Sunday, August 23, 2009

*161. Pampanga's Churches: OUR LADY OF THE ASSUMPTION, San Fernando

ASSUMPTIONISTA WEDDING. The Church of San Fernando was the venure for the second wedding of Dr. PJ Castro with Marita Valencia. Dated 1962.

San Fernando’s landmark, the Church of Our Lady of Assumption, has been standing on the crossroads of history for many years now, many times a witness to a country’s tumultuous quest for identity and freedom. The city of San Fernando itself started as settlement on the banks of a river, named after the saintly king of Castille, Fernando. Early in its history, San Fernando was a flourishing center of trade, and was often referred to as the “second Parian or second Escolta”, owing to its many Chinese residents. It became the capital town of the province, wresting that honor from Bacolor, but the proposal, which was approved by Madrid in 1881, only took effect on 15 August 1904, during the term of Gov. Macario Arnedo.

The first church to rise on this progressive town was started by the first Augustinian cura, Fray Sebastian Moreno in 1756, but construction of the stone-and-brick edifice was only finished by Fray Mariano Alafont in 1781.

In 1788, the parish was entrusted to the care of the native secular clergy, and the construction of a much bigger church on the present site commenced under P. Manuel Canlas. Gobernadorcillo Bernabe Pamintuan rallied the town principalia to support the church’s construction, which was finished in 1808. By then, the parish had reverted to the Augustinians’ administration.

The church, placed under the advocation of our Lady of the Assumption, stood 11 meters high and measured 70 meters long and 13 meters wide. The church interior was painted in trompe l’oeil style by Italian artists Giovanni Divellas and Cesare Alberoni, similar to that used in painting the murals San Agustin Church in Intramuros and the Church of Apalit.

Subsequent restorations were done in 1853 and 1856 respectively, under Fray Pedro Medina and Antonio Redondo, who finished the painting works on the Tuscan interior and added the signature dome. During the Philippine Revolution, the Church, the convento and the casa municipal were burned by Gen. Antonio Luna’s soldiers in early May 1899 to prevent the invading Americans to use the church as headquarters. A second conflagration decimated the Church in 1939.

Under Kapampangan religious Rufino J. Santos, the Church was rebuilt after World War II. American-educated and kabalen Fernando H. Ocampo undertook the ambitious assignment, retaining the church’s noble architecture. The round, majestic dome is still there, rising from the rotunda of the transept. It harkens back to the Baroque style with Renaissance touches. The triangular pediment is decorated with serrated forms on both sides and the hexagonal bell tower rises in four uneven levels, alternating with blind and open arched recesses. In 1950, a large portico with balusters was added, which, unfortunately, blocked the fa├žade of the church.

San Fernando became the seat of the diocese in 1948, and later, the Archdiocese. As such, Our Lady of the Assumption Church had always been the favored venue for major Kapampangan religious events, the most memorable of which is the Canonical Coronation of the Virgen de los Remedios, the patroness of Pampanga province, in 1956.

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