Bantay‘s restored 18th century Church of St. Augustine, also known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, was first built from 1691 to 1692 by Fr. Alonso Cortes. Evacuees took refuge here during the Basi Revolt of 1807. It was rebuilt and restored by Fr. Eduardo Navarro (parish priest from 1870 to 1875) and was finished by Fr. Lizardo Villanueva in 1892.
Fr. Alfredo Versoza patched the roof with galvanized iron. Damaged during World War II, the church was repaired in 1950 and the interior decorated by Fr. Jose Brillantes. This 45.09 m. long and 11.69 m. wide brick church is flanked by massive rectangular twin towers.
Its facade has Baroque (decorative volutes around the second level windows), Neo-Gothic (pointed lancet-like arch flanked by blind pointed arcading at recessed main entrance) and pseudo-Romanesque (central window’s shaft with balustrade) features.
The facade’s only decorated parts are broken curves along the top of the triangular pediment and the inverted traceries below the eaves. The imposing church once was in the shape of a cross but the two wings that formed the arms of the cross were damaged during the Second World War.
The eerie but romantic “Chapel by the Ruins,” an open air chapel at the remains of the right wing of the original structure, was said to have been the place where priests were imprisoned by Diego Silang during the 1763 revolt against the Spaniards.
Its separate 3-storey hilltop and slightly crumbling square bell tower, which served as a lookout for approaching enemies, could be climbed for a fine view of an old nearby cemetery and the surrounding area.
Inside the church is the miraculous and greatly venerated image of Our Lady of Charity (Nuestra Señora de La Caridad), the oldest Marian image in the Ilocos. Legend has it that it was found my some local fishermen in a wooden box which was floating on Bantagay River. The 50-inch tall image is made of wood, except for the ivory face and hands (its ivory parts were stolen in 1928). On January 13, 1956, the image was officially crowned by Egidio Vagnozi, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines.
Address: Manila-North Road, Zone 5, 2727 Bantay, Ilocos Sur. Tel. (075) 722-4072. Bell Tower open 6 AM – 6 PM. Feast of St. Augustine: May 5. Feast of Our Lady of Charity: Second Sunday of January.
How to Get There: Bantay is located 406.17 kms. from Manila and 1.83 kms. north of Vigan City.