HISTORY OF THE MIAGAO CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Miagao Church Bicentennial Yearbook, 1797-1997
by: Randy Madrid and Jorge Ebay
The town’s first church building was constructed in Ubos by Nicolas Pangkug, first capitan of the town. The church was completed three years before the first Spanish priest came in 1734, but this was burned by the Muslim pirates in 1741. Miagao was officially created as a parroquia on May 15, 1734.
The second church was constructed under the leadership of Parish Priest Fray Fernando Camporedondo (1746-1747). This church was also burned and looted by the pirates. The raids discouraged the people from building another church. But they needed one not only as a house of worship but also as a stronghold against pirate attacks. So they decided to build a third church in Tacas where the townsfolk have a commanding view of the mouth of the Miagao river, the usual route followed by the pirates in entering the town. This church still stands after defying elements and catastrophies for two centuries.
Construction of the present Miagao Church was started on a Saturday, the town’s market day, in December 1786, half a century after the founding of the Miagao parish. The parish priest at the time was Fray Francisco Maximo Gonzales and the town head was Capitan Domingo Libo-on. When it was finished in 1797, Fray Gonzales was still parish priest and Tomas Paguntalan was the town capitan.
The blocks of stones used in the construction of the church were quarried at Sitio Tubog in nearby San Joaquin town and in the mountains of the town of Igbaras. Work was supervised by a certain Matias, a foreman from Igbaras who later on ws replaced by a certain Aquino from Alimodian, Iloilo, when the former was called to direct the church construction in his own town.
In baroque-romanesque style, the church sinks six (6) meters deep into the ground with walls one-and-a-half (1 1/2) meters thick and buttresses thrice thicker in size. A truly ‘Philippine Church’, it exudes a native touch. Its artistic facade is decorated witha relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. A large stone image of St. Thomas of Villanova, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Carved life-size statues of the Pope and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance. Supporting the facade are the twin belfries, one towering two-storeys and the other three-storeys high.
When finished in 1797, the left tower was lower than the right. In 1830, thirty-three (33) years after it was finished, an additional structure was added to the left belfry to make them equal in height. Fray Francisco Reyes was then the parish priest and Capitan Bernabe Paguntalan was the townhead.
Now 206 years old, Miagao Church is one of the few remaining old churches in the country. The earthquake of January 24, 1948, the strongest ever to hit Panay, toppled the bell tower of Jaro and the old church of Oton as well as many other Spanish-built churches in the island, but not the Miagao Church. Only a small portion of its concrete beam gave way sending some stoneblocks loosened by heavy tremors.
While Miagao Church stood the test of time and calamities, it did not somehow escape the trauma of two wars. It was burned during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1944.
When liberation came in 1945, the people of Miagao undertook the herculean task of reconstructing the church. Led by then Reverend Father now Msgr. Wenceslao Enojo, parish priest, contributions came readily and it was not long after that the church was put back in shape.
When Msgr.Fernando Javillo took over as parish priest in August 1959, he not only continued the rehabilitation work but also expanded the repairs and renovations. Msgr. Javillo renovated and restored the church facade and the twin tower taht were left untouched for more than one century and a half.
On February 16, 1963, the Miagao Church was awarded a historical marker by the Philippine Historical Commission headed by Director Luis Montilla. Speaker Cornelio Villareal and Archbishop Jose Ma. Cuneco of Jaro attended the unveiling of the marker. Director Montilla was represented by Dr. Nicolas Zafra, member of the commission and noted historian and author.
In 1970,the Miagao Parish Council organized a reconstruction committee to work specifically on the renovation and improvement of the interior part of the church. Through the efforts of this committee headed by Col. Solomon N. Flores and assisted by the heads of all mandated parish organizations, the church was provided with three concrete altars and a modern sanctuary, the lighting and sound system was improved and new long benches were donated and the old ones repaired.
In recognition of the people’s love and devotion to their faith, Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos, through Presidential Decree No. 260 dated August 1, 1973, declared Miagao Catholic Church a national shrine. The church is now being restored to its original form by the National Historical Institute headed by Chairman Esteban A. de Ocampo. The Miagao Church is so well-known that its pictures could be found in stamps, calendars, books and magazines.
The Miagao Church was made popular by former First Lady, Human Settlements Minister and Metro Manila Governor Imelda Romualdez Marcos, while she was at the Vatican in Rome. After attending the installation of Pope John Paul II, she presented the new Pontiff a painting of the ancient church of Miagao, Iloilo.
Since the founding of the Miagao Parish in 1734, some thirty seven (37) parish priests have been assigned here — 31 Spaniards and 6 Filpinos. Fray Francisco Reyes served the longest (35 years). Next to him was Fray Francisco Gonzales, the “Builder of the Miagao Church”, who served 32 years from 1777 to 1809. The third lonest was Rev. Fr. Pedro Ma. Tiangson, a Filipino, with 30 years from 1916-1931 and 1935-1948 until he died. Rev. Fr. Tiangson, who died at the age of 91, was considered as one of the most learned Filipino priests in his time. He was a writer and orator of note.
The creative and aesthetic abilities of Sapnish colonizers are reflected in many colonial churhes in the Philippines. This is especially true in Miagao Church – a world-renowned religious structure now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Miagao Church is one of the Spanish colonial mission churches in the Philippines. The building of the church was executed not by real architects but by friars who came as missionaries via the galleon trade between Acapulco and Manila. The absence of European and Mexican architects in the mission allowed the idealistic friar-builders to try their hands in orchestrating the design and construction of mission churches with the help of native maestro de obras or master builders. There is no engineering innovations in the structural composition of these churches because they are simply built to withstand the destructive forces of nature. It was an architecture which took into account the tropical climate, the frequent earthquakes and typhoons and fire.
Like any other foreign influences, the architecture of many colonial churches has undergone the process of indigenization. This process is carried out by incorporating the prevailing Hispano-American and Medieval Sapnish architecture with local as well as Muslim and Chinese touches. Thus, the synthesized topology which is anachronistic with the unmindful sue of decorative elements. It had no distinction in terms of periods or orders. Stability and massiveness along with durability associated with sound architecture, was very common. Thus, mission churches were mostly fortresses built for military purpose with some concessions on their facades.
The present Church of Miagao is actually the third church constructed in the town. The first two churches wre built in Ubos, due to frequent piratical raids, it was transferred to Tacas, the highest elevated area in the town. The new church was built like a fortress in consonance with the provision of the Royal Decree 111 of 1573 (Law of the Indies).