Siquijor has several century old Catholic Churches that are worth visiting as part of your itinerary for this province. These churches have been part of the province’s history and culture as they pay tribute to their patron saints.
CHURCH OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASISI AND BELL TOWER
The first parish to be established on the island and was under the administration of the diocese of Cebu. This church is located in the capital town of Siquijor and is near the Siquijor Pier to welcome travelers and has stood for centuries since it was built by Spaniards.
The Parish of secular priests for patron Saint Francis of Asisi was establish on February 1, 1783. This was then transferred to rekoleto priests in 1793. P. Settem, a secular priest started the building of the stone church and administered by P. Alonso de los Dolores in 1795-1831. The convent was built like a fortress to withstand the frequent invasion of bandits from the sea.
The church is made mostly of coral stones while the roof was originally made of cogon and soon replaced by a tin roof. Its bell tower was situated some meters away.
A decision was made by the Parish Pastoral Council as recommended by the Bishop of the Diocese of Dumaguete, the St. Francis of Assisi Church recently underwent repairs and restoration to preserve its beauty for the future generation to appreciate. A committee managed the restoration of the main altar and Sacristy, this is to ensure that the original splendour is not compromised. A contractor from Cebu was hired that specializes in restoration work. The interior restoration project was completed in 2006. (Source: http://www.mysiquijor.com/StFrancisOfAssisiChurch.html)
SAN ISIDRO LABRADOR PARISH CHURCH AND CONVENT (LAZI)
This was actually the first of the churches that we visited since from the port we asked our driver to bring us first to our lodging house before we start our tour.
As the name implies this Church and Convent is dedicated to St. Isidore Labrador and is situated in Siquijor Circumferential Road, Lazi, Siquijor. Huge acacia trees that is said to be as old as the church will welcome you upon entering the streets of this town.
This church was built in 1857 by Augustinian Recollects and was completed in 1884. This church is considered as one of the few remaining Baroque Churches in the country, and a candidate of the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site seal.
The walls are about a meter thick are made of coral stones inlaid with wooden fills. Intricate carvings through the textured coral stones can be seen in the entrance of the church.
The only church I have seen with wooden floors and in herringbone pattern. Most of the church is covered with wooden floor from entrance upto the marbled altar floor.
Moreso, the church has two elevated pulpits on both sides in front of the altar which makes the interiors symmetrically balanced. However, was told by the caretaker not to go up as the floor recently collapsed when tourists tried to.
Sadly, looters have stolen stuff from the Church from the black stones in the floor to the religious statues in the altar. The walls outside has suffered through time as well as from earthquakes, thus the cracks. The church indeed needs to be restored to have it withstand further years.
Across the church is the two-storey Lazi Convent, known as the biggest convent in the country having an area of 2,500 square meters. This was built in 1887, thirty years after the church. It is used to be a place for rest and recreation of the Friars. Now, it is where the parish priest resides.
The Lazi Convent was built as typical Filipino stone house or “Bahay na Bato”, the ground floor is made of stone while the second floor is made of hard wood. Carved wooden balusters found in the stairs up the second floor (these too did not escape from being stolen). Capiz windows are found in the second floor. The floors are of Narra wood with herringbone pattern as well.
Part of the second floor has been converted into a museum and was inaugurated last 2005 but photography is not allowed inside the museum. Most of the items displayed are relics from the church and convent; religious icons, old books, photographs, antique furniture, old musical instruments and random things like an old rusty typewriter. There is an entrance fee of PHP20.00 which hopefully can be used to in fixing the state of the said museum as well as the convent.
We had a picture with the church’s caretaker; she told us the stories of the church and convent. We enjoyed her stories as she joked and sang songs. She said to call her ‘Madre de Cacao’.
The National Historical Institute declared the church and convent as one of the National Historical Landmarks.
CHURCH OF THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE / STA. MARIA CHURCH
Curious I was of the Black Maria that I saw during my research about Siquijor, I asked our driver to bring us to Sta. Maria Church so I can see in the said icon in person.
Sta. Maria Church is located in Poblacion, Maria which was built in 1880 and is also made of coral stone. The church is dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Providencia (Our Lady of Divine Providence). Its entrance looks to be made of limestone and still looks sturdy however was stained through time just like any other century old churches. This church is considered as simple as compared as the other two as it has no intricate carvings, no fancy stained glass window, or any ornamentation. It has paintings of the “stations of the cross” on top portion of the side walls. The octagonal belfry is found on its right side.
The Black Maria I was referring to is called Sta. Rita de Siquijor or Black Magic Maria whose dress resembles that of Virgin Mary’s except it is black. Enclosed in a glass situated at the right side of the altar, the eerie religious statue gives you goose bumps for its pale face with piercing look and thin frowning mouth. Moreso, the Black Maria holds a small human skull on the left hand and an inverted crucifix on the right.
Santa Rita de Cascia is an Italian saint, patroness of all hardships it seems; impossible causes, battered wife, difficult marriages, sickness, widows and wounds. Forcedly wed at an early age to an abusive husband for 18 years. Rita was able to convert her husband into a better person but later on was violently stabbed to death because of family feud. She lost her husband and her two sons in a single year. In 1441, one day at the age of 60, she was meditating before an image of Christ crucified, as she was accustomed to do. Suddenly a small wound appeared on her forehead, as though a thorn from the crown that encircled Christ’s head had loosened itself and penetrated her own flesh. For the next 15 years she bore this external sign of stigmatization and union with the Lord. (For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rita_of_Cascia)