Tuesday, August 5, 2008


HAIL MARY. Guagua's grand church, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Note the garland-decorated Grecian columns that characterize the altar mayor. Ca. 1920s.

Guagua’s landmark is its simple, yet spacious church that has stood witness to the town’s unraveling history for over two centuries. The church—dedicated to the Immaculate Conception—traces its lowly beginnings back in the 1500s, when Guagua (from ‘uaua’—mouth of a river) , a primal settlement on the banks of the river, was first visited by Augustinian missionaries. A makeshift structure was erected in 1587, only to be razed by fire. A replacement church was erected, manned Fr. Bernardo de Quevedo (prior) and Fr. Juan de Zabala (resident priest) who were officially named to evangelize in this place.

It would seemed that the church flourished, as it was asked to pay an annual rent of 100 pesos, 100 bushels of rice and 100 chickens to the infirmary of the San Agustin Monastery. By 1612, the census listed 3 priests and 3,600 souls living in prosperous Guagua. Guagua by then had attained an enviable level of prosperity brought about by its rich agricultural lands and its Chinese Parian.

Of the town’s spiritual side, Fray San Agustin noted: “Guagua occupies 2nd place among the converts of Pampanga, just after that of Bacolor, although formerly, it was number one.” One observer wrote that the Guaguanos “are well educated, generally brave and courageous, very good Christians, who revere their pastors more than any other town in Pampanga. They are showy during public ceremonies especially during the Semana Santa processions which can compare with those of Spain”.

This fervor was much apparent in the constructions that took place when Fr. Jose Duque took over as parish priest in 1661. Parochial buildings which began in 1641 continued under the dynamic priest who not only helped in pacifying the Pampanga rebellion in 1660 but also went on a building spree, raising structures of bricks and stones.

The church measured 6 meters long, 16 meters wide and 12 meters high—and was “as beautiful and as big as that of San Agustin in Manila”. In 1762, funding for its remodeling were obtained by Fr. Manuel Carrillo, who is credited in building the present stone convent. In 1862, Fr. Antonio Bravo had the church painted and in 1886, the beautiful dome was added by Fr. Paulino Fernandez. Reputedly, the church had the best organ in Pampanga at this time, a donation from a certain Dna. Carmen.

Although devoid of the usual ornamentations, the church façade displays classic elegance. The massive belltower provides contrast to the slender columns lining the building frontal. The altar, with its characteristic Grecian columns has also been worked on by noted artist, Spanish-trained carver Willy Layug, a resident of the town. Today, the church, which stands majestically next to the municipal building, also houses the Cardinal Santos Catholic Center and the Immaculate Conception Parochial School, a monument to the Spanish missionary zeal as well as the devout spirituality of the people of Guagua.

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

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