The historic church of Dalaguete, San Guillermo de Aquitana, sits in the heart of the town facing the sea. I’ve read about how bad the raids were during the Spanish era. Villages being looted, villagers being kidnapped, houses and churches being burned down to the ground. But for the most part, this didn’t stopped the missionaries building their churches and convents close to the coast, as if defiantly to say, “We’re in this for the long haul”.
But there were instances when they had to transfer location after recurring attacks, like in Carcar, where they decided to the church to Vallodolid. There’s a reason why these churches attempts to stay where they are. The concentration of the population typically exist near the coast, so the missions had to build near them, where the people are, and these union between church and man became the towns we know today.
The church of San Guillermo de Aquitana is unique for it is actually inside a fortress complex, made of thick adobe walls and solid militaristic sentries. Intended to deter pirate attacks, the major threat for the growing Christian population then. The complex share similarities to that of Argao. It is indeed a very important heritage site for it demonstrates true Filipino Spanish architecture and design (some objects like the crystal chandeliers were said to have been brought by the galleons) and how our Christian faith and traditions began and how it was defended, not by Spain and its missionaries alone but by the Christianized natives.
Among my favorite structures here in Cebu are the bantayan sa hari or the watchtowers (like the one in Lilo-an). They had to build these sentries to watch the sea for pirates (in Argao the sentry was equipped with canons). These structures are scattered all over the islands. Here in Dalaguete, there is one located in front of the church (the other one I failed to find). The structure in front of the church had some seats and tables (GI roofing and kiosk has long replaced the small canons).
Dalaguete’s old convent is attached to the church and is remarkably intact. I appreciate how the people and the church officials have maintained the place, Dalaguetenos are very conscious of their history, you don’t see this very often – what we see these days are reckless thrashing of heritage structures either because of greed and ignorance of our Hispano culture.
The architecture of the church is Pseudo Rococo, known for its neat and simple styling. The bell tower is a massive structure that is still use up to this day. These massive towers not only called people to prayer, the sound of its many bells announces special occasions (both spiritual and official) and once serve as an early warning device against attacks coming from the sea. Seafarers during the Spanish era also used it as landmarks. Augustinian symbols can be found carved in statued niches, reminders of the pioneer missions and the men that directed it.
I marveled at the beauty of the painted ceiling. The detail of the hand painted ceiling are the work of Canuto Avila, who together with Ray Francia were both commissioned to paint the churches of Bohol and Cebu from 1920’s until the 30’s. Both are self taught painters. The paintings were depictions of biblical scenes and Catholic symbols; remarkably appearing fresh and bright, as if it were painted recently. There are visible damage on some parts which could be attributed to natural deterioration. These paintings must be restored one day. At the moment, only the National Museum, under the technical supervision of some Spanish experts and the Lopez Museum are the only specialist in painting restoration in the country.
The plaza in front of the church is wide and orderly, not a litter in sight. This plaza used to be where people socialize after the mass or if there are special occasions. One could spend a lazy weekend reading a book in one on its many benches, I wanted to sit and sleep (we just got down from our Mantulongon), the air fresh and the environment is clean and peaceful, I did get to take a quick nap.
An interesting structure outside the church is what looks like a mortuary. It is located in the garden which I suspect to be the original burial grounds of the Iglesia.
The town holds its festivities during the 9th and 10th of February in honor of their patron, San Guillermo. The town is probably the biggest producer of vegetable product and when the fiesta commences people would show their produce. They now call it the Utanon Festival, they would have people parading the street wearing giant vegetable customes!
Around the Dalaguete’s poblacion one could find important old houses belonging to the old families of the town. Life here is simple and the pace, like all the other southern towns is refreshingly unhurried.
If it were not for the mountaineering activity in Mantulongon, I would’ve never had time to stopover and see this beautiful town of Dalaguete, it truly is a picture of a genuine Filipino Hispano poblacion.