Loboc Church

Loboc Church
Church of San Pedro y San Pablo in Loboc, Bohol, 2003 (Photo by Betty Lalana and Lino Arboleda, Ortigas Foundation Library Collection)

Roman Catholic Parish Church of San Pedro / Location: Loboc, Bohol / Earlier church built by the Jesuits in the 1670s, possibly incorporated into the convento; present church completed 1734, also by the Jesuit / Bell tower built shortly after 1768, extension of the convento parallel to the nave from 1854, portico-facade built in 1863-66, hexagonal mortuary chapel in 1867-68, buttresses in 1891-93, and porticoes over the side entrances in 1895-96, by the Augustinian Recollects

Loboc was founded in 1596 by the Jesuit Juan de Torres. By 1602, it may have been effectively a parish, as baptismal books dated to this year were recorded in a survey done in 1884. Perhaps a more permanent church than the one raised by the Boholanos under Torres’s influence was built this year. Only in 1633 were there indications that a more permanent church had been raised. Most likely the person behind this construction was the saintly Fr Alonso de Humanes, who spent his last years in Bohol after serving so many years as a missionary in the Visayas and as provincial of the Jesuits. He had a special affection for Bohol, for earlier in 1605 he had established a boarding school in Bohol.

Fr Jose Sanchez, who also built a modest church in Tagbilaran, built a church in Loboc after a fire in 1638. A stone church in the area was also reported to have been built in 1670. The present church was completed in 1734.

Evidence indicates that the walls of the older stone church are still standing and have been incorporated into the fabric of Loboc’s unusual convento. This L-shaped convento has two unequal wings. The wing that runs parallel to the nave follows the bipartite construction of most conventos, a lower floor of stone and a superior one of wood. But that which runs parallel to the transept is three-stories tall, and its walls are of stone both in the lower and upper members. Its unusual elevation, thickness, and material points to a different provenance from the bipartite wing. The wing parallel to the transept seems to be the walls of the 1670s church, and therefore this may arguably be the oldest church building in Bohol.

Loboc was ceded to the Recollects on 1 November 1768. The first Recollect priest built an octagonal bell tower near the riverbank and some 34 m from the church facade. In the 1990s its imminent collapse due to the construction of a bridge and bypass nearby was halted by a national outcry.

A new convento wing (the one parallel to the nave) was added in 1854. A portico was added over the Jesuit facade between 1863 and 1866, and an octagonal mortuary chapel was built from 1867 to 1868. From 1891 to 1893, buttresses were added to reinforce the walls weakened by previous tremors. Devastating floods inundated the church in 1876, 1955, 1964, 1974, and 1984. In 1969, the church floor was raised by 0.80 m to solve the problem of flooding. In the 1970s, new doors were opened along the nave to give more light and air to the church. These renovations unfortunately ruin the lines of the church.

The church follows a cruciform plan with a sacristy at the rear. Above the sacristy a large room, now a storeroom, which probably once served as the priest’s residence because the sacristy itself has a grand entrance, almost a second facade, and the flight of stairs leading to the second floor is of finely cut stone.

The sacristy facade has a wooden relief of San Ignacio holding a book, his right hand lifted in blessing. The relief is enclosed in a medallion or cartouche held by two women wearing flowing robes and feathered bonnets, in the manner of heraldic supporters. The women with bonnets are a common baroque allegory for the Americas. Why this motif was used in Loboc, when Loboc is in Asia, remains unanswered. Perhaps the builders based the relief on an imported engraving they had seen.

The Jesuit-built church facade is an example of plateresque, the Spanish version of the renaissance that resembled silverwork (plata). It is richly ornamented with scrolls, tendrils, niches, medallions, and pilasters. The facade is flanked by two low octagonal towers, which house stairwells. The fenestrations along the nave’s exterior are decorated with cherubs wearing feathered bonnets and engaged pillars, supporting the church, with cartouches for displaying the Jesuit monogram.

The church has five retablos. The main retablo is in the neoclassical style of the 19th century. Two smaller retablos, each at the transept endings, are a mixture of styles. One has columns resembling pierced ivory pieces carved by Chinese artisans. These smaller retablos may have been pieced out of an older structure now demolished, probably from the old main altar. Part of what appears to have been a florid baroque retablo has been incorporated as the framework of the neoclassical altar. The church’s ceiling is a burst of color and ornament, the work of Canuto Avila, his son Ricardo, and Raymundo Francia. These Cebuano painters, who signed their work in Loboc in 1926 and 1927, ornamented many churches of the Visayas in the 1930s. One panel commemorates the flood of 26 Nov 1876, when 400 persons were saved because they evacuated to the upper floors of the convento.

Much of this wealth of art, heritage, and history came tumbling down on 15 October 2013 at 8:15 am, when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Bohol and the neighboring islands, especially Cebu. The bell tower raised by the Recollects collapsed, leaving about a third standing. The church was damaged in three parts. The Recollect facade and part of the plateresque Jesuit facade collapsed. The wall at the transept crossing split so the wall between the nave and sanctuary was damaged. The upper floors of the three-story convento behind the church fell into the first.

It has been theorized that damage was caused not only by the tremors associated with the earthquake but also by liquefaction because the church complex is sited beside the Loboc River. Water from the river would have mixed with the soil as often happens during an earthquake. This weakened the building’s foundation. The deteriorated ground could also be attributed to the digging of the foundation for a new bridge in the 1990s. Ironically, the unfinished bridge stands today next to the ruins of the bell tower.

While its damage was immense, the earthquake also revealed a surprise. Hidden from view behind the 19th century neoclassical altar was a polychrome relief in stucco of an unknown martyr, most likely a Japanese martyr like Paul Miki or John Goto. When the retablo collapsed, the relief emerged. The church is being restored by the National Museum of the Philippines.


Originally posted 2011-11-22 03:47:42.