PAOAY—Two Ilocano baroque churches have made it to the Unesco World Heritage List.
They are the Roman Catholic Church in this town— birthland of the Galaritas, the Blancos, the Villanuevas, the Toledos, the Valenzuelas, the Baysas—and the Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion Church, which is nestled in a hill in Santa Maria, rich in myth and folklore.
The Paoay Church, also called Simbaan ni San Agustin, was built in 1704 from coral stones, mortar and molasses. Historians call the church structure “earthquake baroque.”
It is only a few kilometers from the inland Paoay Lake, which was mercilessly inundated during the onslaught of Typhoon “Pepeng” in 2009.
The lake, according to legend, took shape when the community north of the town proper exploded in much the same manner as the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
Old hands in the town, inheritors of the silky smooth oral tradition, say Filipino builders adopted a foreign architectural design and style which complemented local conditions.
Sitting on an earthquake-prone region, the builders apparently propped up the church’s nave with thick stone buttresses.
They feature a scroll motif capped by intricately carved pinnacles.
While other concrete buildings and other church structures in the region have succumbed to earth shocks—the Philippines straddles the Pacific belt of fire—the Paoay Church has remained standing without a scratch.
Its outside feature is a crossbreed between a medieval Spanish church and a Javanese temple.
Nearly 90 kilometers south of this town is the other Heritage Lister in Santa Maria which stands on an elevated hill that legend suggests is the nipple of the mythical Aran, the energetic wife of Angalo (pronounced Ang-nga-lo).
The church door can be reached by walking up 85 stair steps from the cemented highway, a junction of the MacArthur Highway—named after Gen. Douglas MacArthur—which meanders through the region sandwiched by the Ilocos mountain ranges and the Luzon Bay.
Historians say it was originally a citadel complex and was a center for Spanish missionaries who made inroads in the 16th century to evangelize the uplands after the arrival of Spanish conquerors in 1521.