The Augustinian Church of Paoay

September 30, 2012
The Iconic facade that to this day remains as mysterious as ever. According to experts, the church was designed based on different architectural approach. They indicated that one of the influences for the form came from the Buddhist style.
I’m a big kid myself but just look at how this bell tower dwarfs me like an ant!

I’ve been wanting to see this church for a long, long time not only because I’ve read so much about it but I’ve been intrigued by its unusual form ever since I first saw a picture of it. I hardly ever get to visit this part of the country (this being only the second time). The first time, I missed the chance to see Paoay. I was in Laoag then, went to Vigan and on that same day, went back to Laoag to catch the flight back to Manila. I run out of time and skipped Paoay. This time I made sure I have enough time to wander around like a zombie in a resident evil movie.

Paoay brings to mind men like Valentín Díaz, one of the original founders of Katipunan, signatoree of the Pact of the Biak na Bato. A native Paoayeño. And of course, Marcos, who according to Homobono Adaza, instructed the US military men commanding the helicopter he and his family boarded to transport them to Paoay. Site of his grand “Malacanang ti Amianan” residence constructed along the shore of the town’s great lake. The tall story was that the pilots misheard Marcos and brought them, not to Paoay, but Hawaii. Obviously, a joke, but there could be some truth to the story because it’s probable that Marcos demanded to be brought to Ilocos instead. To this day, Marcos’s children asserts that they were abducted and was taken out of the country without their approval. “Kidnapped” according to Marcos Jr, who’s now a senator of the republic. It is said that Cory was consulted if the Marcos could stay in the country. Fearing the dictator could muster a come back , as he was still widely popular especially among his fellow Ilocanos. Madam Corazon refused to allow it.

There’s plenty of attraction in Paoay. You have the sand dunes. Of course, the Marcos residence, now a museum. The lake, that according to legends used to be a thriving community before it was flooded by the heavens. But the town’s eternally known and associated with an Augustinian creation, appropriately named after their Order’s patron saint- the San Agustin church – the single greatest symbol of Paoay and its people.

The upper portion of the facade

In the book “Angels in Stone”, Padre Galende describes the church as possessing “the most striking examples of religious architecture in the Ilocos and perhaps in the whole country”. Its uniqueness and eccentric design has drawn many tourist to its doors. Some, curious of its figure and are just excited to look and touch it. Others, to have their pictures taken so they can pretentiously show to their friends that they’ve seen the mystical church of the north. But whatever the reasons are, it’s clear that the designers and builders of the church wanted to make a daring statement. And they did.

Considered as North Luzon’s most famous and recognizable church, San Agustin of Paoay is made of enormous bricks and thick coral slabs, said to had been harden together with a blend of limestone mortar and sugar cane juice. If the sugar cane juice failed to impress you, then perhaps the fact that the church took almost 100 years to complete must be compelling enough to impress you. The construction focused on building a structure that can withstand strong earthquakes. This baroque church is “distinguished for its heavy buttress that begins with massive volutes on the ground and tapers to fine points”. After centuries of existence, the builders accomplished what they originally set out to do.

Described as, “fortress-like… with crenelations and niches suggestive of south-east Asian temples and pyramids”. Its appearance has inspired stories and traditions. Its architectural design has many expert still talking to this day. It’s one of the oddest, and I mean this in a beautiful way, Filipino Catholic church I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot of them in my lifetime. Some historians, attempting to give details to its peculiar appearance, suggest that the Itnegs, a pagan tribe who live in the mountains, might have influenced its design because of its geometrical form. Truth is, who knows what the Augustinian fathers were thinking. All I know is that for as long as this church stand, it’ll continue to astonish and puzzle us with its seemingly unexplainable charm.

The interior of the church is currently undergoing repairs. I was surprised to see this. We usually just see the outside but there’s a lot of things happening in the inside. We have to keep in mind that this building has went through countless natural and man made calamities. The fact that it is still standing is a testament to the ingenuity of its builders and the people of Paoay who’ve taken good care of their beloved church.

The entrance door and the choir loft
These beams appears to had been recently installed.
Aside from the retablos and santos, this pulpit is among the only original furniture inside the church.
The center retablo
The old thick tiles appears to be in good shape
The marker providing a brief account of the church’s long history

17 September 2012


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  1. There are already improvements, like the plaza in front of the church. Being a 4th class municipality we can’t really push more pass our resources. The provincial government has been helping us. Regardless of the situation, we’re very happy tat people still go to Paoay.

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