The town on which the church would rise was known in the days of old as Kuliat (named after the kuliat plant), a part of San Fernando. First settled by husband and wife Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Dña. Rosalia de Jesus, Kuliat was finally separated from San Fernando in 1829. The name was changed to Angeles, in honor of the founder, Don Angel, and also its titular patrons, Los Angeles de la Guardia (Deng Tala-ingat Angeles), under whose advocation the town was placed in 1830. It was served by a secular priest until Fr. Vicente Andres was appointed prior in 1843.
The first church of the town was made of light materials like nipa. Fr. Guillermo Masnou replaced the temporary church with one of wood in 1855. Fr. Ramon Sarrionandia started the construction of the present edifice of stone and bricks in 1860, utilizing the services of Antonio de la Camara, a Spanish architect based in Manila. The work went on for 20 years, with Fr. Juan Merino continuing the project in 1881. Manpower was provided by Filipino peasants, who worked for free, under the “polo y servicios” system, a kind of forced labor, imposed by the Spanish government. Still, the church remained unfinished, and even in that state, it was solemnly blessed and opened to the public in 1890. When Fr. Pedro Ibeas assumed his post in 1891, he inaugurated the “magnificent church, a perennial monument to the religious dedication of the townspeople of Angeles”, as described in the Augustinian Catalogo of Elviro Jorde.
Permission to finish the church was granted only after a letter of request dated 28 March 1892 was sent by the Fr. Provincial to the Archbishop of Manila, asking for authorization to complete the construction of the church. Fr. Rufino Santos put in more work in 1893 but it was only in 1897 that the Sto. Rosario Church as we know it today, was finally completed. The beautiful structure had a transept 70 meters long, 20 meters wide and 12 meters high. The recessed arch windows are encased with lattice work, a Renaissance influence. The grand entrance doors are fully and deeply carved with biblical scenes. The main altar is known for its magnificent silver work.
From 1896-1898, the back lot of the church was used as a place of execution for Filipino rebels. The last Spanish priest to serve was Fr. Baltazar Gomorra. After the Revolution was entrusted to native priests. Again, the church figured prominently in the town’s history when it was converted into a military hospital –the 2nd Division Hospital-- by the U.S. Army from August 1899 to December 1900 (perhaps, as late as 1902). The Holy Family Academy, founded by the Augustinian Sisters in 1910 and later taken by the Benedictines in 1922 was housed in the adjacent building. It served as barracks for American troops and, in the next world war, was used as Officers’ Quarters and arsenal by the Japanese Imperial military forces in early 1942.
The Santo Rosario Church continues to touch the lives of thousands of Kapampangans in bustling Angeles, where, in the midst of an expanding concrete jungle that threatens to cover every inch of the city with steel and concrete, a piece of history lives on.
(2 August 2003)