Capul Church and Fortress

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Church of San Ignacio in Capul, Northern Samar, ca 1990 (CCP Collection)

Roman Catholic Parish Church of San Ignacio de Loyola / Location: Capul, Northern Samar

Capul is the name of an island in the middle of the San Bernardino Strait, the body of water which separates Luzon from Samar. The Strait used to be known as the Embocadero, through which the Manila-Acapulco galleons carefully made their way. In earlier times the island was called Abac: hence the inhabitants’ name, Abaknon, and their language, Inabaknon. Linguists classify Inabaknon among the Sama and Sama Dilaut (Badjao) languages; it is in fact most closely related to Yakan, spoken in Basilan. Interestingly, Inabaknon is the only Sama language without Arabic influence; its speakers had separated from their Sama linguistic cousins as early as 800 years ago. According to Capul oral tradition, the ancestors of the Abaknon, unwilling to embrace Islam, fled from Balabac (whence the name “Abac”) and eventually settled where they are now. Early historians such as Alzina link the Abaknon to the camuçones, a collective name for the Tidung of northeastern Borneo and the nomadic Sama Dilaut of the Sulu archipelago. Both animist groups were mobilized by the Brunei sultanate to raid Sulu, Mindanao, and other islands in the 17th century for slaves.

Jesuit evangelization began shortly before 1600, when Capul was one of 10 villages ministered from the central residence at Tinago (now Dapdap, Tarangnan) on Samar. Various attempts to resettle the Abaknon on the mainland failed. Despite many attempts to capture the strategic island, the people stood their ground. Its church is said to have been razed in 1615, 1642—when the aroma of the burning pillars revealed that the church was built of sandalwood—1650, 1663, 1763, and 1768. In this year, the surviving structure of stone was turned over to the Franciscans, who replaced the Jesuits. By then it was the seat of a parish that even incorporated a large section of northwestern Samar.

The church was surrounded by a quadrangular fortification attributed to the first Franciscans assigned to Capul in the early 1770s; this coincides with the peak years of pirate expeditions in Samar waters. The stone church in Capul was repaired in 1781 by Fr Mariano Valero, OFM, who also built the belltower. Worsening slave raids, a declining population, and insufficient missionaries (the Franciscans were sometimes substituted by secular priests) led to Capul’s attachment as a visita (mission chapel) to Calbayog. Capul only regained its parish status 80 years later, by diocesan decree on 18 November 1869.

The church, dedicated to the founder of the Jesuits, San Ignacio de Loyola, has a stark facade articulated only with an entrance crowned with a rudimentary “broken” pediment and three rectangular windows corresponding to the choir loft. The entrance to the church is also the entrance to the fort, a symbolic configuration found also in Cuyo and Calapan. A succession of typhoons, especially those in 1947, 1967, 1981, and 1988, have left the interior quite bare.

On the western side (inland) of the church are the remains of what seem to be an old convento. A newer convento was built on the eastern side (facing the sea); a gateway leading to this convento was opened from the seaside wall of the fort in 1898.

The two bastions of the fort facing inland are shaped like expanded aces of spades, while the two facing the sea are circular. The crenellations that crown the fortress walls, unusually resembling a medieval fortress, are unique.

On a promontory not far away from town and facing the sea across the Samar mainland are the ruins of a watchtower. Nearby is a stream of fresh water that could have supported a populace waiting out an enemy siege. On the opposite end of town, about a couple of blocks north of the church facade, is another thick-walled ruin, possibly a blockhouse that served as one more line of defense against invaders trying to enter the church. The church, bell tower, fortification, watchtower, and “block house” are all of mixed coral stone and river stone, very roughly hewn into brick-like shapes of varying sizes. A number of walls have preserved their layers of protective palitada (plaster).

 

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer

Originally posted 2005-11-22 00:19:18.