historians, the bell tower also served as a status symbol for the locals. The bell would ring more loudly and more times during the wedding of a prominent clan that it would during the wedding of the poor.

Earthquake Baroque

As reported by Jorge Gazaneo of ICOMOS, “Philippine church is a completed example of one are peiod, but a living document of how time and context have left traces on the early founding intentions of the original designer-builder… on the cross roads of different cultures – Malay, Chinese, European, American, Mexico-Peru – the architecture and art of the Philippines should be valued on standards different from those developed by European Scholars…Unity and authenticity are difficult to be expected in theis part of the world, a violent frontier knowing the ravages of war, heavy typhoons and repeated violent earthquake destruction.”

Paoay Church is the most outstanding example in the Philippines of 'Earthquake Baroque' due to its unique combination of Gothic and Oriental designs. Its façade reveals Gothic designs, its gables show Chinese elements, while the niches topping the walls suggest Javanese influence like the towers of the famous Boroboudur Temple in Central Java, Indonesia. It is interesting to note that the town of Paoay is called "Bombay" in early documents, in keeping with the legend that the earliest inhabitants came from India.

Javanese influence on the Church's buttresses like the towers of the famous Boroboudur Temple in Central Java, Indonesia.
It has fourteen buttresses ranged along the lines of a giant volute supporting a smaller one and surmounted by pyramidal finials. Its details are inspired by the seal of Saint Agustine, the emblem of the king of Spain, the logo of the Pope, the “init-tao” or the sun god, and stylized Chinese clouds.

Fusion of the obvious

Because of its difficult terrain, arid temperature and threat of earthquakes, Ilocos was once described as a “God-forsaken land” and it is said that you have to have the “patience of a spider” in order to survive it. But Ilocanos, hardy people that they are, not only survived in this formidable land but were able to turn this highland country into “God’s own paradise”.

It is but fitting that they dedicate their church to St. Augustine. Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis (St. Augustine), the philosopher, spoke with mechanical fluency when he proved in his book “The City of God [against the Pagans] (Book III)]” that external and bodily disasters including moral and spiritual calamities are happening to the Romans; and that even when the false gods were worshipped without a rival, before the advent of Christ, they afforded no relief from such calamities.

 
Naturally, they build Paoay Church to withstand and defy acts of God. The Augustinians forced the naturally-born pagans to build this church. But these converts have their own memory and obsession with heritage, beliefs and superstitions, thus the Javanese, Chinese and Oriental influences in the design. 

Until now, the picturesque front garden of the San Agustin Church is being used for rituals known as the Guling-guling festival, an annual festivity that signifies the last day of merrymaking before the Catholic community's observance of the Lenten Season. There are those who conjecture that there is probably a pagan underpinning to the practice, similar to Valentine’s Day; the tradition that places the birth of Jesus in late December, the darkest time of the year; and the timing for Easter right after the vernal equinox. 

Paoay Church is truly the fusion of Catholicism and the pagans.


Final Note

New developments are under way for Paoay Church aside from restoration, which aims to make the province of Ilocos Norte the country’s “northern gateway.” To generate more tourist activities, the provincial government of Ilocos Norte announced a plan to put up a commercial arcade, which would feature the town’s unique products along a stretch of the road lining the Paoay Church.

Aesthetically, I don’t know if these commercial establishments will do any good, so you have to visit Paoay before it becomes a commercial-church. 


We, Filipinos are always trying to find what old memories look like… our obsession with heritage is always there, searching within the artificial and re-engineered versions created by our invaders.

Paoay Church does renders Ilocandia as forever enchanting and continues to make its visitors have a taste of past life back in times like in the decade when it was first completed.
 

Back in the days, when Filipinos are born pagans.


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HERE ARE THE DETAILED POSTS ABOUT OUR  Ilocandia Time Travel


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References and Citations:
» Wikipedia Entry “Paoay Church” [Retrieved: 05 September 2011]
» UNESCO Advisory Body Evaluation. Baroque Churches of the Philippines [Retrieved: 05 September 2011]
» Patrimonium-mundi.org : Paoay Church panophotographies - immersive and interactive spherical images
» St. Augustine. Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis.  “De Civitate Dei contra Paganos [Concerning the] The City of God [against the Pagans] (Book III)]” Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
» Boredpanda.com “50 Most Extraordinary Churches of the World
» De Jesus, Noel F. Manila Bulletin “Charms of the Old World” Posted: June 5, 2011, 10:58am [Retrieved: 05 September 2011]
» The Philippine Star. “Guling Guling of Paoay: Truly a galing galing festivity!” Updated March 06, 2011 12:00 AM [Retrieved: 05 September 2011]
» Rene Guatlo “Paoay sways to Guling Guling” Inquirer Lifestyle. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 03/15/2009.
» CBCP News “300-year old Paoay Church to get facelift” Posted: March 15, 2011
» ALL PHOTOS on this post are taken by the author YODZ Insigne via Samsung Galaxy S Smartphone 







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Yodi Insigne
Yodi de Veas Insigne is one of those delusional sorts who imagines himself a useful contributor to the greater blogosphere (Well, that's what he's trying to accomplish).

He started blogging for three reasons:

1. He always felt he has something important to say,
2. Books can make him cry,
3. He want to sleep at night.

He is a certified bookworm, travel junkie, shutterbug, movie freak, Mangyan freethinker who sleeps a lot and think a lot. He got a little vice, which is black coffee and cashew nuts. He got colorblindness on yellow and green - and he freaking loves it!

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