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Ancient fortress church of Capul, Northern Samar

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CAPUL, Northern Samar—This ancient church in Capul town in Northern Samar has withstood the passage of time.

Although it remains a place of worship, the St. Ignatius de Loyola Church was once a place of refuge for natives from Moro marauders.

On Aug. 5, a marker mounted on the wall of the church edifice was officially unveiled by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), declaring it a historical site and recognizing it as a “good example of a fortress church during the Spanish era.”

“The marker actually is there to remind us of what transpired here during the Spanish times,” said Ludovico D. Badoy, NHCP executive director.

Capul, an island of 12 barangays, is a fifth-class municipality (annual income: P15 million-P25 million) with a total land area of 35 square kilometers. It is an hour-long boat ride from the mainland’s Allen town, 48 kilometers from the capital of Catarman.

Galleon trade

Originally, Capul was called Abak. According to folklore, its present name was derived from “Acapulco.”

During the galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco during the Spanish colonization, many boats would drop anchor at Capul, waiting for the current to flow outward to the Pacific Ocean before they start their long voyage to Acapulco in Mexico.

On Nov. 8, 1870, the island became a parish by decree of the Bishop of Cebu, in accordance with the Royal Decree on Nov. 12, 1874. It was under the administration of the Franciscan Order.

Even before the decree was issued, two churches of light materials had been built in Capul on separate occasions but were razed by Moro pirates who plundered the island in 1615 and 1768. Fr. Juan Isandi, who was assigned to Capul, was killed in the Moro attack of 1768.

In 1781, a Spanish architect-priest, Fr. Mariano Valero, led the restoration of the church and built a stonewall fortress around it in the shape of a cross. The church was known as “Fuerza de Capul.”

An 11-meter stone belfry was constructed at the left side of the church and a stone watchtower overlooking the sea was erected on top of a huge rock, about 150 meters away.

The tower sentinel would blow a “budyong” or conch to warn the people of danger like the coming of Moro pillagers. The people would then rush to the church to seek shelter, bringing along water and food provisions.

The windows and doors of the church, which were made of thick wood materials, would then be closed, and everybody would wait for the attack.

Others were also prepared to fight back. Those posted at the bastions on the left and right corners of the fortification were ready to fire cannons.

Remnants

As the enemies came closer, some would open small windows and shoot at them. Two of the windows are still there at the rear of the building. Three others are five feet above the base of the deteriorating belfry.

Today, the building at the church courtyard at the right is already in ruins. The fortress wall, although dilapidated, still stands. At the left side is the parish priest’s residence.

As a historical site, the Capul church is protected by law and government funds can be used for its preservation and conservation, says Badoy of the NHCP.

In a speech during the unveiling ceremony, Gov. Paul Daza said the marker “is just one instance of reminding us how truly rich our history and culture is.”

“All of us, as Filipinos, should always be reminded of the true heritage and culture of our country,” he added.

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