Location: Poblacion. Argao, Cebu
Titular: San Miguel Arcangel
Patron: Saint Michael, the Archangel
Contact number: 3677442 loc. 101
Argao was among eight vicarages estbalished by the Augustinian Definitory of 1599 that were placed under the mission district of Sialo, now called Valladolid, in Carcar (San Augustin, 1698: 1059). Yet nothing much is known about the town thereafter until 1608 when it was established as a mission pueblo (Zamora, 1901: 198). Its parish, however, was formally established only in 1733 (Redondo, 1886: 154), a long wait considering its existence as a town over a hundred years prior—something that has never been adequately explained.
Argao’s first parish priest was Fr. Ignacio de Olave, who took possession of the parish on August 17, 1735 but records also mention that in 1733 Argao was administered jointly with Carcar (Galende, 1996:345).
According to Archdiocesan records, Argao’s present church was finished in 1788 (Yap, et al., 1981: 44). But according to church historian Pedro Galende, OSA (Ibid), this is probably the second or third church structure, which he attributes to Fr. Mateo Perez, parish priest for 33 uninterrupted years between 1803 and 1836. The date “1738” is, however, engraved above the arch of one of the church’s side doors, indicating that perhaps the church was finished during the term of Fr. Francisco Espina, who was parish priest between 1782 and 1798.
What is clear is that the church has since been the recipient of rich additions in the form of Baroque and semi-Rococo embellishments such as its wooden pulpit enriched with carvings in pineapple motif, its pipe organ in the choir loft (reportedly brought in from Mexico), and its massive front and side doors, each studded with 72 identical bronze rosettes.
The church’s wooden retablo of majestic proportions dominates the altar section. The exquisite beauty of the so called Filipino Baroque Artistry of the retablo shines through even with the recent unnecessary, uninformed and garish gilding of almost everything in it including, most unfortunately, its centuries-old life size estofado statues of saints enthroned in its niches. Fortunately, the side altars were spared the horrible fate if the main altar retablo and so we have a glimpse of the original intent of the long-gone artists who carved and painted the statues as well as the intricately carved wooden panels as if soaring heavenwards while forming a magnificent tableau above the altar.
Very few churches in Cebu can boast of a painted ceiling. Such artistry was not done solely for decorative purposes. Rather, what was once a bland and empty ceiling served as a massive canvas for catechism, for imparting knowledge of the faith to the faithful. Argao’s is a magnificent collaboration of two-well known and often competing Cebuano artists, Raymond Francia and Canuto Avila. Water is the overarching theme of the paintings amidst framed Biblical scenes and allusions providing a brilliantly appropriate depiction of the love of God flowing through the sacraments. The viewer is thus left with nothing but awe and wonder at this grand piece of collaborative work.
Next to the church is a magnificent five-bodied belfry connected to the church by a camarin de companeros or bell toller’s quarters. This belfry, erected by Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon in 1830 (Ibid), is home to eight bells and a clock that alas has lost touch with time.
Next to the church and belfry, at the epistle side is the rectory or convent. An equally grand affair, its connection to the church is revealed through a door that opens to the choir loft. The first floor is made of cut coral stones and the second floor consists of Molave (Tugas) and the other Philippines hardwoods like Bayong and Kamagong. The second floor can be reached by a grand stairway, an escalera that begins at the ground floor zaguan, the space where carriages used to be kept. Rarely does a stairway go straight up, and in Argao after the first few steps, a small landing directs the visitor to another set of steps leading to the main hallway, interspersed with doors leading to rooms. One door continues to retain its intricate of rosettes and vines still visible despite the application of red paint, perhaps by some ill-advised convent resident in the past.
Aside from the muralla, a plaza or patio immediately across the church is embraced by a low wall, also kade of cut coral stones. This wall has the added feature of a series of bas reliefs depicting the symbolic renditions of the stations of the Cross spread in fourteen coral stone panels on the inner side and festoons and garlands on the outer side. There is no record of the artist who cleverly carved each symbolic representation nor do we know when these were done. One has to look closely for this feature as time and the elements have given these unique and astounding artworks a blackened and weathered appearance.
The corners of this walled patio were also known to host four capillas posas, small roofed altars. In the whole Philippines, only in Argao and the church of Minalin, Pampanganare known to have this feature. Argao, like Minalin, have four of these. Unfortunately, this is one more great loss for Argao, for only one has survived the ill-advised attempts of a past parish resident to replace them with incongruous structure. One day, perhaps these three other capillas posas will also see the light of day.
Parishioners of Argao remember the huge coral stone portal with carved fluted columns that for over a century adorned the entrance to the town cemetery, about a kilometer away from the church. Four years ago, the cemetery lost this portal during a hurried cleaning of the grounds to give way an incongruous cemetery office. Alas, another heritage structure demolished for the sake of expediency, Surely these defacements, destructions and uncalled for attempts to alter Argao’s colonial-era church must come to an end. (LEA/JERB/LGL)
Balaanong Bahandi Book, copyright 2010
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Fiesta: September 29
Confession: Those who want to confess may approach the priest before or after the mass.
Baptism: Sundays after 11:00 AM mass
Wedding: Saturdays, 8:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM, for special schedules you may call the parish.
Funeral mass: Mondays to Sundays at 2:00 PM