Our 6th stop for the trip was the town of Paoay in Ilocos Norte. Another church! I told myself. Every town we have passed had an old church — at least one. We have managed to visit two. I’ve seen photos of the church of Paoay. It’s probably, the most famous of the old churches in Ilocos, if not in the country. I’m not a religious person and touring churches (generally) is more of a mechanical process rather than an exercise of faith. But admittedly, churches especially those built during the Spanish colonization of the country always make a good photo subject.
Located at the heart of the town, the church occupied more than half of a block. Fronting the church, is a park with a well maintained lawn, low hedges and cobblestone pathways. We parked in front of La Herencia Cafe. (We were not going to pass upon the chance to sample La Herencia’s Pinakbet Pizza.) By this time, the clouds has turned into a darker shade of gray and it started to drizzle. We walked towards the church from the far end of the park. From a distance, the church had an imposing presence. It’s massive structure and it’s unique combination of Gothic, Baroque and Oriental designs. Its facade reveals Gothic affinity, its gables show Chinese elements, while the niches topping the walls suggest Javanese influence.
Construction of the Paoay Church also known as the St. Augustine Church was started by the Augustinian friars in 1694. It was completed in 1710. led by Fr. Antonio Estavillo and was re-dedicated in 1894. It is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the building. In 1993, the church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one best examples of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. It has been described as the prime example of Earthquake Baroque architecture, which is the Philippine interpretation of the European Baroque adapted to the seismic condition of the country. Destructive earthquakes are common and have destroyed earlier churches all throughout the country.
The builders used large coral stones to build the lower walls of the church, while bricks were used for the upper level since they were smaller and more manageable to be brought up during the construction. The walls are 1.67 meters thick and supported by 24 beautifully carved buttresses.
There were a lot of tourists scattered on the church grounds. It was tricky to find a good angle without someone walking into your frame. I was becoming conscious as well that the rain might fall any moment and I didn’t bring anything to cover my camera. I took several shots and hurriedly entered the church.
Even inside the church, there were tourists as well, who like us were looking around and taking photos. The interior of the church is less impressive compared to its facade. But I didn’t go to the front of the church to take a closer look at the altar, pulpit or the religious statues.
Heavy rain fell when we were about to go back to La Herencia. We instead sought refuge at a waiting shed beside the church. I’ve seen quite a number of churches (especially living in close proximity to Iloilo, where there are LOT of old churches as well)… but I don’t really take much note of anything. As I looked at the colossal structure Paoay Church with all these dark rain clouds as a backdrop, I realized why this is one of the country’s famous structures. It was beautiful and had an exotic quality with its huge and powerful buttresses. But it is also a reminder that for centuries it has stood witness to a people’s continuous struggle to become nation.