Guiuan is a significant part of the Philippine history. In the 16th century, when Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines, it is believed that he first landed on the island of Homonhon. It is probably because of this fact that the majority of the population of the town are devout Catholics and the town's church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, is one of the oldest in the country.
During the Second World War, Guiuan served as one of the Alliance's bases. What's left of the American occupation nowadays are just concrete slabs which once served as the foundations of a vast supply depot, and an air strip which now serves as the town's own airport.
Besides the rich historical background, Guiuan boasts many beautiful scenic spots including white sand beaches. Being a coastal town in the Pacific side, the town is blessed with many beaches that are perfect for swimming and surfing.
Guiuan was convenient emergency stop for the galleon and from the late 17th century was a take off point for the Marianas.
According to Putong, a local historian, the Augustinians founded Guiuan in 1585 though most likely this meant that the Augustinians had briefly toured Guiuan and preached the faith as Huerta and others claim that the Jesuits founded Guiuan.
In 1595, Jesuits took charge of Guiuan.
By the mid–1600s, according to Fernández, it was the third largest fortified town in the Philippines, the other two Manila and Zamboanga. Delgado considers the Guiuan fort the second best fort south of Manila.
In, 1696, tribesmen from Palau were cast adrift in Guiuan. They helped in rediscovering the route to the Marianas islands and Guam. Spaniards and missionaries on their way to the Philippines had at one time or the other touched upon these islands but in spite of many attempts, notably by the Jesuits, the return to this island was unknown and fraught with dangers. Contrary winds and currents made a journey to the islands difficult, so that the standard route to these islands involved traveling to Mexico and then getting to the island on the return trip to Manila. This was the route, Blessed Diego de San Vitores, proto-martyr of Guam, took when he established missions in the island.
Before 1700, a church was built and in 1718, Murillo Velarde records the construction of church, probably a second and more permanent structure. But this church burnt later. Lured by the possibility of trade by the 1700s, Guiuan had a considerable Chinese community, sign of its active engagement in trade.
Delgado writing in 1754 describes the church as single-naved and in good repair, indicating the church mentioned by Velarde must have been repaired after the fire mentioned above.
In 1768, Guiuan and other southern Samar missions were given to the Augustinians who were given spiritual charge of Leyte. Though Guiuan belongs geographically to Samar Island, it was in fact easier to supervise it from Leyte. But unable to meet the demands for personnel, the Augustinians ceded Guiuan to the Franciscans in 1795. But for nine years the Franciscans could not supply any resident pastor.
It was in 1804, that the first Franciscan missionary Fray Miguel Pérez arrived. We suppose that nine years of neglect had its toll on the buildings at Guiuan.
In the years 1844 and following, records indicate that the church was renovated, and the roof covered with tiles. All these upon the initiative of Fray Manuel Valverde and Fray Pedro Monasterio. Huerta describes the parochial house as made of stone. In 1854, the Franciscans build a bell tower on top of a seaside bastion of the fort.
In 1872, the Franciscan Fray Arsenio Figueroa built another convento, although there was already a smaller residence beside the church. To do this part of the seaside fortification wad demolished.
In 1935, Guiuan church was refurbished while Msgr. Guimalobot was pastor. In 1987, the sanctuary was renovated. In 2002, researchers from the National Museum documented the seashells used in decorating the baptistery.
“The castle of Guiuan . . . is the best and most regularly planned in all the Visayas. It exceeds in grandeur the celebrated fort of Zamboanga. The Fathers with the aid of the townspeople built the fort for their defense. It is quadrilateral, each side being 70 brazas long. At every corner is a bulwark. On these bulwarks six pieces of artillery can be mounted. Within the fort, which is all of cut stone, stands the single-naved church, large and capacious, and the house of the priest with all the necessary offices. It has four large patios, one serves as a cemetery and affords a commodious space for the schools. The other has a garden where a two-story warehouse stands. The kitchen is found in one of the bulwarks. On the bulwarks facing the sea are mounted six bronze cannons of various calibers, and a large one of iron, plus various lantacas, whipstaff, swivel guns, muskets and other arms which the ministers buy with the alms given by the inhabitants. They also purchase gunpowder and bullets as an annual surety with which they can defend the town from any armed enemy attack” thus Fr. Delgado (1754, 239–40) describes the fortification at Guiuan.
The Guiuan fort is partially preserved. The southeastern bulwark where the Franciscans built a bell tower in 1854 still stands. So does another bulwark on the southwestern end, and parts of the southern and western wall. We gather from Delgado that the Jesuits did not build a bell tower because he mentions the bell used to sound alarms as hanging inside the fort. Mentally extending the remains of the southern wall shows it once bisected the convento built on the southern side. Although Repetti identifies this convento as Jesuit, he appears to be mistaken. Why build a convento outside the defensive perimeter? Besides, Delgado remarks that the Jesuits lived inside the fort. Rather the building on the southern side is the 1872 convento, while we infer that the Jesuit convento or what is left of it are the two rooms directly behind the sanctuary, beneath which the old sacristy stood. This would place the residence within the defensive perimeter, as Delgado states. Besides, the convento fits Huerta’s description of a stone building.
The Franciscans apparently added a transept and a baptistry. This is the sense of Huerta’s “reedificada.” Architectural evidence bears this out. The main nave (Delgado’s single-naved church) is unified in its interior motifs and dimensions. Stucco angels decorate the church interior, and the doors leading to the choir loft bear the emblems of Mary and the Society above their arches. The main nave is more than two meters taller than the transept and the concourse from the transept to the main nave is impeded by a few centimeters of wall, unusual if the transepts were planned together with the nave. The transept appears as an afterthought. The thickness of the church wall at the transept opening is less than that of the rest of the church suggesting that room was made for some structure, very likely a retablo, which was then removed and transferred elsewhere. In fact, parts of that retablo are in the church.
Guiuan owns numerous altars—a virtual history of the parish. Aside from the main altar two side altars stand along the nave. One bears mixed parentage, a retablo from Franciscan times and a rococo frontal with the Augustinian emblem. Each transept end has an altar. One which houses a templette has florid baroque motifs, probably remnants of the side altar from Jesuit times. The altar table itself is cuplike, typical of Franciscan rococo, similar to the altars in the Franciscan church of Baras. Could these altars have come from Luzon?
The main altar belongs to the Baroque style and traces to the Jesuit era. Divided into a number of niches separated by solomonic columns and encrusted with heavy floral carvings, the impression created is that of being heavy and overwrought. The carved wooden altar frontal bears the image of the Virgin Mary flanked by kneeling priests in chasuble with the images of Jesuits saints in floral roundels. Two processional candle holders are shaped like altar servers or sacristans, dressed in cassok and surplice. One wears a medal with a monogram of the name “Jesus” and the other “Mary.” A pair of solomonic columns stretching to the ceiling flanks the main retablo. From a corbel shaped like a human hand hangs a pulley, probably used to raise and lower a sanctuary lamp or probably used to raise a curtain known as manto lanquin (manto from Spanish meaning veil; and lanquin from Chinese meaning black) that covered the altar from Passion Sunday to Holy Saturday.
An outstanding Franciscan addition is the baptistry located near the church entrance. It is decorated like grottoes—that is, with shells—and coral. Probably the only example of its kind in the Philippines. Recently, the National Museum of the Philippines documented the baptistery and identified at least eight types of shells used to decorate. The baptistry alone makes Guiuan church worthy of being considered a “national treasure.”
The Guiuan façade gives a hint of the treasures within. While following the standard divisions into verticals and horizontals, the use of multiple but slim engaged columns gives the façade a delicacy lacking in many colonial churches. The decorations over the pediment further adds to the delicate feel. The original nave had three entrances, one in front two at the sides. These had elaborately carve hardwood doors. The two remaining doors are worth studying. The front door represents the apostles, a side door facing seaward represents the angels. The missing third door (said to have been sold surreptitiously in the 1980s) may have represented the Holy Family as indicated by the monograms of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the door jamb. (Panublion)
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Magellan’s Refuge and Recovery from one of these islands happens to be just the oldest recorded event in history – March 16, 1521.
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