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The Ruins of Cagsawa Church in Daraga [Architectural Heritage in Albay]

Architectural Plan Map Ruins of Cagsawa Church in Daraga Albay Philippines

This post presents the role of the Franciscan Missionaries in the Christianization of a town in Albay during the Spanish colonial period. We highlight the built tradition in the architectural structures they introduced, one of which is now considered an architectural heritage in Albay, the Ruins of Cagsawa Church in Daraga.

Ruins of Cagsawa Church Belfry

The Ruins of Cagsawa Church stand out as a solemn reminder of the strength and resilience of the people in Albay, faithful with the scenic landscape of the perfect cone-shaped Mayon Volcano.  Located in the present Barangay Busay, Municipality of Daraga, the ruins form part of the church-convent complex built by the Franciscan Missionaries in the former town of Cagsaua (now referred to as Cagsawa).


The Ruins of Cagsawa Church in Daraga [Architectural Heritage in Albay]


The Franciscan Missionaries arrived in the province of Albay in 1587.  According to historical accounts the Christianization of the town of Cagsaua began with the baptism of a 12 year old child named Pedro Tabao on March 26, 1587 (F. Huerta, 1865).  Cagsaua was a visita under the spiritual administration of the Parish of Camalig from 1587 to 1595.  An early church built by the Franciscans was destroyed when the Dutch burned and devastated the town on July 25, 1636.  The wooden church was replaced with another one built of stone in 1675 under the administration of Fr. Acacio de la Concepcion.  In 1724 the church and convent were built again under the direction of Fr. Francisco Blanco.  The eruption of Mayon volcano on February 1, 1814 burned and completely ruined the towns of Cagsaua, Camalig, Budiao, and half of Albay and Guinobatan (F. Huerta, 1865). As a result of the disastrous 1814 eruption, the town of Cagsaua was moved to Daraga.   

The Ruins of Cagsawa Church in Daraga [Architectural Heritage in Albay]


In the 1880s, the vast plains to the right of the road from Daraga to Camalig caught the traveller’s attention for its casuarinas (or agoho) and baletes among a field of ruins. Most notably three distinct groups of exuberant vegetation stood out in the sand, that on close scrutiny revealed disjointed stones from the ruins of the church, the tribunal and the escuela of Cagsaua (J.A. Guerra, 1887).  Guerra (1887) noted the broken belltower with crevices overgrown with invasive vegetation like the balete. 

The Ruins of Cagsawa Church in Daraga [Architectural Heritage in Albay]

The Church of Cagsawa built in 1724 has been in ruins for more than 200 years now.  The centenary of the destruction of the church due to the eruption was commemorated on February 1, 1914 with a huge pilgrimage to the ruins where a high mass was celebrated (PHC, 1954). For its architectural significance reflective of the country’s culture and history, the National Museum of the Philippines declared the Ruins of Cagsawa Church a National Cultural Treasure in 2015.

The Ruins of Cagsawa Church reveal how the Franciscan Missionaries built their church-convent complex making use of the volcanic stone materials available in the region.  The ruins’ extant walls were built mainly of rubblework masonry or mamposteria. 

Mamposteria or rubblework masonry The Ruins of Cagsawa Church in Daraga [Architectural Heritage in Albay]

Mamposteria or rubblework masonry uses stones of random natural shapes and sizes stuck together with lime mortar.  Remnants of the stone masonry walls reveal a church layout oriented with its length in north-south axis, its altar on the north, its main portal on the south, an adjoining convent on the east, and the belltower (or belfry) on the west.  The extant belltower has a quadrilateral base for its partly submerged first level, and eight sides on the remaining two levels with the topmost surmounted by a dome. The belltower’s north, east, south and west walls, are pierced with arched openings. From the four corners of the top of the quadrilateral base, four engaged columns rise and taper up to the entire height of the belltower walls’ upper two levels. The top of the walls are capped by decorative stone blocks resembling antefixaes to conceal the edge of the dome.  The ruins’ stone masonry structures cover a building footprint area of about 2455 square meters.


The Ruins of Cagsawa Church are in fair state of conservation and maintenance. Vegetation and woody plants have periodically taken root on the ruins’ stone masonry walls. Surface deposits are confined mostly on the belltower’s dome, ledges, and the church-convent ruins’ wall tops. The exposed core of the wall, unrestrained heads of wall openings and water ponding were noted in the 2018 condition of the church-convent ruins.  Masonry deterioration can negatively affect the architectural integrity and structural stability of the ruins. The problems of biogenic deterioration affecting the extant masonry structures can be adequately addressed by masonry cleaning to remove the recurring vegetation growth, complemented by appropriate masonry consolidation, and site development interventions draining rainwater away from the ruins’ building footprint. 

The Ruins of Cagsawa Church lie within the identified Buffer Danger Zone in Barangay Busay. The ruins have undergone site interventions when the land including the spaces bounded by the ruins were developed and utilized as a recreational park. Visitors’ facilities are located south of the church ruins.

A visit to The Ruins of Cagsawa Church in Daraga will be an enlightening experience on the architecture and built tradition introduced by the Franciscans in Albay among other built traditions of our National Cultural Treasures.  These are Philippine built traditions worthy of preservation.


Text and photos by NMP AABHD

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