Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Splendor in Isabela Part 1 - Church of Tumauini

Map of the Philippines' biggest island, Luzon. The distance between Ilagan City and the town of Cabagan are duly marked.

Isabela is a beautiful name, but in terms of geography, it may refer to any of the three locales: 1st, as the biggest of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador (bigger than all the other islands combined, and bigger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island); 2nd, as a city on the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico which is a protectorate of the United States (and named after the Queen of Spain); and 3rd, as a northern province in the big island of Luzon in the Philippines. This post will focus on the last Isabela item.
The Philippines’ Isabela is the biggest province in the Cagayan Valley region in Luzon. The capital city of Ilagan borders, clockwise from the south, Aurora, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Mountain Province, Kalinga, and Cagayan. This primarily agricultural province is also the second largest in the Philippines. The province has a population of 1.25 million as of the 2000 census. It would be my 3rd encounter with this province. This visit was more of a personal matter than anything else; a good friend was getting married. For this, I had to cut short a long haul trip and pay $60 just to move my coming home a week earlier. The first two visits were charity works, the last was more than a year ago just to see a 9 year old child for just an hour, then headed back to Manila 3 hours later.
This time around, I prodded a friend to take me to the churches in the neighboring towns of Cabagan. I had a wedding to catch in Ilagan, but the occasion presented with a chance to see a little more of the province - just 5 hours before my friend’s wedding. Thinking there was nothing much to see in Isabela (I’ve only seen the interiors of their provincial hospital once, from my last visit), I figured I might as well see their markets, town halls or churches. My friend chose to take me to the churches. It was a much-too-early visita iglesia, but nonetheless fun! They did say that first visits to churches would allow you to wish – and they may come true! And boy I like that idea! :->
After an 8 hour drive north of the Philippine capital, Manila, we arrived in the provincial capital of Ilagan. The wedding was to be held at the stately St. Ferdinand Cathedral, which actually looked new. The last time I was here, about a year ago, there was hardly anything in the vicinity. Now there is a new Italian-inspired hotel just a hundred meters across the road. I then asked my friend to take me to Cabagan which is an hour’s travel going north.

Our first stop was the sleepy town of Tumauini. Its church is officially named Church of Tumauini, although most locals refer to it as St. Mathias’ Church. It was first built of light materials (wood, to be exact) as commissioned by Father Francisco Nunez in 1707. It became a regular parish in 1751 and got upgraded to a church of stone. A unique cylindrical bell tower, the only one of its kind in the Philippines, was constructed through the efforts of Father Domingo Forto, which started in 1783, and finished 12 years later (1805). The small town of Tumauini then became the capital of Isabela (when it was separated from Cabagan in the 1880’s). During World Ward II, the church wasn’t spared from the bombings, but was repaired to its original form by the faithful of Tumauini. This church was recently declared a National Historical Landmark last February 24, 1989.
Our second stop was the town of San Pablo where I was so see St. Paul’s church, which has more atmosphere and character than the first one. But this will be covered on the next post.
Continued next post...

Map of the main island of Isabela in the Galapagos Islands of Ucuador (upper left); the central plaza in Isabela, Puerto Rico (upper right). Catholic church in the city of Isabela in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of Mr. George Collazo.

Church of Tumauini, town of Tumauini, Isabela, built in the year 1707. Locals prefer calling it St. Mathias' Church.
The cylindrical bell tower of St. Mathias' Church.

A trio of friendly faces in Tumauini.

St. Ferdinand's Cathedral in Ilagan, Isabela.

Fast Facts:
I was in a car going there, but airconditioned buses are readily available from Manila. The travel time is between 7-9 hours, depending on the number and duration of stopovers.
Victory Liner (I know the one in Pasay and another in Espana, across UST) offers very comfortable rides at PhP517 ($11.24) one way. The first trip leaves the station at 5 AM but goes straight to Tuguegarao, the capital of Cagayan Province. The 2nd trip leaves at 1 PM. The night trips leave at 7:30 PM and 9 PM respectively with Ilagan as its final stop. These buses have clean toilets onboard and an airconditioning that’s quite unregulated, it is a virtual arctic zone inside. This was related by my friends, so thick jackets are a must during the ride. Another tip is, the impossibly wavy Dalton Pass midway through the trip can prove too much for those with motion sickness disorders so – beware! A tablet (or two) of Meclizine or Cinnarizine can be a very friendly companion!
Call Victory Liner's Manila Office at 8335020. Area code is 02

Please visit the site: and

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Stained glass window at St. Ferdinand's.

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