Saint John of Sahagun Church, Tigbauan, Iloilo. A most interesting, historically important church.

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It is only 27 kilometres from our jumping off point at the SM City Mall parking lot in Iloilo to the Church of St John of Sahagun in Tigbauan.  It’s an easy 35 to 40 minute drive.

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It is difficult to establish exactly when the Church in Tigbauan was originally built. It appears that an original church may have been built in the late 16th century (possibly between 1575 and 1580 when Friar Luis de Montoya was assigned as Prior). There had been no ‘resident’ parish priest at Tigbauan until his arrival.

The then church under the patronage of Our Lady of Grace was renamed after St. John of Sahagun, an Augustinian Saint, at about that time.  The church was transferred to Secular Priests in 1593 and remained so until 1617 when the Augustinians took charge once again. It is suggested that Friar Fernando Camporredondo may have re-built the church in the early to mid 1700s – Fr. Camporredondo served as the parish priest in Miagao between 1734 and 1737 and again between 1744 and 1750. This time horizon indicates that it is entirely possible that he spent the time between his two ‘terms’ in Miagao or indeed during his entire time in the area working on the churches at both Miagao and Tigbauan. The record is unclear.

A major earthquake in July of 1787 did little or no damage to the structure. Although Friar Fernando Martin is credited in The Panublion with rebuilding the church in the mid to late 1800s (likely completed around 1867) – it is suggested that Martin’s church may be the one we are familiar with today.

The church is considered a classic example of the Churriqueresque style.

This style is characterised by: “…extreme, expressive and florid decorative detailing, normally found above the entrance on the main facade of a building.

The Churrigueresque column, or estipite, in the shape of an inverted cone or obelisk, was established as a central element of ornamental decoration… This can be clearly seen in the manner in which the main exterior entranceway is decorated with intricate floral carvings, cherubs and columns”. The photo below provides a clear example of the style.

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In the church yard, next to the church, is a marker indicating the site of the first Jesuit boarding school for boys built in the Philippines. The school was established in 1592.

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The church was built with forced labour and used local reddish coral and limestone from ‘nearby’ Igbaras. Just below the statue of St John on the front of the church is the Augustinian Coat of Arms referred to in our preface. A clear indication that the church was built by the Augustinian Friars.

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The church withstood any number of natural disasters over its 250 year existence; however the one that was simply too much for it was the Lady CayCay Earthquake of 1948 which destroyed it almost completely leaving only the church’s façade, the bell tower and a few pillars of the convento.

After the 1948 earthquake, the church was restored in stages and the final redecoration of the interior was finished in 1994 when the current mosaics were completed under the direction of the then parish priest Father Eleuterio Rojo Carton. The church was rededicated on February 3rd, 1997.

The church interior is quite different from any we have seen to date because of the huge number of mosaics, including the Stations of the Way of the Cross.  Two  of the most interesting mosaics are:  Our Lady of Fatima and the scene of Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden.

The tabernacle used during masses is the one in the ‘chapel’ to the left of the main altar, a photo of which is included below.

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Something quite interesting is that the side walls of the church are in effect non-existent – they have been replaced with metallic grates which give the church an open and very bright feeling.

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The chapel to the right of the main altar contains a statue of San Juan de Sahagun the patron Saint of the parish. It is also surrounded by several mosaics.

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When looking back towards the entryway from the main altar, we get an appreciation of the number and size the mosaics that were added in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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At the rear of the church to the right of the main entrance is a grotto containing the Chapel of Santo Niño a very popular venue for the veneration of Santo Niño, next to it a room where the faithful can then light candles representing their entreaties, prayers and intentions for the Saint.

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Finally, to the left of the main doorway is a life sized crucifix.

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In the inner courtyard of the church we see an ‘Adoration Centre’ in what may have originally been part of the cemetery for the parish.

The Adoration Chapel

The Adoration Chapel

 Just north of the adoration centre can be seen the bell tower, which dates to the original building of the church in the 1570s. It has obviously been refurbished several times during its lifetime and as we can now see, it is sorely in need of some restoration at this time.

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A closer look of the work that needs to be done on a large bit of stone work can be seen in the photos below of the bell tower and the exterior walls of the church itself.

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1TigStJS76 As we left the church we saw the commemorative plaque which had been installed at the rededication of the church in 1997.

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St John of Sahagun during his religious studies was sponsored by the Bishop Burgos, in Spain, who extended to him several ‘prebends’ (shares in the revenues of the cathedral). Once ordained John was made a Canon at the Cathedral of Burgos and started to experience problems of conscience because of his ‘special treatment’. He resigned all the ‘prebends’ he had been given and dedicated himself to a life of strict poverty and mortification.

He received the permission of his Bishop to be admitted to the Augustinian Monastery inSalamanca, where he dedicated himself to the salvation of souls and to preaching. He became the master of novices and later the Prior of the Monastery.

He was gifted with a special power to penetrate the secret of conscience – it wasn’t easy to deceive him and sinners were almost always forced to make a good confession. He was able to obtain wonderful results in doing away with enmities and feuds.

He fearlessly preached the Word of God and scourged the crimes and vices of the day, by which the rich and noble were offended. He soon made many enemies, who went so far as to hire assassins, but these, awed by the serenity and angelic sweetness of his countenance, lost courage.

Some women of Salamanca, embittered by the saint’s strong sermon against extravagance in dress, openly insulted him in the streets and pelted him with stones until stopped by a patrol of guards.

St John’s scathing words on the “sins of impurity” produced salutary effects in a certain nobleman who had been living in open concubinage, but the woman swore vengeance. It was popularly believed that she had caused the saint’s death by poison.

Tigbauan, 1945

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