Friday, October 19, 2012

The Charm Of Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur

I will not forgive myself if I fail to mention my story in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur. I should have included this in my previous blog about Vigan but I chose to compose a special one for it. Sta. Maria is in the western coast of Luzon in the Ilocos Region. A town ahead of Vigan City and omitted at times by tourists which is very regretful because the town keeps one of the four Baroque Churches in the Philippines,  listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Site!

It will take 5 hours to get there by land from Manila and that is... if you're not going to make several stops along the we did. But we have to make a quick stop at La Union to go to the restroom, eat breakfast,  and watch the sunrise for dessert,  then hit the road again, how quick was that?

Happy fiesta!
My first visit to Ilocos Sur was 5 years ago, when we had a tour in Vigan City. I have no idea why we chose to rest and stay for the night in Sta. Maria on my second visit, while it is only an hour away from Vigan. I had an impression that there is something in Sta. Maria that we need to find out! The next morning, while we were on our way to Vigan City, the resort staff told us to pass by their town's beautiful church on a hill. Since it's our practice to visit churches on places we visit for the first time, we followed the way going to the church. And guess what? A grand architecture of heavy stones, bricks and mortars stands firm on a hill overlooking the central town plaza and the vast plains and hills of Ilocos. The Nuestra Senora dela Asuncion Church was built in 1765 during the Spanish regime. Unlike its sister churches in Ilocos Region, the Santa Maria church was less in proportion and expresses tightness in space but has an elaborated architectural design.  

The thick buttresses of the church attached to its walls gave more force to the structure against strong earthquakes which often hits the town.

A detached pagoda-like bell tower was later constructed in 1810,a distance away from the church to protect the main church from possible earthquake damage. The octagonal bell tower was furnished in 1811 and was remodeled in 1863, its foundation must have gradually settled down making the structure appears slightly leaned or tilted.

And according to legend, Santa Maria Church was not built on its present site and that the statue of the Virgin Mary was enshrined in a distant place. It often happens that the statue of the Virgin Mary disappears from her place of enthronement only to be found perched on a guava tree that grew on a hill and where the present church is located. This story is believed by the locals which had led them to erect the church on its present site.

Partly blocking the frontal view of the facade of Santa Maria Church is the convent. It is accessible from the Church by a structural bridge built over which might have been a deep channel or ditch. In the early days of the colonization, the convent was the seat of the ecclesiastical administration besides serving as a “ home or retreat house of the silvery haired or aged ministers of God upon their retirement.

I roamed around the area and found a long trail not far from the church with tall old trees and weeds that almost covered the path, the cave-like opening at the end of it made me more curious to know what is there really!

Pink little flowers dangles on trees, parts of the concrete pathway are damaged, old trees with slender branches droops and at the end of the path where an old dilapidated arch covered with weeds made us stop and wonder what this structure is for?

We found out that it was an old cemetery with an octagonal brick fence which I thought was destructed by a major earthquake many years ago. And there I saw a facade of an ancient structure with an image of a human face made from bricks on the upper part of the main entrance or was it only my imagination? It looks so creepy from where I was standing as I look at the dark mouth of the building.

However, we still insisted to proceed and know what was it! And it looks like this structure is a  remnant of  an old burial chapel during the Spanish era, and maybe constructed on the same time the church was built. It could have been damaged by a strong earthquake or destructed during World War II, there were several tombs of Spanish priests and perhaps prominent residents in town. We couldn't find someone to talk to and ask about the history of the place but by just looking at already tells the story.

It was already late in the afternoon when we finished going around, the view of the glorious sunset on top of the hill filled the place with its golden rays. I never thought that the humble town of Sta. Maria in Ilocos Sur has something to be proud of, an edifice which will be admired and uplift the spiritual being of those who will come and visit it. 

Thank you for reading.