Luna Church

Luna Church
Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandria in Luna, La Union, 1997 (Photo by Betty Lalana and Lino Arboleda, Ortigas Foundation Library Collection)

Roman Catholic Parish Church of Santa Catalina de Alexandria / Location: Luna, La Union / Built late 17th century / Builder: Fr Mateo Bustillos

The town of Luna was previously known as Namacpacan, an Ilocano word meaning “one who had given food” since its people used to share food with travelers going north during the Spanish colonial period. The name Namacpacan was changed to Luna in 1906 to honor Doña Laureana Novicio Luna, a native of the town and mother of revolutionary Gen Antonio Luna and master painter Juan Luna.

Luna, a coastal town, was founded as a visita (mission chapel) of Balaoan by the Augustinians in 1690. It remained under Balaoan until 1711. The following year, Don Diego de Gorospe, then Bishop of Nueva Segovia, requested that the town be handed over to the secular clergy. This plan did not materialize as an Augustinian priest, Fr Pedro de Castro, was appointed minister of the town in 1713 by the private council of the Augustinians. He was followed by another Augustinian priest, Fr Diego del Castillo, in 1714. Luna had always been under the care of the Augustinians except in 1810-40, when the seculars took over. Its residents supported themselves through fishing, agriculture, and selling of pebbles from its coast.

The town’s church was built in the late 1690s by Fr Mateo Bustillos, OSA, minister of the district of Purao (Balaoan) from 1696 to 1697. It has two lateral aisles lined by posts made of molave. It is roofed by a variety of bamboo called caña de bojo, the practice and style in the construction of houses of the principales (elite) and natives of that period. At the entrance of its atrium is a capilla posa (small outdoor oratory), akin to those found in church and monastery complexes in Mexico, except that Luna’s looks like a fortress or a ceremonial archway.

The church shows a strong element of the baroque. The facade is divided into three registers horizontally and three vertically. Engaged columns with a simplified version of the Corinthian capital, divide the facade vertically. The central section is differentiated from the side sections by having twin pillars. The central section is pushed outwards in characteristic baroque fashion, similar to that of San Vicente, Ilocos Sur. In the Philippines, this type of facade is uncommon. Niches and arches define the facade: the central door has a semicircular arched entrance. That same design is used in the fenestration of the second story. The third story is essentially decorative (as it corresponds to the church roof) rather than functional. Its center section is crowned by a semicircular pediment, another uncommon motif in Philippine colonial churches. Flanking this central section are curves that link the pediment with the second story.

Flanking the facade are twin towers, three stories tall and octagonal in plan. The tower is crowned by a balustrade and a pyramidal roof resting on an octagonal base.

The church interior is divided into three sections by a colonnade of wooden pillars. The church has altars in various styles. The main altar is baroque and is a faint echo of the facade because it uses engaged columns with Corinthian capitals and has a slight projection at the center. The two retablos at the transept are embellished in rococo style. A side altar to the Sacred Heart is in the classical revivalist style. In its own modern interpretation of the baroque retablo and located along the nave is the altar of the miraculous Virgen de Namacpacan. The image was canonically crowned on 24 November 1959. Outside the church on the epistle side is a well, whose waters are said to be curative.

An important pilgrimage site during the Spanish colonial period, the church is reputedly the best-preserved church complex in the province of La Union. It was declared a National Cultural Treasure (NCT) by the National Museum on 31 July 2001. Although it is greatly dilapidated and split in half, the National Museum likewise declared its Spanish-era brick watchtower along the stony beach of Luna as NCT on 24 Nov 2014 together with the watchtowers of Bacnotan, Balaoan, San Fernando City, and San Juan.


Originally posted 2008-11-22 04:17:04.