Dagupan church rises again after 1990 quake
DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines—The date was July 15, 1991, a day before the first anniversary of the 7.7-magnitude earthquake that brought Dagupan City down to its knees.
It was the day that Archbishop Oscar Cruz arrived in the city to serve as head of the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese.
“Everything looked miserable. It was a city in ruins,” Cruz recalls.
More shocking to the archbishop was the miserable state of the St. John Cathedral, a once-imposing edifice facing Galvan Street.
“The cathedral was devastated. The massive roof caved in. The walls crumbled down, the choir loft fell down, the altars were in shambles, the bell tower collapsed, as did the wooden posts. The once impressive chandeliers [were] on the muddy floor, tangled with human bones [interred in the church and which] were scattered all over,” Cruz, who has since retired, recalls.
To block intruders and kibitzers, the church and the Bishop’s Palace (chancery) were fenced with galvanized iron sheets. Stinky water and sand were coming out of diggings and busted pipes in the church grounds.
The church was no longer being used when Cruz arrived in Dagupan. When a bigger and modern church was completed in 1974, the old cathedral was neglected and started to deteriorate.
Also in ruins was the chancery, the second floor of which served as the bishop’s residence and the lower floor, his office. The buildings roofs had caved in and the structure was decrepit.
“Seeing all that was painful,” Cruz says.
The earthquake seemed to be the final blow that the old cathedral absorbed.
“Even before the earthquake, there were already reports of treasure-hunting inside the church. The activity continued and was heightened after the earthquake,” Cruz says.
He learned that three groups, one of them led by an American, tunneled through the church and its compound, with some people even using backhoes and bulldozers that destroyed the church and its grounds.
Cruz was able to stop the treasure hunting activities, but had to live at the St. Mary’s seminary in the village of Bonuan as the chancery was not habitable.
Several months after he arrived, he started to plan on how to restore the church, but he had little knowledge on how the church looked before it was destroyed.
Thus he formed a commission to reconstruct the old cathedral and started to raise funds for his pet project. “It was a slow process because we needed money, which did not come easy,” Cruz says.
There were four sources of funds—local parishioners, Cruz’s friends in Manila, a funding agency based in Germany and the archbishop’s “muebles” (furniture) made from old wood that came from the cathedral and other churches in Pangasinan.
He also created art pieces, like figurines and paintings, which, along with the pieces of furniture that were labeled “Racos” (a take on
Oscar spelled differently), were sold to benefactors, friends and interested buyers.
All proceeds went into the cathedral’s construction.
“We had no chief architect. It was all based on whatever little knowledge we knew about the church,” Cruz says.
As for the three altars, these were redone to approximate the original with the help of Pampanga-based artist Willy Layug.
“The images of saints, thankfully, were not destroyed by both the earthquake and treasure hunting and needed only minor repairs,” Cruz says.
The human bones, which were revealed by the crumbling church walls, were put inside a trunk and buried behind the left altar.
The new cathedral sported a modern feel, like the removal of the choir loft, as singers now stay near the altar. The chandeliers were replaced with modern lighting fixtures.
The cathedral was completed in 2001 and a grand inauguration Mass was attended only by priests.
But nine years later, on Sept. 15, 2010, the Holy See withdrew the title of cathedral from the church, with the honor transferred to the new church on Burgos Street. The former cathedral of St. John the Evangelist was renamed, “Sanctuario de San Juan for the Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament,” during the 48th anniversary of the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese in February 2011.
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