Monday, January 14, 2008

67. Pampanga's Churches: STA. MONICA CHURCH, MINALIN

SANTA MONICA CHURCH OF MINALIN. The ancient brickstone church with its impressive retablo-like façade has been standing witness for centuries to Minalin’s storied past. Here, a funeral procession is about to start. Ca. late 1950s.

Minalin boasts one of the most beautiful churches in the country—the Sta. Monica Church—which features a most unique façade, mimicking that of a giant retablo. A 1619 mural also can be found on one wall of the church, featuring naïve drawings of mysterious origins. Then again, Minalin’s past has always been replete with legends—such as the time that pieces of lumber stocked at Sta. Maria and meant for the construction of the church were carried away by floodwaters to a hilly place called Burol. This mystifying event gave the town its name—“minalis la ding dutung, minalis ya ing pisamban” (the lumber moved, and so must the church). A certain town head, Diego Tolentino, somehow erred in writing down “minalis”, and the town was referred to as Minalin ever since.

One other version though tells of a Malayan settlement headed by Kahn Bulaun, a descendant of Prince Balagtas. The place they say was famed for its beautiful women and when the Spaniards came, they described the town as “mina linda de las mujerers”. Subsequently, Chinese traders who frequented the place abbreviated the description to “Minalin”.

Minalin, as a place, was already in existence as a visita of Macabebe, as early as 1614. It was detached from its matrix in the same year but it was only in 1618 that a regular priest, P. Miguel de Saldana, was assigned to Minalin. On 31 October 1624, the parish was accepted as a vicariate with P. Martin Vargas as vicar prior. Sta. Maria, its pioneer barangay, was formed from an area of land that was ceded by the Datu of Macabebe to settlers Mendiola, Nucum, Lopez and Intal in 1638. It was named after the settlers’ wives, who were all named Maria.

There are no records as to who built the church, although it has been attributed to the work of P. Manuel Franco Tubil in 1764. One documented source cites the church’s completion before 1834. It was reconstructed at various stages: in 1854, 1877 (by P. Isidro Bernardo), 1885 and 1895 (repaired by P. Galo de la Fuente and Vicente Ruiz, respectively). The church, with Santa Monica as its titular patron (Feast Day, May 11) is 52 meters long, 13 meters wide and 11 meters high. The last Augustinian fraile to serve Minalin was P. Faustino Diez and the 1st native priest was P. Macario Panlilio.

The most notable architectural feature of the Santa Monica Church is its retablo-like façade. The main entrance and windows are bordered with a floral décor evocative of early folk altars. Corinthian columns act as support to the triangular pediment that is topped with a lantern-like kampanilya. In the early days, a lighted beacon was placed on top of the apex of the pediment to guide fishermen as they made their way from the river to the town. The structure is further complemented with a short row of balusters. The semi-circular niches hold painted stone statues of various Augustinian saints, and these are harmoniously designed to blend with the rose windows.

Flanking the church are two hexagonal 4 storey bell towers, a little squatty and low, yet solidly built. There are 4 century-old bells, dated from 1850 to 1877, dedicated to San Agustin and Sta. Monica. A low stone atrium with rare capilla posas encloses the convento. The Sta. Monica Church of Minalin stands as another sublime example of Pampanga’s religious heritage.
(27 September 2003)

No comments: