Mahatao Church

Mahatao Church
Church of San Carlos Borromeo in Mahatao, Batanes, 2003 (Photo by Betty Lalana and Lino Arboleda, Ortigas Foundation Library Collection)

Roman Catholic Parish Church of San Carlos Borromeo / Location: Mahatao, Batanes / Early 19th century stone church destroyed by a typhoon in 1872; rebuilt in 1873 / Rehabilitation of support facilities in 2010

Attempts to Christianize the Batanes Islands in the 1680s were formalized in 1783 with the establishment of a permanent mission in Basay, now Basco. This was the largest settlement on the island also called Basay, but now known as Batan. Evangelization was undertaken by the Dominicans, who encouraged the Ivatan people to come down from their mountain top hamlets to settle on the plains below. Around 1787 Magatao, now Mahatao, became a town and mission station absorbing the villages of Mananioy and Racujaidi. Initially under the patronage of San Bartolome the site had been rededicated to San Carlos Borromeo by 1789; it was raised to parish status in 1798. The first stone church, convento, and bridge were built in the first decades of the 19th century. The church was destroyed by a typhoon in 1872. It was rebuilt the following year under the direction of Fr Crescencio Polo, OP, parish priest from 1871 to 1883.

The facade features a triangular espadaña belfry like in Basco and Sabtang. One of the bells dates from 1874. The south wall of the nave has differing thicknesses of walls. On the north side, behind the convento, are the remnants of a circular wellStep buttresses could have facilitated the change of roofing, which traditionally was of thatch but now is of galvanized iron.

Both levels of the L-shaped convento are of stone, like those in the other old towns of Batanes. Four stout arches support an open balcony that was probably roofed like that in Sabtang, until a typhoon uncovered it.

The complex is well planned, endowed with large open spaces surrounding the church and convento. As with other old towns of Batanes, the Calle Real (principal road) leads right up to the side door of the church.

In one corner of the property is a beaterio organized by Fr Fabian Martin, OP, parish priest of adjoining Ivana in 1844-78. This was a structure to house the beatas, female members of the Lay Order of Saint Dominic who maintained the church vestments and linen, served as teachers of crafts and as catechists, and also prepared the meals of the priests of the parish. This one-story building is possibly the only one in Batanes to have preserved its brick roof.

A beacon was erected beside the church to aid boats entering the narrow port. A second beacon stands near the beaterio and a third is near the school across the plaza.

The image of San Carlos Borromeo is in the center of the neoclassic retablo mayor, flanked on either side by those of San Jose and Santa Rosa de Lima. Baroque C-scrolls frame the pediment housing the image of Santo Domingo. The former wooden niches to the right and left of the central retablo, featuring the images of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and of the Santo Niño respectively, were reconstructed in concrete in the 1990s.

The San Carlos Borromeo Church complex, the most complete of its kind in the Batanes, was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum on 31 July 2001. Certain sections of the complex were rehabilitated in 2010 under the aegis of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer