Centuries-old churches, bell towers among strong quake’s casualties

The powerful magnitude-7 earthquake that shook Abra province and other parts of northern Luzon on Wednesday left a trail of centuries-old churches and bell towers among the many heritage sites damaged or destroyed.

Among the heritage sites and architectural treasures the “major earthquake” damaged was the 16th-century popular Vigan Cathedral, canonically known as Metropolitan Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, in Ilocos Sur’s capital, Vigan.

San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine, among the oldest churches in Bangued, Abra, one of its two bell towers
was heavily damaged.

Viral Facebook videos and photos showed debris fell from its façade. The Unesco World Heritage site cathedral was temporary closed due to damage.

“We will wait for the pronouncement from the structural engineers that it is safe to use for our Eucharistic celebrations. Please pray for all Bigueños,” said the cathedral’s Rector/Parish Priest Msgr. Gary Noel S. Formoso on its Facebook page.

The cathedral was declared a World Heritage Site, along with the Historic Town of Vigan in 1999.

When the seat of the Nueva Segovia Diocese was transferred to Villa Fernandina de Vigan in 1758, the church was elevated to the status of a cathedral and became the center of Catholic faith in the north, the Vigan web site said.

Its Baroque architectural design that has been modified to strengthen the structure against earthquakes is known as “earthquake Baroque.”

In nearby Bantay town, the Bantay Bell Tower was also damaged.

A viral Facebook video by Edison Adducul showed some bricks falling, while people were running away from it.

The centuries-old St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Abra, also known as Tayum Church, suffured big cracks. Completed in 1803, it is considered a national cultural treasure, being the oldest and largest in the Cordillera region.

The bell tower of the St. Augustine Parish Church was built in 1591. It is called the Bantay Belfry being located in the Bantay district of Vigan.

It was said to be the people’s watchtower as part of the defence against enemies during the Spanish colonial era, Vigan’s web site said.

The belfry is popular among local tourists being the site of the shooting of the well-known Filipino film “Panday.”

Also in Ilocos Sur, photos from Saints of Today Facebook account showed the 300-year old Saint Dominic de Guzman Parish Church in Sto. Domingo town with cracked walls and saints’ statues toppled inside the church.

The Christ the King Church in Bantay also had cracked walls.

Abra province

In Abra province, the epicenter of the powerful earthquake, the Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported that the Department of Tourism has recorded damages to at least two churches that had been declared “National Cultural Treasure” by the National Museum of the Philippines were affected by the tremor.

The façade of Sta. Catalina de Alexandria Church, a 19th-century baroque church in Tayum town, suffered big cracks, PNA said, while concrete bricks fell off from its bell tower and main altar, the Abra Province Facebook page said.

Completed in 1803, the church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2001. It is the oldest and largest in the Cordillera region.

The San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine in Bangued town was also heavily damaged, PNA reported.

Built during the turn of the 19th century, it’s heritage structure has red clay brick details on its façade, nave and twin belfries, said Abra Province’s Facebook page.

The La Paz Aglipayan Church in Abra was also damaged. Its walls and belfry suffered cracks, PNA said in a separate report.

Ilocos Norte

In nearby Ilocos Norte province, the home province of President Marcos Jr., the earthquake caused rocks and bricks fall off from Laoag City’s famous Sinking Bell Tower.

According to Laoag City’s web site, the tower, believed to have been built after an earthquake in 1707, “sinks into the ground at a rate of an inch a year.”

“There aren’t any conclusive scientific explanations for this, but one accepted theory is that the tower being built on sandy land and its heavy and massive structure is causing it to slowly bury itself into the ground,” the web site said.

The bell tower has withstood several minor earthquakes since completion, earning membership to the “earthquake Baroque” style label by architecture scholars, along with several churches in the country.

In Badoc town, the tremor caused debris fall from the old convent of St. John the Baptist Minor Basilica and were left scattered along Soriano Street, PNA reported.

The minor basilica, also known as the Shrine of La Virgen Milagrosa de Badoc, houses the Virgin Milagrosa statue of the Virgin Mary.

Built in the 17th century, the Baroque style church was dedicated to John the Baptist and was given the title of a minor basilica since 2018.

It is one of the 11 churches known as Baroque Fil-Hispanic in Ilocos Norte. The side walls of the single-nave church are reinforced with massive buttress walls that protected it against earthquakes.

“We will request Tieza [Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority] to prioritize assessment of the cultural treasures affected by the recent earthquake recognizing the need to protect and sustain our heritage and cultural treasures for the benefit and welfare of our future generations,” Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said.

The National Museum of the Philippines said it was committed to helping local governments in the rehabilitation and restoration efforts for damaged heritage structures, the PNA reported.

Image credits: Vigan LGU Facebook page, San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine Facebook page