Baroque Churches of the Philippines: Paoay Church

To complete the UNESCO inscribed 4 Baroque churches of the Philippines is the church found in the town of Paoay, 18 kms southwest of Laoag City in Ilocos Norte. La Iglesia de San Agustin de Paoay or simply Paoay Church, is the finest example of earthquake baroque church in the Philippines.

This church was the first one I visited among the 4 UNESCO listed baroque churches. It was in 2009 that a visit to Paoay was included in our Ilocos itinerary. Paoay Church, in the middle of a sprawling churchyard is a main tourist draw of the town.

Paoay Sjanima wordpress

NHI marker. Photo credit to Sjanima.wordpress.com

From Laoag City, we rented a van that took us to the Malacañang of the North, then to Fort Ilocandia Resort and the Paoay Sand Dunes. We reached the church before lunch. It was extremely hot in Ilocandia that time.

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Paoay Church. Photo credit to Emil

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Unique and massive buttresses

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Getting closer to the buttresses.

What made it different from the other baroque churches is its distinct and enormous buttresses found at the side and back walls. Paoay Church is an early 18th century church made of coral stones and mortar (consisted of lime, tree sap and lumber). The front of the church is triangular which rises from the ground with pilasters and cornices cutting the façade. Experts say that there is a Chinese and Oriental influence on the church’s design. Oriental may refer to the Javanese inspiration. The finials somehow reminded me Gunung Kawi in Bali.

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Paoay’s front door

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Closer look of Paoay Church’s exterior

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The buttress and the bell tower

The bell tower was built almost 80 years later. It was built detached from the church and resembles a pagoda. This tower was used as a watch tower for Filipino revolutionists in 1898. During World War II, it also served as an observational post for the Filipino guerrillas versus the Japanese soldiers.

Paoay Church also suffered from huge earthquakes in the 1800s but was later repaired and restored. There are plans to retrofit the church and to reconstruct the church’s convent. They say that the structural stability of Paoay Church may have weakened through the centuries.

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View from Cafe Herencia
Photo credit to Two2Travel

Sitting at Café Herencia, which was just across the church, the view was just as awesome. This restaurant offers a great view of the church while you munch on their Pinakbet Pizza and some of the popular Ilocano dishes.

The architectural form of the church is a visual feast. You would love to take a lot of pictures of the church be it near or far, front or side. The 24 huge buttresses create a visual drama. Very visible but not plain-looking, in fact they are thick and massive. This type of buttresses can also be seen in Badoc church, 27 kilometers further south of Paoay.

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Inside Paoay Church
Photo credit to Trekearth

Expect nothing spectacular on the interior of the church. I’ve been wanting to know how the ceiling of this church looked like before it got destroyed by two powerful earthquakes in the late 1800s. When we visited this church, the ceiling was basically frames, beams and tin roof.

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Badoc Church’s buttresses of similar form as Paoay’s

From Paoay, we negotiated with our driver to take us down to the town of Badoc, the hometown of the famous painter, Juan Luna. The Juan Luna Shrine is located in Badoc. From there, we would be travelling to Vigan City to spend a few days to explore the historic city and the nearby towns.

While travelling to Vigan, I thought about visiting all the 4 lovely baroque churches. And now that I have visited all of them, I realized that every church has its own distinct and strongest feature. The San Agustin Church of Manila has a very beautiful interior, with ceilings painted for that trompe l’oeil effect. The Santa Maria Church of Ilocos Sur is magnificent and sits on a hill with a massive stairs of granite. Miag-ao Church takes pride of its Baroque-Romanesque style and its ever beautiful but heavily decorated façade. And lastly, Paoay Church has its huge buttresses with sprawling church yard that allows the church to dominate the town’s skyline. Combining all these strong and distinct features one create that one ideal and extremely beautiful baroque church.

I would love to encourage everyone to try and visit all 4 churches. Their beauty is best appreciated when we come to visit and see them with our own eyes. Our forebears and those who built the churches with their own sweat, blood and forced labor had given us these cultural gems to treasure, in the hopes that they would survive for the longest of time.

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