Lal-lo Church

Lal-lo Church
Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman in Lal-lo, Cagayan, 2003 (Photo by Betty Lalana and Lino Arboleda, Ortigas Foundation Library Collection)

Roman Catholic Parish Church (former Cathedral) of Santo Domingo de Guzman / Location: Lal-lo, Cagayan / Built ca 1600

The area of Lal-lo was the first important Spanish settlement in the Cagayan Valley; it was visited as early as 1572 by Juan de Salcedo. Located on the banks of the great Cagayan River, it was near both the port of Camalaniugan further downriver and Aparri at the very mouth of the river, which gave access to the South China Sea. Oral tradition attributes the town’s name to the whirlpools in the river. From the tone of contemporary documents, it is likely that the Spaniards founded their own city, named Nueva Segovia, in 1581, next to a settlement of the Ibanag, the original inhabitants of Lal-lo (spelled Lal-loc in the past). In 1595, a diocese was created whose territory comprised the entire northern half of Luzon, and its seat and cathedral were located in Nueva Segovia. This city at the beginning of the 17th century had 200 Spaniards and was guarded by the stone fort of San Francisco. In time, however, the earlier place name came to refer to both communities, and Nueva Segovia was retained only as the name of the diocese. This also seems to have been the case with other Spanish cities in the archipelago (e.g., Ciudad Fernandina was supplanted by Vigan, and Nueva Caceres became indistinguishable from Naga).

According to some sources, there were three parishes in Lal-lo. The first, Nueva Segovia, was the cathedral’s and was run by the secular clergy. The second was Tocolana, which had a hospital. Bagumbayan was the third. The latter two, administered by the Dominicans, may have constituted the original populace of Lal-lo. An 18th-century account, however, mentions that one of these two or the combined area of both (if the third parish had not yet been separated) was also run by the seculars. The cathedral of Lal-lo, Nueva Segovia still stands, but the identification of the two other churches has not yet been settled. Benito Legarda conjectures that the cemetery chapel just south of the poblacion may be Tacolana. Residents claim that a mound of ruins by the river in the Tabacalera property a few blocks north of the cathedral belonged to the “first church of San Jose.” The seat of the diocese of Nueva Segovia remained in Lal-lo until 1758, when it was formally transferred to Vigan on the opposite coast of Luzon. The vagaries of the river made it increasingly difficult to come to Lal-lo. Already in the 17th century many bishops preferred to hold office in Vigan rather than in Lal-lo. Today, half of the very plaza in front of the former cathedral has been washed away, leaving behind the ancient wooden cross standing precariously in what used to be the middle.

The Lal-lo Cathedral, now a parish church, is difficult to date. Fray Rodrigo de Cardenas, bishop from 1653 to 1661, ordered a structure built, the extant parts of which may be the bell tower and the nave. The quadrangular, two-story campanario (bell tower) is the most striking part of the edifice, and in shape is akin to the ruins of the towers of Tuao and Nassiping further south. The walls of the nave are thick, punctuated at intervals by triangular buttresses. The church follows the basilica plan except that two chapels protrude from the southern wall, flanking the side entrance. These are propped up by buttresses even squatter and larger in proportion to those of the nave. A tile roof is still extant over the chapel nearest the bell tower, which has also preserved its octagonal, pointed dome of masonry covered with floor tiles. Projecting from the southern side of the apse is a double row of niches which form part of the wall enclosing the churchyard. The facade was facelifted in the 19th century along neo-Florentine Renaissance lines, similar to that of Alcala further south. The paired columns of wood or masonry as well as the cornices and entablatures have long since disappeared. The church, bell tower, and convento ruins are almost wholly of brick. The facade is clearly old, but the other parts are difficult to date. A number of 19th century bricks bear the name “Vigan,” probably the source of the brick mould. Most of the plaster on the walls has eroded. What look like cut adobe stones form a sliver of a wall linking the bell tower to the rest of the church. For such a storied past, the interior of the church is disappointingly barren. Only a few flanges remain from the wooden retablos, whose baroque ornateness appears in old photographs. The wrought-iron pulpit is late 19th century, although the hidden ascent to it from a back door is earlier. This type of “surprise entrance” pulpit has its counterparts in Tanay, Rizal; Nagcarlan and Pakil, Laguna; Sariaya, Quezon; and Baybay, Leyte. Bells in the campanario dated 1694, 1790, and 1793 are further witnesses to Lal-lo’s antiquity.

Despite its being a cathedral, the church never seems to have been improved, based on a number of accounts complaining about cracked walls, rotten trusses, and a roofless nave. Around 1721 the church was so dilapidated that a chapel of thatch had to be constructed inside the building. Such a situation prompted more clerics to move for the transfer of the diocesan seat to Vigan. This decrepit state of affairs has hardly improved at present, and can be symbolized by the presence of the historical markers for “Lal-loc Nueva Segovia” and “Lal-loc Tocolana” on the facade, which in turn faces a cross on the edge of an eroding embankment.

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer


Originally posted 2013-11-22 02:23:52.