A Colorful History of the Cebu Cathedral

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The 1719 Ciscara plan for the Cebu Cathedral which was never carried out.

(Text by Jose Eleazar Bersales)

1598. Bishop Pedro de Agurto (1591-1608), an Augustinian, arrives in Cebu from Mexico, following his appointment as the Diocese of Cebu’s first Bishop.

1665. Bishop Juan Lopez writes the King of Spain requesting that an encomienda with an annual income of 2,000 pesos be assigned to the diocese as subsidy for the construction of a new cathedral. It is approved five years later, on October 16, 1670. In addition, a royal grant of 10,000 pesos is also added, to be given on a staggered basis over the next 10 years.

1689. Having accumulated 17,718 pesos from the encomienda and royal grant, Bishop Diego de Aguilar (1680-92) begins the construction of a new cathedral. A typhoon soon puts the incomplete structure to ruin. His successor, Bishop Miguel Bayot (1696-1700) decides to build the foundations for another cathedral.

1692. The annual encomienda income of at least 2,000 pesos assigned to the diocese of Cebu is withheld, putting a heavy toll on the cathedral construction project.

1699-1700. Following a decree, the governor-general sends Juan Antonio de Ayco (reportedly the only mason in Cebu at the time) and master-carpenters Jeronimo Quibon and Jacinto Caba to assess the construction project in order to estimate how much it would cost to finish it. Probably due to the absence of a competent assessor, the accounting is very confused, with no correct estimate as to how much had already been spent. What is known is that materials for the construction were reportedly already in place, like stones for the pavement, molave beams and posts, and various timbers.

1700. Following the death of Bishop Bayot, the construction of the cathedral is halted.

1719. Bishop Sebastian de Foronda (1723-1728) describes the cathedral as nothing but a barn overrun by plants and grasses. He sees the futility of continuing the old construction due to its dimensions. He later orders the demolition of the old cathedral.

1719. Juan de Ciscara, a military engineer in Cebu (probably at the invitation of the bishop), draws up plans for a new cathedral. The Ciscara plan, never carried out, shows a rectangular form with three naves and two collateral chapels, suggesting the arms of a transept, and twin bell towers flanking the façade.

1720. With the appointment of a new alcade mayor of Cebu appreciative of the Bishop’s concerns over the cathedral, preparations for the fourth attempt at construction, now estimated at 70,523 pesos begins. Materials are gathered and laborers contracted when the new mayor receives an order from Manila to use all disposable funds for the Moro-suppression effort in Mindanao, thus causing the abandonment of the new project. At this time, the alcadia of Cebu owes the diocese 35,336 pesos from the suspended encomienda subsidy.

1733. Bishop Manuel de Osio y Ocampo (1733-1737) commences the fifth attempt at construction of the cathedral begins under the direction of Lazaro Buyco, a master-builder based in Cebu. Some 40,000 blocks of stones are gathered and cut as 10,000 cavanes of lime are stored. The project does not see much headway and progress is slowed down because the foundations of the new cathedral had to be dug deeper as the area on which it stands is far too soft and wet, requiring more time and more money. The new cathedral is now estimated to cost P50,000 to P60,000 more in order to be finished.

1737. Bishop Ocampo dies and construction ceases. The diocese is once again placed under the administration of the Manila Archdiocese while awaiting the appointment of a new bishop. Fr. Miguel Angel Rodriguez, now assigned to oversee the project deems the planned Cebu cathedral as too big for the diocese and decides to cease its construction altogether.

1741. Bishop Protasio Cabezas (1741-1752) assumes as the eleventh bishop of Cebu. He resumes the construction of the cathedral which, against all odds, continues until 1784.

28 April 1767. Bishop Miguel Lino de Espeleta (1759-1771) sends a letter to the King of Spain informing him of the need for 90,000 pesos to build the cathedral. The bishop also reminds the king of a promise made by his predecessors, apparently referring to the stalled amortizations on payments accrued from the income of the encomienda. As a final appeal, the bishop requests if funds could obtained from Mexico as well as the other islands under the Diocese of Cebu.

June 7, 1785. Bishop Joaquin de Arevalo (1776-1787), successor to Espeleta, informs the king that the amount of 8,000 pesos left by his predecessor to continue work on the cathedral was not enough. The construction, however, is now not only plagued by lack of funds but also by the near-absence of available labor in the city to work on the church.

1786. The façade and principal portions of the new cathedral is finished. Construction now takes on a much more regular pace.

1815. Bishop Joaquin Encabe de la Virgen de Sopetran (1805-1818) consecrates the cathedral which he dedicates to the Holy Angels of Custody even as construction never comes to completion and deterioration due to the elements creeps gradually.

1829. Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon (1829-1840) begins his term of office. He deems the cathedral far too deteriorated to be useful and begins plans for a reconstruction. The bishop, better known as priest-builder, supervises the construction of the churches of Oslob and Naga, the Episcopal Palace across the cathedral, the bell tower of Argao and the convent of Sibonga (and most probably the cathedral convent) during his reign.

1863. Following a letter by Bishop Romualdo Jimeno (1846-1872) to Governor General Rafael Echague on the urgent need to be repair the cathedral, an architect, Don Domingo de Escondrillas, who is connected with the Office of Public Works based in Cebu is ordered to do a plan for the widening of the cathedral. In his plan, Escondrillas proposes tearing down of the walls of the cruceros and the main altar in order to follow the Greek cross style. The arches are also extended so that it can accommodate 1,400 people more than the 4,300 residents that can be accommodated inside the church. The altar mayor is moved so that it can be seen from any point inside the church. Included in the plan is the renovation of the sacristy. All these would cost 33,298 pesos which Escondrillas describes as economical and will make the church worthy of the honor of being the seat of the Diocese of Cebu.

11 December 1865. The Administracion Central de Rentas Estancadas de Filipinas authorizes the release of 66,546 escudos for the enlargement of the cathedral by authority of Queen Isabella.

1878-79. The demolition of the Parian church nearby increases the number of churchgoers (and proceeds from offerings) to the cathedral. The church has had a strained relationship with the cathedral due to its patronage by the local mestizo Chinese elite who lived in and around Parian district, making the church the richest in the diocese.

1886. The cleric Felipe Redondo y Sendino publishes Breve Reseña de lo que fue y de lo que es la Diocesis de Cebu en Islas Filipinas and provides a description of the cathedral in the book: “The Cathedral has thick and strong walls made of mamposteria (rubblework) of 3 varas; its crucero measures 73.91 meters in length and its sacristy 17.67 meters in width with the interior part having 12.35 meters in length and its front walls with 21.36. The roofing is made of clay tiles; there is also a spacious sacristy which keeps paintings of the Bishops of the Diocese and a wide ante-sacristy with a room on the upper portion where the religious vessels are kept. Its belfry is also made of mamposteria in three levels reaching 28 meters in height and decorated with a clock.

December 7, 1891. Bishop Martin Garcia Alcocer consecrates the first stone of the new cathedral of Cebu, probably the seventh construction-reconstruction attempt. The project proceeds in earnest but is halted with the onset of the Revolution of 1898.

1904. Bishop Thomas Hendrick (1904-1909), the only American bishop of Cebu, continues the cathedral rebuilding project started by his predecessor.

1909. Bishop Juan Bautista Gorordo (1909-32) begins his reign marked by the completion of the cathedral construction.

1933. Following the elevation of the diocese into an archdiocese and the consecration of the new archbishop Msgr. Gabriel Reyes (1932-1950), the cathedral undergoes renovation. The project is supervised by Chinese Cebuano engineer Gavino Unchuan based on plans made by Cebu and Manila architects Eulogio Tablante Jr., Felino C.T. Lepon and Julio Ancheta. During the renovation, the retablo of the 1860s is torn down and replaced with a simple altar made of Carrara marble imported from Italy. Above the marble altar are placed three stained glass windows portraying the archangels Michael and Gabriel with the Lord in the center. The façade is extended to the camarin delos campaneros or the enclosed passageway to the belfry which used to be the bell-ringer’s quarters, thus making the church look even bigger. The entire church is also plastered with cement covering the walls which are painted later.

The new interior of the cathedral after the renovation in the 1930s.

1940. The newly renovated cathedral is consecrated by Archbishop Gabriel Reyes.

September 12, 1944. USAFFE air raids on Cebu commence. Among the bombing casualties are the recently-renovated cathedral and the Episcopal Palace across, with its contents of centuries-old archives and records of the archdiocese lost forever.

1945. Archbishop Reyes begins the reconstruction of the bombed cathedral, with only its façade, walls and belfry still intact.

1993. Under the incumbency of Msgr. Manuel Salvador as parish priest, the cathedral once again undergoes a major renovation in preparation for the visit of His Holiness John Paul II to the Philippines for the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of Manila and the Dioceses of Cebu, Nueva Caceres and Nueva Segovia.

18 November 1994. Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal consecrates the cathedral on to the Most Holy Name of Jesus, recalling the days when Cebu was called Ciudad del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus.

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  1. […] to the history of the Cebu Cathedral penned by Jose Eleazar Bersales, Escondrillas proposes tearing down of the walls of the cruceros […]

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