The driving distance from our jumping off point at the SM City parking lot in Iloilo to the church in Lambunao is approximately 44 kilometres. Which translates into a driving time of about 1 hour to 1¼ hour.
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In or about 1742 a first settlement was established by the Spaniards at what is now called Malunod, and 1745 the Augustinian Friars set about building their first chapel in the area. Mysteriously in 1748 the resident Friar died an unexplained death and as a result the Spanish Alcalde ordered the chapel to be moved.
A new chapel was then established at nearby Bonbon near Lambunao Creek by a Friar named Ambriños. The Friars’ missionary work prospered and several of the locals inhabitants converted to Christianity and things were good.
Despite the fact that things were going well, the Alcalde ordered a further move to higher ground to escape the constant flood at the Bonbon location and the site that was chosen is the present town site in 1879 in what was then called Daraiton.
In 1883 under the leadership of Friar José Lobo construction on the present church was started on a piece of land donated to the Friars by the town Gobernacillo Martin Lingaya.
As with all churches in the region it was to be built by forced labour.
Able bodied men of legal ages were required to:
- Bring a lime stone, the stone had to be of a definite size and was cut in the mountains around Dingle and then carried to the actual construction site in Lambunau, and
- A square meter of firewood used feed the fires that prepared the lime.
20 lashes were administered if they failed to fulfill their quota.
Women on the other hand were required to gather and transport to the site a sack of sand and they were also severely punished if the failed to meet their quotas.
It was so bad that quotas were established for any use of the priests’ time for any of their parish work. There were quotas for Weddings, Baptisms, Funerals in short for any service that might require a priest all participants were required to meet a defined quota or face not being married, baptized or provided with a “Christian” burial.
In any event the church was dedicated and blessed in a ceremony officiated by Friar Manuel Castandillo on September 9th, 1890. That original church appeared much as it is today with the exception of the roof which at the time of construction was made of cogon grass and which was obviously very flammable.
The next day, September 10th, 1890 the faithful from around the entire area flocked to the new church to celebrate the feast day of the new parish church’s patron Saint – San Nicolas de Tolentino.
The church exterior was constructed according to the Doric School of architecture and the interior was according to the Tuscan School in much the same way as the church of St Jerome was built in neighbouring Dueñas.
The niches and windows (fenestrations) on the ground level, the occuli on the second level and the pediment are classic examples of the Doric School of Architecture. And the interior is also plainly Tuscan.
The niches on the ground level contain statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. A sample of the two is shown below.
A much closer view of one side of the façade show the pilasters, niche, fenestrations and the occuli on the level above. The pilasters appear a bit larger than those at Dueñas but their size does not affect the overall similaritiy with Dueñas or the doric style.
When we enter through the main entrance, we are faced with a single nave church with two side aisles. The interior, in keeping with the Tuscan style, as mentionned is quite plain and looking at the windows shows that the walls are at least 3 meters thick. This is another church that was originally built as a fortress church.
In its time it was destroyed by fire at least three times.There were three incidents in the early years involving fire. Rember that the roof of the original church was cogon (dried grass), much like thatch in European countries.One fire was caused by a lightening strike and the other two were caused by sparks or embers caused by Kaingin fires.
Agriculture in this early years was primarily subsistence farming and the area was still generally wilderness. Kaingin is basically “slash and burn” agriculture. The farmers slash and burn the existing forest cover ny and ascrub from the area and make a field of it removing stumps etc and burning everything before starting to cultivate.
They then farm that land until it is no longer productive and then abandon it and move onto to a new patch of ground that they clear and burn and basically start the entire process all over again. The typical farming period on one section of land cleard like this is normally in the 3 to 4 year range.
The interior of the church is centered on the Sanctuary which is majestic in size and features several marbel columns with niches and urns and rosettes at the top of the pilars.
The statues occupying the niches at the lower level, flanking the gold tabernacle are statues of Mary Queen of the World and St. Joseph. The niche just above the taberacnle has a statue of San Nicolas de Tolentino, the patron saint of the parish. The back wall of the church features two large occuli containg plain stained glass in them.
There are two chapels at the rear of the church, one is actually the baptistery and the other is a representation of Jesus in his Tomb wrapped in a red regal cape, this is called: Santo Intero
When we leave the church and proceed to the ard on the north side there is a shrine to St. Martin de Porres.
A closer inspection of the wall of the church indicate that a considerable amount of refurbishment is needed to ensure that it will stand for centuries more., as can be seen in the pictures below…
Heading to the other side of the church, the south side, we find mainly the same, stonework in much need of repair.
Also on this side of the church we find the Adoration Centre with another statue of St. Nicolas de Tolentino in front of it.
The interior of very stricking and beautiful.
Next door to the Adoration Centre is the Convento and the Parish Centre. Both showing their age and in need or work.
World War 2 and its aftermath caused serious damage to the church. Particularly the Lady CayCay earthquake of 1948. which serious damaged both the church, its belfries as well as the convento. Several reconstruction projects later the church is gradually being brought back to its former glory, but there is till a great of work to be done and it will take years to complete.
It is often said that the churches in Dueñas and Lambunao could be mistaken for one and other because of the similarity of their styles. Of course there are differences but there are also some great similarities, which is perhaps not too surprising since they were actually built within a few short years of each other. A close inspection of the photos below definitely show a marked resemblence between the two, except for the colour and perhaps the shape of the pilasters. Other than those minor differences they are essentially the same church on the exterior – the interiors are a completely different story.
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