Santa Maria Church

Santa Maria Church
Church of the Asuncion de la Virgen in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, 2015 (Jernel Pateña)

Roman Catholic Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion / Location: Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur / Built ca 1824

An early account mentions that the church and convento of Santa Maria were burned during a revolt in 1660, implying the existence of these buildings as early as that time. Santa Maria is said to have been erected as a parish in 1769. According to legend, the original chapel used to stand at the foot of a large hill. An image of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion venerated here would often disappear, only to be found on a guava tree on top of the hill. The periodic disappearances led to the transfer of the church to the hill, its present site. The relocation on the hill, however, was most probably because of the frequent piratical attacks on lowland coastal communities at that time. The church on a hill provided not only a convenient watchtower which commands a panoramic view of the sea, but also a refuge in case of attacks.

Aside from its unusual location, Santa Maria is also unusual because its convento is located opposite and across from the main church facade, while its bell tower is found beside the middle of the length of the nave. Most conventos adjoin the facade to one side, with the bell tower usually on the other side. This arrangement may have been dictated by the longitudinal contour of the hilltop.

What most probably were wooden structures were burned down in 1822. Reconstruction began in1824. The present church may have been built at this time, for it coincides with the start of Santa Maria as a center for the Augustinian missionaries assigned to evangelize among the Tinguian of the nearby mountains of Abra. The extraordinary long apse, lined on both sides with stone altars for the various devotions of the priests, may be evidence of this, as it suggests a large community of priests typical of a center for missionaries.

The convento suffered some damage from the earthquake of 1880 and was repaired. It must have been during this time that neo-Gothic pointed windows were applied on one of its sides.

From any angle, the approach to the Santa Maria Church is magnificent. A colossal stairway of 85 stone steps leads from the old school to the church buildings. Another stairway on the opposite side of the hill leads down to the cemetery. The rest of the hillside is covered with huge blocks of stone, giving the site the look of a citadel. All the buildings, including the school and the cemetery, are of brick. The walls of the church are very thick, bolstered by huge quadrangular buttresses. The facade is plain and undecorated. It is framed by two exaggerated cylindrical columns. The pediment is curved, a feature shared by the twin school buildings and the cemetery chapel, located below the hill. Their architectural similarities strongly imply that all were built at the same time. The National Historical Institute installed a historical marker on Santa Maria in 1974 and declared it a National Historical Landmark in 1978. It 1993, it was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List under the title “Baroque Churches of the Philippines.”

SOURCE: Manila News-Intellegencer (1991)

Originally posted 2000-11-23 00:07:45.