Santa Barbara Church

Santa Barbara Church – Iloilo, Philippines
Church and convento of Santa Barbara in Iloilo, 2016 (Government of Santa Barbara, Iloilo)

Roman Catholic Church of Santa Barbara Virgin and Martyr / Location: Santa Barbara, Iloilo / Built 1849–1878 / Builders: Fr Francisco Agueria, Fr Mateo Rodriguez, Fr Calixto Fernandez – Santa Barbara Church – Iloilo, Philippines

Formerly a visita (mission chapel) of Jaro, the town of Santa Barbara became an independent parish in 1760, named after its patroness Santa Barbara Virgin and Martyr. It was earlier known as Catmon, after the plant Dilenia bracteata or Dilenia speciosa, with San Pedro Apostol as its titular patron. The town’s fertile land is irrigated by the Salog river to its north and east, and by the Aganan river on the west. (Santa Barbara Church – Iloilo, Philippines)

In 1617, the Augustinians considered transferring the seat of the Jaro parish to Catmon due to its wider and better location. This plan never materialized. After its independence from Jaro and subsequent renaming to Santa Barbara, its progress declined because its political system was ruled only by a privileged few individuals. Up to 1820, its residents were involved in hunting, agriculture, and wood cutting. They also supported themselves through cultivation of tobacco, wheat production, and weaving. Santa Barbara was known for its musical bands, touted as some of the best in the whole of Iloilo. Today, its musical bands continue to perform during religious activities, though not in as grand a scale as before.

The construction of the town’s present church was started by Fr Francisco Agueria in 1849. It is made of limestone blocks quarried from the towns of Alimodian, Leon, and Tubungan. It replaced an older church destroyed in 1787 by an earthquake. The stone edifice started by Fr Agueria was continued by Fr Mateo Rodriguez from 1855 to 1873 and eventually finished by Fr Calixto Fernandez in 1878. The adjacent convent, with floors made of piedra silleria (cut stone) was constructed simultaneously with the church. Both church and convent served as the headquarters of the revolutionary government in Western Visayas led by Gen Martin Delgado. During the Philippine Revolution, both were spared from destruction. They also survived World War II and the “Lady Caycay” earthquake of 1948. On the occasion of the 220th founding anniversary of Santa Barbara, both structures were restored by Msgr Enrique Perez.

The church’s Renaissance-baroque facade has well-unified designs of arches, pillasters, and vas finials. It is divided into three vertical registers and three horizontal sections. The vertical divisions are defined by four twin Ionic pilasters mounted on rectangular bases. The horizontal sections are defined by friezes. In the center of the first story is an arched entrance. Flanking it are niches with statues. This design of arches is echoed at the second story.

The church pediment consists of another shorter story with a niche with statue, crowned by a pediment and finials at the center register. The center is flanked on either side by broken arches that link the pediment to the second story. The facade is embellished with the seal of the Augustinian Order and the Holy See.

The convento follows an L-plan, with its main wing running parallel to the facade and attached to it, and the adjoining wing running perpendicular and attached to the main wing. It lacks a fourth wing to make it a complete atrium. The convento is built in the manner of the bahay na bato (stone house), with a lower story in coral stone and brick, and an upper story of wood. The upper story has a volada (cantelivered overhang), sliding ventanillas (small windows), and capiz windows. But the gem of the convento is found inside. Passing through the main entrance, one is led to an inner garden through archways and a brick colonnade that supports the corridor on the second floor. This corridor of wood is decorated with wooden cutout arches reminiscent of the Victorian gingerbread style. An English connection may not be too far fetched, because with the opening of the Iloilo port to world trade in 1856, the British were actually operating in the Visayas, engaged in the developing sugar industry. The church and convent are examples of better preserved structures in Iloilo that still maintain their Spanish colonial architectural features.

Another notable Spanish-era structure in the town is its stone cemetery, built in 1878-88 by Fr Mateo Rodriguez, using materials coming from possibly the same places as those used in the construction of the church and convent. The cemetery facade bears similarity to the facade of the church. The striking unique feature of this cemetery is the stone tablet located above the arched entrance. It bears an inscription written in Hiligaynon, “Ig-ampo niño cami. Car-on sa amun, buas sa iño.” It translates to “Pray for us. Today is ours, tomorrow is yours.”

Santa Barbara Church and Convent were declared National Historical Landmarks in 1990 by the National Historical Institute, and National Cultural Treasures on 17 November 2013 by the National Museum.

In 2013, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) conducted a detailed engineering study (DES) and architectural investigation on the Santa Barbara church complex and found minor cracks. Actual conservation activities started in January 2014. Cleaning of stone surfaces was conducted by the NHCP.

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer (1991)

Church of Santa Barbara Virgin and Martyr / Location: Santa Barbara, Iloilo

Originally posted 2000-11-22 23:59:57.