Cathedral of St. William the Hermit (Laoag City, Ilocos Norte)

From Sinait, we finally entered the province of Ilocos Norte and drove the remaining 50 kms., without any stopover, to the provincial capital of Laoag City where we met up with the others for merienda at a Greenwich outlet.  While they were still dining, I slipped out and walked a short distance to to visit the city’s Cathedral of St. William the Hermit and its separate and unusual Sinking Bell Tower.

Cathedral of St. William the Hermit

This church was first built in 1580 as a wood and thatched nipa palm chapel.  The present Italian Renaissance and Baroque-style church was built between 1650 and 1700, seriously damaged during the November 14, 1707 earthquake, partially destroyed by fire in 1843 and completely restored by Fr. Vicente Barreiro.  It was again damaged during the July 18, 1880 earthquake and repaired again by Fr. Santiago Muniz and Engr. Antonio de la Camara.   The church was occupied by Pedro Almazan in 1661, by revolutionaries in 1896, American forces in 1899 and by Aglipayans in 1901.  It was the scene of the 1932 diocesan Marian Congress and was slightly damaged during the September 7, 1983 earthquake when statues from the altar and niches fell to the floor.

This stone and brick church has a unique, recently-plastered, 2-storey facade with a main arched entrance flanked by 4 pairs of overscaled, twin-engaged pilasters, without pediments, crowned by a series of coupled urn-motif finials and pseudo-Corinthian capitals with its rosettes and acanthus leaves.  Rising from the architrave and decorating the choir loft level are 5 sets of mini-columns with pseudo-Doric capitals.  Columns in each story follow their own patterns, ending abruptly without reaching the next level.  There are also capiz windows with wrought iron grilles and two exterior stone staircases, one of which is converted to a Lourdes-type grotto.  From its barrel-vaulted ceilings hang chandeliers donated by the late Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos.  Over the main altar is the Augustinian symbol of a transfixed heart and a tasseled hat.  The deeply recessed niche shows the image of San Guillermo, the patron saint of Laoag.

The Sinking Bell Tower
About 85 m. away from the St. William’s Cathedral is the 45-m. high, 90-m. diameter (at base) Sinking Bell Tower, at the northern end of Don Mariano Marcos Bridge.  One of the most massive and tallest in the country, it was built even before the foundations of the cathedral were laid (around 1660).  Made of bricks (joined by molasses and the juice of sablot leaves mixed with lime and sand), it leans slightly to the north and has sunk half a storey since its construction allegedly due to the 1957 earthquake and its being built on a sandy subsurface.  Now, a man can not pass through its gate without stooping.  Patterned after a famous bell tower in Italy, it is reinforced with four massive columns, crowned by fascias, in each corner and rises, ziggurat-like, with each segment growing smaller as you go higher until you reach its smallest segment, the dome.  Buttresses of the second and third stories end up in Baroque scrolls. A big clock on the tower’s western face has long since gone.  A winding stairway, with two flights on each storey, leads to the belfry where huge bells are installed.
Grace and the kids were already waiting for me when I returned to Greenwich.  We parted ways with Tellie and Frankie and left for the final 75-km. drive to Pagudpud.

Cathedral of St. William the Hermit: A. Bonifacio St.,  Laoag City, Ilocos Norte.

Stopover – Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino (Sinait, Ilocos Sur)

About 8 kms. after Cabugao, we entered the town of Sinait, the last Ilocos Sur town before entering the province of Ilocos Norte.  Here, we all made a longer stopover at the Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino.  This church, damaged during the earthquake of 1620, was burned in 1760 and finished between 1760 and 1822.  It was restored by Fr. Celestino Paniagua (parish priest from 1889 to 1895).  Damaged by typhoon in 1953, the church was repaired in 1960 by Fr. Raymundo Garcia.

Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino

The church has a massive, stucco-cement Neo-Classic and Baroque facade with no openings and flanked by 2 almost square twin bell towers.  The simple arched main entrance, flanked by two pilasters, has a rectangular window above it flanked by two small occoli decorated along the outer edges.  Above it is a small niche. A wooden tablet, carved with the Spanish coat-of-arms, is above the main door.  The quaint Moorish-inspired belfries have 2 levels, topped by balustrades, with one semicircular blind opening at the second level.

The church interior

The church houses the miraculous 17th century, life-size crucifix of the Black Nazarene or Santo Cristo de Sinait.

According to a long-lost manuscript, written between 1731 and 1734, this crucifix was found by some Sinait fishermen in 1620 floating along the coast of Sitio Lugao, Dadalaquitan Norte, in a casket together with the image of La Virgen Milagrosa de Badoc and was immediately placed inside the church.

Carved in hardwood and 18 feet long, it has a rich brown color and an impressive countenance. The sanctuary became famous throughout the Ilocos and devotion to the image was tirelessly spread in 1754 by Father Juan Dominguez.  It is believed to have aborted a plague that hit Vigan in 1756 and according to residents, still perspires sweet-scented oil.  A replica was recently installed by parish priest, Fr. Raymundo Garcia, at the spot where the statue was supposedly found

Church of St. Mark the Evangelist (Cabugao, Ilocos Sur)

About 13 kms. past Magsingal, after the town of San Juan, I again made a short stopover at the town of Cabugao to photograph the roadside Church of St. Mark the Evangelist.  Built from 1695 to 1696 by Fr. Andres Canalejo, this church was reinforced in 1824, finished by Fr. Juan Zugasti between 1817 and 1834, seriously damaged in 1870, restored by Fr. Saturnino Pinto, damaged during the 1880 earthquake and restored by Fr. Juan Zallo.  It was damaged by a fire in 1965.

Church of St. Mark the Evangelist

This church’s scantily decorated Baroque facade, divided into 2 levels, has a semicircular arched main entrance flanked by paired Doric columns and blind segmented windows on the first level, semicircular arched windows on the second level.  Its broken  pediment,  with crestings on the raking cornice, is topped by a domed turret.  On its left is a 5-storey bell tower.

Magsingal Cultural Museum (Magsingal, Ilocos Sur)

We finally left Vigan City by 1 PM and, 11.2 kms. out of the city, past the towns of San Ildelfonso and Sto. Domingo, we made a short stopover at the the Magsingal Cultural Museum, also called the Museum of Ilocano Culture and Artifacts.  Managed by the National Museum, parts of its displays are housed within the ruins of the town’s former Church of St. William.

The old church was started in 1662 by Fr. Alonso Cortes, finished in 1723, destroyed by earthquake soon after, rebuilt in 1730 and then burned by the rebel forces of Diego Silang.  Only the intact bell tower and part of the ruined walls remain.  On October 1982, it was restored and transformed into a museum housing the private collection of the late Mr. Angel Cortez (former curator of the Magsingal Museum).

It showcases the material culture of Northern Luzon.  The curator’s house across the street displays Neolithic tools, excavated porcelain and earthenware, antique santos, weapons and implements, baskets and headgear and old parish records.

Magsingal Cultural Museum: National Highway, Magsingal, Ilocos Sur. Open daily, 9-11:30 AM and 1:30-4:30 PM.  Visit is by appointment. Admission is free.

Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle (Vigan City, Ilocos Sur)

The next day,  I ate a late breakfast of Vigan longanisa (Ilocano pork sausages) with egg, watching out the window as Frank’s wife Cherry, my nieces Jaja and Sandy and nephew Gelo, as well as Tellie’s daughter Mandy (with her yayas) enjoyed a horse-drawn ride in a calesa, a truly unique way to tour the city.

Sandy and Jaja on board a calesa

After breakfast, we all made our way to the cream and white Vigan Cathedral, officially called the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, to hear the 10 AM mass, it being Palm Sunday.  Mena Crisologo, that early morning, was quite impressive as the diffused light transformed the buildings and street into a scene straight out of 18th century Vigan.

Vigan Cathedral

The Earthquake Baroque-style cathedral was started in 1790 and was completed in 1800.   Inside are 3 naves, 12 altars and a choir loft.  Chinese influence is seen in the baptistery, altar, brass communion handrails, a pair of Fu dogs and stylized moldings carved about the exterior doors.  Most of the original church paraphernalia and artifacts are still in place.  The main altar has beaten silver panels.  Its octagonal Italian Baroque bell tower, on a square base, was built from 1790 to 1800 and stands, separately, 15 m. south of the cathedral, in Plaza Burgos.

National Museum (Vigan City, Ilocos Sur)

It was now  late in the afternoon and I still had time for a visit to the 2-storey, 422-sq. m. National Museum, formerly the Ayala Museum and Library.  This house, built in 1788, was the former birthplace and colonial residence of martyred priest Fr. Jose A. Burgos.  At its ground floor is a Hall of Fame of Ilocano heroes and achievers, dioramas of local historical events (Tobacco Monopoly in 1782, Paoay Church Construction in 1704, Gomburza Execution, Battle of Tirad Pass, etc.), Filipiniana costumes, and Tingguian, looms for abel weaving, farming and fishing implements and Ilocano ethnic arts and crafts (burnay products, etc.).  There are also scaled models of two trading ships.  The first, a pichili trading junk, also called the Shantung junk, is regarded as the oldest type of Chinese sea junk used in fishing and trading.   Its actual length was 150 ft. and it stood 14 ft. high.  The second was that of a Japanese vessel that trade in Luzon from 1596 to 1615.  Around the models are trade ceramics.

National Museum
Upstairs are antique collections and memorabilia of the Burgos family such as Vienna furniture (beds, mirrors, divans, dining chairs, pianos, etc.) plus an old harp, gramophone, old telephones and other period pieces and heirlooms. On the walls are a priceless collection of 14 Esteban Villanueva canvasses. Esteban Villanueva was a businessman and unschooled painter from Vigan who depicted bloody events of the 1807 Basi Revolt in 14 36 by 36-inch frames.  At one time they were owned by Buenaventura Bello, a former president of the Ilocano Historical Association.  Until a few years ago, the paintings remained unrestored but a contemporary artist was commissioned to retouch them.  In spite of this, the painter’s original style is noticeable: details of costume and face, lack of perspective, the composition of the groups, ominous comets and even the little horse.  All were signed “E. Villanueva.”

I made it back to the inn before nightfall, joining Grace and Jandy for a sumptuous dinner of crispy okoy (flaky shrimp cakes) and pansit at the inn’s coffee shop.  Once filled, I finally decided to hit the sack for a well-deserved shuteye.

National Museum: cor. Plaza Singson Encarnacion and Burgos St., Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.       Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 8:30 to 11:30 AM and 1:30 to 4:30 PM.  Weekend and holidays are by appointment.  Admission: PhP10 per adult and PhP5 for children (12 years and below).