Two decades following the publication of his groundbreaking book, Simbahan: Church Art in Colonial Philippines, 1565-1898, historian and anthropologist Regalado Trota José has recently authored another important work on the country’s iconic religious edifices.
Simbahán: An Illustrated Guide to 50 of the Philippines’ Must-Visit Catholic Churches features significant churches built from the Spanish period to the mid-20th century.
The book, illustrated by architect Allan Jay Quesada, is published by RPD Publications, which also reprinted Ambeth Ocampo’s Aguilar Cruz: The Writer as Painter and Kain Na! An Illustrated Guide to Philippine Food by Felice Prudente-Santa Maria and Bryan Koh, among other publications.
An authority on church art and history, José, the first lay archivist of the Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas, explained the reason for using the word simbahán: This is to veer away from Manila-centric naming of things and objects, explaining that the word is widely used in central and southern parts of the country.
The 50 churches, he said were chosen for their cultural, architectural, and aesthetic significance, as well as their picturesque locations.
He noted that the book “points to areas otherwise not within the purview of the usual visitor: Not just the far and unheard-of, but also the very near or where there is art not meant to be seen.” He added that “each selection here effuses some facet of that cultural fusion of art, life and nature that could only blossom in the Philippines.”
The book is divided into 10 sections corresponding to geographic locations from the Cagayan Valley Region to Mindanao.
The UNESCO World Heritage churches of Paoay in Ilocos Norte, Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur, San Agustin in Intramuros, and Miag-ao in Iloilo are expectedly included in the list. However, a number of off-the-beaten-track, lesser-known churches are featured for their history and architectural importance.
These include the Church of Saint Raymund Peñafort in Malaueg (now Rizal), Cagayan; Church of Saint Paul the Hermit in San Pablo, Isabela; Church of Saint Catherine de Alexandria in Tayum, Abra; Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Charity in Agoo, La Union; Church of Saint James the Great in Bolinao, Pangasinan; Church of Saint William of Aquitane in Bacolor, Pampanga; and National Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, commonly known as the Baclaran Church in Parañaque.
Also in the book are the Church of the Purification of Our Lady in Paracale, Camarines Norte; Church of Saint Joseph in Barcelona, Sorsogon; Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Capul, Northern Samar; Church of Saint Joseph in San Isidro, Matalom, Leyte; Church of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady in Duero, Bohol; Church of Saint Isidore the Farmer in Victorias City, Negros Occidental; and the Church of St. John de Nepomuk in Anini-y, Antique.
Two Mindanao churches made it to the list — the Church of Saint John the Baptist of Jimenéz, Misamis Occidental; and Church of the Savior of the World in Caraga, Davao Oriental.
This latest work of José is a marriage of scholarly work and art — a treasury of information and impressively rendered watercolor images.
The front and back covers are also particularly striking as the images of the facade and the apse of what seems to be a singular church is made from composite images of the 50 churches featured.
The book also offers new details on most of the churches in succinct, enlightening essays. This is a highly commendable work.