1581 marked the year that Spanish conquistadors set foot in Cagayan. Sent forth by the fourth Governor-General of the Philippines, a host of Spaniards marched through the valleys of Cagayan, together with their families, spreading the Catholic faith amongst the locals and building massive brick churches along the way.
|OUR LADY OF PIAT’S RETABLO|
To be honest, the first thing that comes to my mind when one mentions Cagayan aren’t really old churches, but noodles, their delectable pancit batil patong, to be precise. But as fate would have it, that same noodle dish is forever linked with an old church where it is most popular. The first time I asked locals in Tuguegarao where I could find a mean dish of pancit batil patong, they all referred me to one place, the street adjacent to the old church.
|TOURING CAGAYAN ON BOARD THE LAKBAY NORTE BUS|
So, I guess, these two must really go hand in hand. More than a place of worship, a church is always where people converge—a landmark, a nucleus of trade around small towns, and yeah, a place where you usually get the best food. During our two-day Lakbay Norte tour around the Cagayan, we checked out six of the province’s oldest Spanish Era churches. And in between visits, we ate noodles too.
* AS WITH MOST PLACES OF WORSHIP I WOULD ADVISE IN WEARING SOMETHING LESS REVEALING FOR THOSE VISITING. IT DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU HAVE TO BE MANANG ABOUT IT THOUGH, CHECK OUT THE HAREM PANTS BY ONE TRIBE APPAREL FOR UNIQUE AND FUN TRAVEL GET UPS.
BASILICA MINORE DE NUESTRA SENORA DE PIAT
ADDRESS: APAYAO ROAD, CENTRO, PIAT, CAGAYAN • CONTACT: (0926) 729-9310 • GPS COORDINATES: 17.786678, 121.480211
Our Cagayan ecclesiastical tour started on a drizzly morning at the town of Piat. Situated on a hill besides the Chico River, the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Piat houses one of the most venerated Marian icons in all of the Philippines, the Black Virgin Mary. The brick church is the fourth of the twelve minor basilicas in the country and the center of pilgrimage in the north.
Entrance to Piat Church is, peculiarly, through its back gate. The church faces the river and the wide pastoral lands beyond. Its facade is beguilingly simple, a couple of what seems like rounded buttresses on its front, and a four-level belfry being the only points of interest. But what really draw people here is the statue of Our Lady of Piat.
Brought by the Dominicans in 1604 all the way from Macau, the miraculous icon with its mysterious darkened complexion is said to have been made from paper mache. It was first housed at the Santo Domingo Church in Intramuros before being transported to Cagayan to help aid in evangelizing the Ibanags. The locals now regard her as the Yena Tam Ngamin or the Mother of Us All, and Apo Baket or the Venerable Matriarch.
We were still quite full from our breakfast, so no pancit batil patong for us, yet.
|THE EXPANSIVE FIELDS ACROSS THE MINOR BASILICA OF PIAT|
|OUR LADY OF PIAT FACADE|
|THE RETABLO HOUSING THE VENERATED ICON|
|THE DARK-SKINNED OUR LADY OF PIAT|
|MINI ROSARIES BEING SOLD OUTSIDE THE CHURCH|
ADDRESS: RIZAL STREET, CENTRO 8, TUGUEGARAO CITY • CONTACT: (078) 304-0557 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 17.613306, 121.730472
Tuguegarao City’s iconic baroque cathedral stood prominently as our bus wended its slow way across the highway traversing the city. From the haze and the tangle of electric wires, the church’s belfry stood proud; a testament to its reputation as one of the largest ecclesiastical structures in the Cagayan Valley Region.
Formally named as the Saints Peter and Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, the Tuguegarao Cathedral was founded by the Dominican friars in 1604. It wasn’t until 157 years later that construction of its current incarnation was started. The church, as most in Cagayan, is built of bricks. Its ornamentation, however, is quite stylized from its contemporaries, with twisting Solomonic pillars alongside the usual Doric columns gracing its facade.
The cathedral has undergone some changes since my first visit, from the white outer columns, which are now red, up to its now barreled intricately painted trompe l'oeil interior ceiling.
Of course, we woudn’t leave Tuguegarao without having a plate of pancit batil patong, it would be a sin. So, off we went to Win-Mae Panciteria for our noodle fix before heading to the town of Iguig.
|TUGUEGARAO CATHEDRAL’S BELFRY AS SEEN FROM THE HIGHWAY|
|ONE OF THE LARGEST CHURCHES IN CAGAYAN VALLEY|
|INTRICATE CEILING DETAILS|
|TUGUEGARAO CATHEDRAL’S AIRY INTERIORS|
|THE GILDED RETABLO|
IGUIG CHURCH & CALVARY HILLS
ADDRESS: BRGY. STA. BARBARA, IGUIG, CAGAYAN • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 17.750711, 121.734507
Being the only Spanish Era church in the Philippines to have a flying buttress isn’t the only thing Iguig Church can boast of. Set on four of its eleven hectares of hilly grounds are larger than life statues depicting Jesus’ fourteen Stations of the Cross.
Built during the 18th century, the San Antonio de Galicia Church is another of Cagayan’s old brick churches. Like its neighboring colonial churches, it also sits on a hill facing the Cagayan River, complete with a brick stairwell that old traders used during Spanish times.
We sauntered along the dewy grounds of Calvary Hills located at the back field at the church’s sprawling yard, savoring the chilly morning air, enjoying the view, and taking photographs of scenes from Christ’ last hours. Since its inception during the early 80’s, the place is now a renowned pilgrimage site, especially during Holy Week for the faithful doing the Visita Iglesia.
|IGUIG CHURCH’S SIMPLE FACADE|
|AND EQUALLY SIMPLE INTERIORS|
|THE FLYING BUTTRESS AT THE BACK OF THE CHURCH|
|LARGER THAN LIFE STATIONS OF THE CROSS AT CALVARY HILLS|
|BEAUTIFUL VIEW AT THE BACK OF THE CHURCH • OLD SPANISH WELL NEAR THE CHURCH|
STA. FILOMENA CHURCH IN ALCALA
ADDRESS: MAHARLIKA HIGHWAY, CENTRO, ALCALA, CAGAYAN • CONTACT: (078) 848-1917 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 17.902374, 121.653753
The town of Alcala holds one of the more beautiful churches in Cagayan Province. The St. Philomene Church, with its weathered brick walls, metallic vineyard flourishes on its double doors, handsomely carved icons, and cute belfry on its right, can arguably top even Tuguegarao Cathedral’s highly decorated facade. Add in its elevated brick square complete with a manicured lawn, a central pedestal decorated with cherubim figures topped with a detailed icon of Christ, and the adjacent school—also done in the same style as the church—and we’ve definitely got a winner right here.
Granted, Alcala Church isn’t as gracefully tall as the Tuguegarao Cathedral, but what it lacks in height, it makes for in width. With a measure of twenty four meters, it holds not the usual two rows of pews, but four, inside its cavernous interiors. No wonder it holds the record of being the widest church in the Philippines.
En route to Lal-Lo, we dropped by Seguro Snack Hauz, an eatery right along the Cagayan River, feasting on the usual fried chickens and veggies. Right before our meal ended, a bilao of pancit batil patong was plunked down our table! Boom.
|STA. FILOMENA CHURCH IN ALCALA|
|ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CHURCH FACADE IN CAGAYAN|
|LOVELY DOOR DETAILS|
|ONE OF THE INNER RETABLOS OF THE STA. FILOMENA CHURCH|
|THE MAIN RETALO DEPICTING SCENES IN JESUS’ LIFE|
ADDRESS: CAGAYAN VALLEY ROAD, LAL-LO, CAGAYAN • CONTACT: (918) 251-7190 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 18.199518, 121.661724
There’s much history in the unassuming town of Lal-lo. More than four hundred years ago, this sleepy town was once heralded as one of the first four cities of the Philippines under Spanish rule. It was then renamed as Nueva Segovia before the title was moved to Vigan City and its former name, Lal-lo, was reapplied. And with this, from three colonial churches, two were abandoned and was left to ruins. Only the Santo Domingo de Guzman Church remained standing.
The church, as expected, is built of red bricks and faces the Cagayan River. From the main highway, the only thing one can actually see is a brick wall hemmed by three massive columns. Its interiors isn’t as remarkable as its facade, but take in a closer view of its retablo and you’d be surprised to find a massive mussel shell at the base of Christ’s feet.
Across the small street in front of the church, a wooden cross encased in glass stands, the actual evangelization cross that the Dominicans brought to Cagayan more than three centuries ago. And inside one of its meeting halls, another bilao of pancit batil patong, complete with hot chili, waited for us.
|LAL-LO CHURCH FACADE FACES THE CAGAYAN RIVER, AWAY FROM THE MAIN HIGHWAY|
|THE CHURCH’S SIMPLE INTERIORS, BORDERED BY HUGE WOODEN BEAMS|
|A PULPIT, NOW AN UNCOMMON SIGHT IN MODERN CHURCHES|
|A GIANT MUSSEL SHELL BY THE ALTAR • THE 300-YEAR OLD EVANGELICAL CROSS|
|LAL-LO CHURCH’S ALTAR|
SANTA MARIA BELL AT THE CAMALANIUGAN CHURCH
ADDRESS: ST. HYACINTH CHURCH, CENTRO, CAMALANIUGAN • CONTACT: (078) 854-2059 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 18.271702, 121.675876
Filled to bursting from all that noodles, we entered the town of Camalaniugan. The wind picked up and the rain started to pour as we alighted from our bus.
Camalaniugan doesn’t have a celebrated Spanish Colonial Era church like its neighboring towns does. Well, it used to have one before it was laid to ruin, its skeletal walls can be found near the river. Unfortunately, the driving rain kept us from visiting it. What it has though is a handsome three-level quadrilateral brick bell tower right next to a modern-style church. And within the tower’s upper level is the oldest catholic bell, not only in the Philppines, but the whole of South East Asia. The bell, dubbed as the Sta. Maria Bell, was forged in 1595 and is of unknown origins.
Visiting Camalaniugan’s relic was a fitting end for our Cagayan Visita Iglesia. And, you can guess what we’ll have for dinner right after.
|CAMALANIUGAN HOLDS THE OLDEST CATHOLIC CHURCH BELL IN SOUTH EAST ASIA|
THIS TRIP IS PART OF NORTH PHILIPPINE VISITOR’S BUREAU’S (NPVB)LAKBAY NORTE 6 TOUR,
A FOUR-DAY MEDIA FAMILIARIZATION TRIP AIMED AT PROMOTING NORTHERN DESTINATIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES.