Dupax Church

Dupax Church
Church of San Vicente Ferrer in Dupax, Nueva Vizcaya, 2003 (Photo by Betty Lalana and Lino Arboleda, Ortigas Foundation Library Collection)

Roman Catholic Parish Church of San Vicente Ferrer / Location: Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya / Built 1774-1782; tower, 1775-1788; convento, 1778, with major additions in 1846 / Repaired in 1990 and after

Dupax was organized in 1727 as a visita or mission chapel of Bujay, under the patronage of Nuestra Señora del Socorro (Our Lady of Succor). Bujay was the center of a mission territory called Ituy, roughly the southern part of what is now the province of Nueva Vizcaya. Ituy had been evangelized by the Augustinians since 1717, although earlier attempts had been made by the Franciscans and Dominicans in the early 1600s. The dwellers of Ituy were known by various names. Their Gaddang and Ifugao neighbors in Paniqui (northern Nueva Vizcaya, not the town in Tarlac) called them Malaat. The Pampango further south knew them as Isinay. But they called themselves Immeas or Inmeas. A shy people, they remember stories by their ancestors of how they were pushed from lands further north by more aggressive communities. The name Dupax is said to have been taken from the word dopaj, with the archaic Spanish “x” corresponding to the “h” of the local language, which meant “lying down in rest, with face up and legs extended.”

The region was turned over in 1740 to the Dominicans, who accepted the four missions of Bujay (now Aritao), Dupax, Bambang, and Bayombong. The first three quasi-towns comprised the Ituy Mission; the last constituted the center of the Paniqui Mission. By this time the people of Dupax were living in 150 nipa houses, surrounded by fruit trees and irrigated rice fields. The chapel of wood and light materials was repaired and improved with hardwood posts and boards. The Dominican saint Vicente Ferrer was made the new patron of Dupax.

This wooden chapel burned down in 1755 and again in 1766. The extant Book of Baptisms thus begins in 1767. The town was briefly linked to the national destiny as a result of the British Invasion of Manila in 1762. To prevent the silver subsidy from Acapulco from falling into enemy hands, the precious cargo was smuggled from its landing in Batangas to the mountains of Tayabas and then to Dupax before it finally reached the headquarters of the government-in-exile of Simon de Anda in Bacolor, Pampanga. Despite the two fires, the surreptitious relay of treasure, and an epidemic besides, Fr Cristobal Rodriguez OP, 1753-69, the parish priest during these stressful times, also introduced the cultivation of cacao. This brought so much income to the town that the Isinay could now pay taxes in silver where before they would offer an animal. In fact, the earnings from cacao helped raise the church and decorate it.

Masons and workers from Tuguegarao, whose grand church was raised in 1766, began the construction of the present church in 1774. It certainly helped that Tuguegarao’s builder, Fr Antonio Lobato, OP, had ministered in Bujay in his younger years, 1755-59, and thus was sympathetic to the project. Brick and lime were produced locally. Work proceeded so smoothly that the church could be used in two years’ time. A brick inset over the central doorway is marked “1776.” Work on the church building was completed in 1782. Brick insets on the four levels of the bell tower trace its construction: 1775, 1776, 1786, and 1788.

The first masonry church in the entire Ituy-Paniqui region was followed by similar ones in Aritao (begun 1780); Bambang (begun 1782, with the tower finished 1791); and Bayombong (church built ca 1773-92, with the tower completed around 1800). With Dupax, these three churches bear the obvious influence of Tuguegarao in the gracefully catenated silhouette of the pediment and in the brick insets adorning the walls, doors, and windows. A Dominican in the 1780s noted that this “construction boom” also inspired the building of churches in the Franciscan towns of Carranglan and Pantabangan in adjoining Nueva Ecija province.

The church is decorated with a number of unique artworks. A baked clay statuette of San Vicente Ferrer used to grace a niche on the bell tower’s ground level. Its head bore a strong affinity with the neolithic “portrait” jars found in Maitum, Saranggani Province in Mindanao. Sadly, this unique piece was stolen in 2006. Upon entering the church, one is confronted with a massive pair of carved sandstone pillars supporting the choir loft. Each pillar has a height of 13.3 ft, and a circumference of 10 ft. The carved decoration consists of clams, leaves, and vines, interspersed with tilted waffle-like medallions common in late 18th century Philippine art. To the left is the baptistry, wondrously filled with similar carving squeezed into a room measuring only 3.60 x 4.20 m. Instead of the standard retablo scene featuring St. John baptizing Christ, there is a curious figure of Christ seemingly waving a welcome to the baptismal party. The vaulted ceiling represents the Holy Spirit surrounded by rays of light, stars, and flowers.

The central and two side retablos seem to have been refashioned from surviving pieces with baroque elements. Other movable art pieces are safeguarded in the convento. Among these is an indigo blanket said to be of the type traded with the Ifugao for use as funeral shrouds.

The convento is said to have been finished in 1778. A tambobo or rice granary of stone was added to the convento in the first decades of the 19th century, while a reception hall protruding from the front of the convento went up in 1846. The tribunal (ancestor to today’s municipal building), cemetery, and two schools of brick and stone were also built by the Dominican missionaries. Fr. Antolin provided the populace with two orchards known as comunes, and is said to have introduced the cultivation of mongo, as evidenced by a patch which was called “Antolin.”

The buildings were damaged by the earthquake of 1990, but were repaired under the administration of Fr Paul Bollen, CICM (1976-97). The oldest masonry church in Nueva Vizcaya, Dupax is also the most intact, with its bell tower, convento, churchyard, and incomparable Immeas stone carvings remarkably well preserved after more than two hundred years. It was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum on 31 July 2001.

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer

Originally posted 2008-11-22 00:59:56.