Morong Church

Morong Church
Church and convento of San Geronimo in Morong, Rizal, 2014 (Mariano Sayno)

Roman Catholic Parish of San Geronimo Church complex / Location: Morong, Rizal / Built ca 1615, renovated, 1850-53 and 1966 / Builder: Bartolome Palatino

Morong parish traces its origins to the pioneers Fr Juan de Plasencia and Fr Diego de Oropesa, OFM, who erected a cross on the northeastern shore of Laguna in 1578. For lack of Franciscan missionaries, Morong did not have a resident priest until 1586 when Fr Blas de la Madre de Dios was assigned to Morong. He gathered people together in a reduccion (controlled settlement) and formally established Morong. Morong would play a central role in the towns along the eastern coast of Laguna so that on 23 February 1853 it was constituted capital of a district with the same name. That district was renamed Rizal in the American period.

The present church was built ca 1615 by Chinese masons who laid its foundations on a rock, some 10 m in height from the level of the town and the river that divides it. An earlier church, located on the opposite side of the river, was burned in 1612 with the rest of the town. The church fabric seems to have lasted for more than two centuries because there are no reports of it being destroyed or repaired until the 19th century when Bartolome Palatino from Paete worked with Fr Maximo Rico, OFM, to create a new facade. Because there was very little space on the rock where the church was built for a separate bell tower, it was decided to pull down the old facade and integrate the bell tower with the design, which is what Palatino did. He built the new facade three-stories tall, with the tower constituting the fourth story. The central vertical section bulges outwards, while the portions flanking it recede. Paired columns mark the central portion, and single columns mark the sides. Above the main entrance, shaped as a Roman arch, is the window of the choir loft. Above that is a window corresponding to the third story. Both windows are flanked by pilasters and crowned by ornamented lintels. To either side of the main entrance and the choir loft are ornamented blind windows. A frieze of dentils defines the division between stories. The octagonal bell tower is pierced by windows on all sides and crowned by a dome, on top of which is a cross. Twin columns decorate the sides of the octagon. The bell tower and the lower two stories are linked by a decorative balustrade. This facade, decorated with the symbol and image of San Geronimo touching the head of a Chinese lion has been called an excellent expression of Philippine baroque.

A pair of granite Chinese lions also flank the beginning of the road ascending to the church. Some of the stone statuary from the facade that had been damaged have been removed and are found in a garden along the gospel side of the apse. In front of the church is an elevated patio with a low adobe fence from colonial times, decorated at set points with pyramidal finials topped by spheres. On the side of the fence across from the facade is inscribed “Año de 1696”.

The church is shaped like a cross. Although greatly renovated after 1965, the interior has retained some of its original ornamentation and design. Noteworthy are the corbels shaped as crocodile heads supporting the choir loft. Also to be noted are the painted Stations of the Cross, the paintings of the evangelists at the pendentives supporting the cupola, and the bas-relief of Christ’s baptism in the baptistry. The church’s old convento, now a school, is well preserved. A modern convento is found on the other side.

It is uncertain when the adjoining convento on the nave’s gospel side was built but details of construction suggest that it or part of it may be as old as the church. The nave is pierced by openings, some serving as tribunas or balconies that are accessible through the convento. One narrow opening previously functioned as the way to the pulpit, which is now missing. Such an arrangement is found in another Franciscan church, Pakil. The pulpit was accessed through the convento, rather than through the body of the church because in colonial times it was common to have a preacher other than the priest presiding at Mass. Usually, the preacher was someone well versed in the local vernacular. A room at the bottom floor of the convento has been remodeled as a Blessed Sacrament Room.

Morong Church has been marked by the National Historical Institute since 1939.

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer

Originally posted 2011-11-22 19:47:47.