Balayan Church

Balayan Church
Church of the Inmaculada Concepcion in Balayan, Batangas, 2011 (Fung Yu, www.pamana.ph)

Roman Catholic Parish, Church of the Inmaculada Concepcion , Plaza Mabini, Balayan Batangas

The Parish Church of Immaculate Conception, (Spanish: Iglesia Parroquial de la Inmaculada Concepción) also known as Balayan Church, is a Parish Church in the town of Balayan, Batangas in the Philippines, within the Archdiocese of Lipa. The church is listed as a National Cultural Treasure as its construction was supervised by Filipino Seculars during the Spanish Colonial Period.[1]


Although Balayan traces its beginnings to the friars, the present church is among the handful that is the work of the secular or diocesan clergy. In 1575, the Augustinians opened Balayan as a visita (mission chapel) of Bonbon, the ancient name of Taal. Balayan’s boundaries were quite extensive, including in its territory the towns of Nasugbu, Lian, Calatagan, Tuy, and Calaca. It was effectively the visita and later the parish of the southern coast of Batangas. When they arrived in 1578, the Franciscans were given charge of Balayan by the Augustinians. Fr Francisco de Santa Maria, OFM built a provisional church in 1579. The Franciscans ministered at Balayan for more than a decade, when in 1591, the Franciscans, represented by Fr Juan de Oliver, OFM, a noted expert in Tagalog and preacher, turned over Balayan to the Jesuits under Pedro Chirino. This is recorded in Chirino’s Relacion de las islas Filipinas (Accounts on the Philippine Islands). Chirino who was chronicler of the Jesuit missions in the Philippines and trusted assistant of Fr Antonio Sedeño, the mission superior, built a church in Balayan. The Jesuits left Balayan, most likely after 1600, when Fr Diego Garcia, SJ, invoking his authority as visitor, told the Jesuits to consolidate their missions into a few strategic ones since their manpower was overstretched, especially with the opening of the Visayan missions in 1595.

A stone church was reportedly built in 1749. It is unclear by whom because the seculars did not take charge of Balayan until 1753.

Balayan was under the seculars until 1876, when it was turned over to the Recollects. Because Balayan was a coastal town, with an opening to Balayan Bay, and vulnerable to sea-faring raiders, its parish priests built a fortification or stone kuta or fort, after a raid in 1754. They also built a watchtower on a nearby hill. The fortification surrounded the church and convento but the fortification was torn down most likely in the 1840s, when similar fortifications in Bauan and Batangas were taken down. A low row of stones, serving as a perimeter wall, is all that remains of the Balayan fortification.

The church, attributed to the initiative and effort of the seculars, was completed and blessed in 1795 and dedicated to the patroness, Inmaculada Concepcion. It is uncertain if the previous churches of Balayan, until that of 1749, were made of stone or were provisional churches of wood, bamboo and thatch. Most likely Chirino’s 1591 church was provisional as was the church of 1579.

In 1857, a new convent was completed. The old convent, which was located across the patio was demolished but its tiles were used for an ermita or chapel being built for the cemetery. Additions to the church complex did not cease. In 1870, the second and third levels of the bell tower were added. Repair work had to be done on the convento and church, which had been damaged by earthquake. The second floor of the convento had to be taken down and rebuilt and a temporary chapel raised while repair on the church was being made. It was most likely the earthquake of 1863 that damaged the church and convento. The sanctuary of Balayan was refurbished in the 1870s.

In 1875, the archbishop of Manila, under whom all of Batangas fell, authorized the purchase of a retablo mayor, pulpit and other appurtenances for the church. To pave the floor, narra planks were used for the nave and azulejos (tiles) for the sanctuary. An additional bay was added behind the sanctuary as an antesacristia (anteroom) for the sacristy, in 1878. Decorative grilles were installed around the atrium in 1887 and the bell tower was repaired in 1892 using bricks rather than stone. Two intense earthquakes hit Luzon in 1880 and in 1884 in the vicinity of Quezon, then known as Tayabas. It seems that the Balayan bell tower, which was reported as built of stone in 1870, survived the 1880 earthquake but not the one four years later, whose epicenter was closer to Batangas.

In 1857, the construction of the cemetery using material from the demolished convento began. Work on the cemetery continued and rows of niches were built in 1887. In 1896, the work had to be stabilized because of erosion on the hillside. By this time the Recollects were already administering Balayan and the seculars were demoted to assistants.

Although Batangas was not originally Recollect territory, it was given to the Recollects, along with other parishes in Cavite and Batangas to compensate for their loss of parishes in Mindanao, which had been given to the returning Jesuits. Expelled from the Philippines in 1768 and returning in 1859, the Jesuits were assigned to all of Mindanao. The stipulation of their assignment indicated that as soon as a Recollect parish in Mindanao was vacant due to the death, illness or resignation of the parish priest, the Jesuits would take over administration.

The Recollects were replaced by Filipino seculars after the Revolution of 1896. Seculars who had occupied Balayan were driven out by American soldiers, who commandeered the church complex in 1900 to serve as quarters. They remained in the complex for about a year. In 1908, Balayan was given to the seculars of the Archdiocese of Manila. When the Diocese of Lipa was established in 1910, Balayan was placed under it. In 1972, Lipa would be raised to an archdiocese with the suffragan dioceses of Lucena, Gumaca, and Boac.

Exteriorly Balayan church is typical of colonial churches, using a facade plan composed of two stories, crowned by a triangular pediment. The horizontals are defined by projecting rows of stones and the verticals by pilasters and engaged columns at the first floor. The whole facade is flanked by thick pillars capped with a vase finial. Arched openings define the windows and the main entrance found at the center. This is flanked by niches for statues, separated from the main door by flanking engaged columns. Above the niches are arched windows and between them another niche.

The bell tower is also typical. It begins with a quadrilateral base on which three octagonal stories of diminishing sizes are raised. Unlike the church, which is made of stone, this tower is built of bricks. Its uppermost floor was destroyed and for a long time, it was covered with a floor and dome of white metal sheets. That temporary structure, still up until 2003, has been taken down and the upper story of the bell tower restored using bricks. The plaster layer of the church, visible in early 20th century photographs, has not been restored.

The addition of a stone portico in front of the historic building mars the line of the original design.

The church interior has remained largely unchanged except for the refurbishing of the altar in gold leaf and brown wood stain. The pulpit has likewise been refurbished. The nave and sanctuary walls are not embellished so that the stone used for construction are visible. The nave’s ceiling, a flat vault that curves to the side to meet pairs of zapata or corbel along the wall, is painted with a geometric pattern of chamfered boxes. The section where there are zapatas is defined by a brown ladderlike structure that runs from one pair of zapata to those at the opposite wall. This ceiling design is repeated in the transept.

At the transept crossing is a shallow dome supported by pendentives in which the images of the four evangelists are painted as customary. The dome is divided into triangular segments by lines and by clouds that form a frame. The Trinity is depicted in the segment nearest the apse, with the Father on the throne of heaven, holding up the crucified Christ while the Spirit hovers above. Biblical scenes fill the other segments, like the visit of the three angels to Abraham, the Baptism of Jesus, the Commissioning of St Peter.

The adjoining convento, painted in white and blue, is Immaculate Conception College. The college building was involved in a heritage row in 2013. Word leaked that the Archdiocese of Lipa was exploring an arrangement to lease land to a supermarket chain, despite the church’s declaration as a heritage site. Upon pressure by heritage groups, the archdiocesan financial administrator admitted to exploring plans to lease land, but this meant demolishing the heritage building adjoining the church, which served as the casa real and tribunal until 1752, when it was designated as the convento. People’s action saved Balayan from defacement.


The Old Cota

Balayan church complex originally had stone fortifications as a measure against pirates who have sacked the town at least three times. After a raid in 1754, a stone cota or fort was erected with the church and convent inside. To guard the bay, a small fortification was also constructed on top of a hill on the other end of the town. This fortified church survived well in the nineteenth century; the walls of the cota were taken down probably about the same time as those of Bauan and Batangas, in the 1840s.


SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer