Like little kids left to our own devices, we roamed around Delos Reyes Street snapping away with our cameras and posing against ancestral houses to our hearts content. I never knew that Gapan, a town we usually pass by en route to my mom’s hometown in Cabanatuan City, held such architectural gems from bygone eras. Like most locals, I usually dismiss Nueva Ecija as quite wanting when it comes to tourist attractions. I was proven wrong that afternoon.
|GAPAN’S VIRGEN LA DIVINA PASTORA CHURCH FACADE WITH ITS CENTRAL BELFRY|
Still catching my breath from a very Filipino lunch at Hapag Vicenticos, we again boarded Microtel Cabanatuan’s van and headed to the oldest town in the province and one of the oldest in the Philippines, Gapan. The sun was hitting the stately edifice of the National Shrine of Virgen La Divina Pastora just the right way when we arrived.
|NUEVA ECIJA’S OLDEST CHURCH|
My mom told me about this church. She related how when she was still a kid (which I really couldn’t quite picture in my head) my grandma would bring her here every year due to her panata to the miraculous Virgin enshrined within its halls.
|EARLY 1900’S PAINTING OF THE HOLY TRINITY BY ISIDORO SAMONTE AT THE DOME|
That said image, the Virgen La Divina Pastora, came all the way from Spain via the Galleon Trade during the Spanish era in the Philippines. It was formerly housed in the Valmonte residence, an affluent family in town, before it was finally donated to the church after being handed down from one generation to the next.
Surprisingly, the one enthroned on the central retablo of the Parish Church of the Three Kings (as it is also called such), is only a replica of the original; the original one is set at the left retablo of the church.
|THE CHURCH’S THICK BRICK WALLS CAN BE SEEN FROM THE INTERIORS|
From the baroque facade of Gapan’s church, one can clearly see that this is a structure worthy to be called a cultural treasure, although no such plaque bequeaths its walls. Built in 1872 from bricks and limestone blocks, it is the oldest and largest church in the province of Nueva Ecija.
|FILIPINO ACTRESS, EULA VALDEZ’S ANCESTRAL HOUSE IN GAPAN|
I was still itching to photograph details of the church when mass soon started. It cut our visit short and I immediately headed to our van. Our host called me back though, we aren’t quite done yet, she said. Across the street from the church were rows of ancestral houses from prominent Gapan residents.
|DETAILS OF ONE OF GAPAN’S HERITAGE HOUSES|
That one’s actress Eula Valdez’s house here in Gapan, one of the tricycle drivers lounging at the corner of the street proudly told us as we trained our lenses to the corner-most house on Delos Reyes Street. The house was indeed beautiful, made from masonry on the lower level and wood on the second; typical of bahay na bato houses. Intricate wrought iron bars fill its barandilla and elaborate floral latticework can be glimpsed from its ceiling.
|MEDIAMEN, JOE AND JAY TARUC’S ANCESTRAL HOUSE|
The next house, the tricycle-guy-cum-guide said, belongs to the Tarucs, Joe Taruc to be precise; famous DZRH news anchor and father of another newsman, Jay Taruc. I know that there are a lot of World War II historiy around Nueva Ecija and there were definitely activities of Hukbalahap (Hukbong Laban sa Hapon) in the area; I wonder if they are related to Huk’s leader Luis Taruc who hails from the nearby province of Pampanga.
|FILIPINA ACTRESS, NIDA BLANCA’S STATELY OLD HOUSE IN GAPAN|
There were a few more ancestral houses down the street, but we were pressed for time. To end our quick tour of Gapan, we checked one last house, a handsome white one found at the adjacent Jacinto Street. This one’s from Dolphy’s longtime television partner, Marsha or Nida Blanca.
The house was well preserved and it looks like it was still being used as a residence. We’re quite lucky we were allowed to go beyond its gate, although not as lucky to be invited all the way inside. Which was too bad, I was hoping we could have a quick look if Gapan’s ancestral houses also have well-preserved interiors.
|DELOS REYES STREET’S HERITAGE LANE IN GAPAN|
Gapan City sure surprised me. It’s like discovering that the houses on the street next to mine have all these grand antique structures that I didn’t know about until someone finally let me in on the secret. Granted, the ancestral houses here aren’t as extensive as those in Vigan City or even Taal, but still, I do think they can stand up on their own, especially with a Spanish-era church to complement it with.
~ A tour of Gapan City’s heritage area can be arranged with Microtel Cabanatuan (0927) 804-2929.
Virgen La Divina Pastora Church
& Gapan Ancestral Houses
Address: Delos Reyes Street, Gapan City, Nueva Ecija
Entrance Fee: None
GPS Coordinates Map: 15.313777, 120.948814