Ma-cho Temple (City of San Fernando, La Union)

Finally, at the northern edge of the city , I drove my Toyota Revo up a promontory overlooking San Fernando Bay, to the impressive Ma-Cho Temple, said to be the largest Taoist temple outside of China.  Meaning “Heavenly Mother,” this ornate temple is a mélange of both Taoist and Catholic symbolism and decor and has 5 gates.  It was constructed in honor of Ma-cho, a Chinese deity of the Sung Dynasty.  

Ma-cho was born in 960 AD at Meizhou village in the scenic island of Moichow in the province of Fukien in southeastern China.  According to legend, she did not cry during the first month of her infancy.  Thus, she was first named Mo meaning “keeping silent.” Intelligent, she became a monk at the age of 10 and was said to be gifted with healing powers and the ability to predict the weather and sea conditions, even days ahead.  During typhoons, she actively participated in rescue operations for fishermen.  Locals called her the “Dragon Girl,” “Goddess of the Sea” or “Queen of Heaven.”  She died young, at age 27, but even today, local sailors and fishermen believed that her spirit, dressed in red, continues to  watch over and protected them.

Here in the country, Ma-cho is known as the Virgin of Caysasay, patroness of the Filipino-Chinese faithful.  The temple houses a replica of the image, a parting gift of love given by Taiwanese fishermen in 1968.  The distinctive features of the temple were inspirations of Ma-cho through buyong sessions  held every other week.  Here, temple elders read or interpret Ma Cho’s message to the faithful.

Ma-Cho Temple

The temple, designed by Arch. Tomas Diokno, sits on a 9,000-sq. m. lot at an elevation of 70 ft..  Groundbreaking began on September 11, 1975 and actual construction began on December 2, 1976.  The Virgin’s image was enshrined on July 3, 1978 and the temple was finally inaugurated on December 6 that same year.  Devotees believe that Ma Cho and the Virgin of Caysasay are one and the same.  From September 21 to 26, devotees gather for the annual celebration of the image’s enshrinement.  From the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours in Taal, Batangas, the devotees, together with the image of Ma Cho, will travel back to San Fernando City.  Once in the city, it is borne in a procession around the city’s business district, accompanied by the traditional Dragon Dance.  It is then culminated by a cultural presentation.

The temple’s  meditation room

The temple’s entrance wall is adorned with beautifully-carved, imported stone statues of the “Chinese 18 Saints,” in different poses.  Its circular courtyard, made with brick, has a centrally-located pond with water lilies and goldfish.  Beside it is a small structure where one can burn offerings for the gods.  On the other side are statues of animals, believed by the Chinese to be good luck charms.  The temple’s towering arch has a panoramic view of the South China Sea.  The meditation room has a grand staircase and red kneelers.  Ma Cho’s 8″ high wooden image is adorned with a traditional Chinese headdress and richly-colored robe.  Her oriental eyes are closed while her hands are clasped together at her chest. Aside from incense, devotees also offer food and money at the shrine.  Also housed in the sacred temple is Tho Ti Kong (God on Earth) while in another garden stands the statue of Kuan Yi Ma (God of Mercy), another important Chinese deity.

Ma-Cho Temple: Ma-Cho Temple Driveway, Brgy. II, City of San Fernando, La Union.

Pindangan Church Ruins (City of San Fernando, La Union)

Off the National Highway, near Camp Oscar Florendo, I drove for about 500 m. to the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family in Brgy. San Vicente, about 1 km. south of the city.  Beside it are the Pindangan Church Ruins,  the picturesque, roofless remains of a small vine-covered brick and coral church, the first in San Fernando. The monastery’s nuns are the caretakers of these church ruins.

The Pindangan Church Ruins

The church was built on May 6, 1786 to celebrate the union of sitios San Vicente de Balanac and San Guillermo de Dalangdang into the new village of Pindangan (derived from the Ilocano word pindang, a traditional method of drying fish).  It was damaged during the 1892 earthquake and left in ruins.  Today, only the solid stone walls and buttresses remain and a new chapel was built at its former altar where a mass is regularly celebrated. A belfry and a deep well are located at its south end. 

Remains of the church’s buttresses

Cathedral of St. William the Hermit (City of San Fernando, La Union)

The kids were still asleep when I awoke the next day and, after informing Grace of my plans, decided to drive the short 5-km. distance, along the National Highway, from the resort to the City of San Fernando to do some sightseeing before we leave for Manila.  I arrived at the  Cathedral of St. William the Hermit, located across the plaza and along Gomez St., just when the mass was about to end.

Church of St. William the Hermit

The seat of the Diocese of San Fernando and a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia, this church was first built of stone and brick from 1773 to 1786.  The present church was built in 1817 by Fr. Simon Torrado, damaged during the 1860 earthquake and rebuilt in 1873 by Fr. Luis Perez.  Fr. Jose Rodriguez Cabezas made some modifications and laid the foundation for the two bell towers and choir loft.  The church was severely damaged during the 1892 earthquake, occupied by rebels in 1898, destroyed again during the liberation (February 26, 1945) and was rebuilt from 1947 to 1949.   The convent, also built in 1817 by Fr. Torrado, was restored by Fr. Jose Rodriguez Cabezas.

The cathedral’s interior
The colonial Baroque facade, profusely decorated in the Art Nouveau style by ornate scrolls and rosetted and foliaged ornaments in plaster reliefs, is supported on each side by four tiers of Tuscan columns, paired columns on the first and second level and single columns on the triangular pediment and its crown.  Single columns are at the far end of the side walls.  The church’s semicircular arched main entrance, heavily moulded with floral patterns, is topped by a depressed three-centered arched window flanked by pointed arched windows.  The bell tower on the right is a later addition.

Stopover: Basilica of Our Lady of Charity (Agoo, La Union)

This town’s church was first built in 1578 with bamboo and nipa by Fr. Juan Bautista Pizarro, replaced with brick and stone, destroyed during the 1592 earthquake, restored in 1873, heavily damaged during the 1892 earthquake and repaired in 1893 by Fr. Aquilino Garcia.  The present church was designed by Arch. Ignacio Palma Bautista, its cornerstone laid on September 8, 1975 and was consecrated on December 8, 1978, the fourth centennial of the Christianization of Agoo.  The church was declared as a minor basilica in 1982, badly damaged during the 1990 earthquake and was again repaired and renovated.

Basilica of Our Lady of Charity

Basilica of Our Lady of Charity

The basilica, located along the National Highway, houses the image of Our Lady of Charity.  The image was first venerated and enthroned in Bantay (Ilocos Sur) and brought to Agoo by its Augustinian parish priest.  It survived, intact, the 1892 earthquake and was canonically crowned on May 1, 1971 by Carmine Rocco, papal nuncio to the Philippines. The massive Mexican-Baroque basilica contains some stone blocks excavated from the old church and has a charming garden, a wishing well and an interesting mural called The Second Coming of Christ by Rey Gimeno.  It is a popular pilgrimage site during Holy Week.

How to Get There: Agoo is located 235.92 kms. from Manila and 33.27 kms.  south of the City of San Fernando.

Stopover: Church of Sts. Peter & Paul (Bauang, La Union)

The town’s church, already built around 1873 by Fr. Mariano Garcia, was severely damaged during the 1892 earthquake, restored by Fr. Leonardo Collado in 1895, slightly damaged in 1944 and its interior was painted in 1978 by Fr. Esteban Mosuela.  Its facade was damaged during the July 16, 1990 earthquake and was rebuilt.  The rectangular, 4-storey bell tower on the left, restored with cement and hollow blocks in 1973, has two bells.  The stone convent, built in 1873 by Fr. Mariano Garcia, was destroyed in 1955, was restored and is now the Sacred Heart School.

Church of Sts. Peter & Paul

Church of Sts. Peter & Paul

The plain and sober-looking Neo-Classical facade has a segmented arch main entrance topped by foliage and flanked by four massive Tuscan columns with double capitals and two semicircular arched statued niches.  The undulating, low and broken pediment, separated from the lower level by a heavy architrave, has a semicircular arched niche flanked by two less massive and shorter Tuscan columns.

How to Get There: Bauang is located 259.38 kms. (a 5.5-hour drive) from Manila and 9.81 kms. (a 30-min. drive) south of the City of San Fernando.