Surviving centuries: Negros Oriental’s churches

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By Michelle Eve A. de Guzman | April 2008

Any place can be very much defined by its sense of history, and how better to get its feel than to check out its churches.

Traditionally, the spiritual refuge and source of inspiration for residents, these are also rich depositories of the small municipality or city’s past; as you enter its doors, most of which are wooden and old, get acquainted with the smells of its pews and saints, and look up at its ceilings that has withstood decades.

For Negros Oriental, we have Dumaguete’s Sta. Catalina de Alexandria Cathedral and belfry tower, and Bacong’s San Agustin Colonial Church complex, as well as the poetically beautiful old churches of Sibulan, Zamboanguita and Dauin.

Dumaguete

Originally built in 1754, the Sta. Catalina de Alexandria Cathedral is the oldest stone church in Negros, with a congregation that fills up an estimated seating capacity of 3,000 and spills into the streets.

Currently headed by Rector Fr Julius Perpetuo Heruela, it is the host of a lot of June and December weddings, as well as frequent mass weddings. If you are interested in getting married here, a marriage license from the local civil register, pre-cana, baptismal and confirmation certificates, the bride’s permit from the parish of origin, three Sundays publication of banns, an interview and signed promises of parties for mixed marriages are needed.

With packed Wednesday, Friday and Sunday masses, you can get the impression of these worshippers’ sense of belonging there. One of the five priests himself, Fr Ferdinand Ferraren, said that when he stands near the altar table, he feels comfortable and relaxed and becomes one with the crowd.

However, it is worthy to note that what makes the Cathedral special is its famous Belfry Tower, Dumaguete’s oldest landmark. Renovated from a watch tower to a bell tower in 1811, it figures into the city’s interesting etymology.

In a July 28, 2006 article from heritageconservation.wordpress.com, it was said that the belfry tower was used to warn the inhabitants (by ringing the bells) of the then small fishing village of impending raids by marauding pirates from the south of the islands during the 19th Century.

“From its top can be seen the island of Mindanao on the horizon (now obscured by trees and buildings).These raids were so rampant in the area during those times that this little fishing village came to be known as ‘Dumagit’ or ‘Dagit’ which means kidnap in the local Cebuano language. The Spanish authorities later adopted and hispanized the name to ‘Dumaguete’,” stated the article.

The belfry is a four-storey ovoid tower supported by three buttresses. Located near, but separated from the Cathedral, it is made of coral and lime with brick facings, and has arched and diamond-shaped windows.

Bacong

Based on documents from the Provincial Tourism Office, Bacong, the first municipality south of Dumaguete noted for bravery during the Moro pirates’ marauding days, got its name when they fought the enemy with their battlecry, “Bacon, Bacon”, meaning “Arise, get up!”

This hometown of revolutionary hero Pantaleon Villegas, better known as Leon Kilat, boasts of its San Agustin Colonial Church complex, known for its altar and pipe organ. Kilat used to be an acolyte there.

With its first mass celebrated on August 28, 1883, it is one of 26 colonial churches declared by the National Museum as National Cultural Treasures in November 2001. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts put the church and complex up for restoration.

San Agustin Church’s altars, embellished with gold-leaf, are the oldest in the province. A certain Fr Leandro Arrue was responsible for interior adornments, the pavements, the paintings, and the completion of the main and lateral altars.

It is said that through his encouragement, parishioners acquired chandeliers, the marble fountain for the baptistery and holy water fountains at the entrances. Not content with that, Fr Arrue also laid down the foundation of what now stands as the tallest belfry in the province.

Meanwhile, the church’s famous pipe organ, built by the House of Roque de Zaragosa in Spain, was installed in May 1894. It is said that there only two of its kind still surviving. The other one in Bohol is said to be in even worse state.

According to the Panublion Heritage Site, this sandstone church with sedate classical lines is one of the few remaining colonial churches in Negros. Its use of dark sandstone is unusual in the Visayas, where coral is the preferred building material.

Sibulan

Every fiesta, thousands of Sibulanos and visitors from near and far, take part in the celebration, with the Sibulan Parish Church at the center of it all.

According to the June 2007 Sibulan Mirror issue, the fiesta for their patron saint Anthony de Padua gathered thousands of people, who followed the mass from outside the church.

Founded in 1856, the municipality of Sibulan, right next to Dumaguete, got its name from its springs where Sibulanos used to fetched their water.

Zamboanguita

Made of cobblestones, the Zamboanguita Church can be located in a town which derived its name from a close neighbor across the sea. Zamboanguita or little Zamboanga was established in 1866, and truly little with only a modest total of ten barangays.

Dauin

Dauin’s colonial Church of San Nicolas also merges with history as ruins of two dome-shaped watchtowers, used also to warn against pirates, remain fronting it. It is regarded as one of Negros Oriental’s oldest.

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