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The building of the Vigan cathedral (Part I)

A historical marker of the Cathedral of Vigan says:

“Built in 1641 this church became Cathedral when the seat of the diocese of Nueva Segovia was transferred from Lal-lo, Cagayan, to Vigan, 1758. Occupied by the revolutionarists under Col. Juan Villamor in 1898 and by the American forces under Lt. Col. James Parker in 1899. A chapel of wood and thatch erected on this site in 1574 by order of Juan Salcedo, the conquistador and Founder of Villa Fernandina after which Vigan was first called, was damaged by earthquake in 1619 and 1627 and by fire in 1739.”

(This article was published in 1985 from the The Ilocos Review, newsletter of the Immaculate Concepcion School of Theology, Vigan, Ilocos Sur. This was the basis of a resolution  by Vigan City Councilor Ever Molina whereby the National Historical Institute was requested to rectify the error in the historical marker in front of the front door of the Cathedral of Vigan.)

A historical marker of the Cathedral of Vigan says:

“Built in 1641 this church became Cathedral when the seat of the diocese of Nueva Segovia was transferred from Lal-lo, Cagayan, to Vigan, 1758. Occupied by the revolutionarists under Col. Juan Villamor in 1898 and by the American forces under Lt. Col. James Parker in 1899. A chapel of wood and thatch erected on this site in 1574 by order of Juan Salcedo, the conquistador and Founder of Villa Fernandina after which Vigan was first called, was damaged by earthquake in 1619 and 1627 and by fire in 1739.”

The following study is based on orginal documents obtained from the Archivo General de Indies in Seville, all in all some 70 folios. Somehow it will correct the historical marker in front of the Cathedral. This study is also dedicated as a sign of gratitude to the builder of the Cathedral, Bishop Juan Ruiz de San Agustin, ORA, his helper and successor Bishop Pedro Blaguier, OSA, and some Filipino priests and laymen of Vigan who were great benefactors during the building of this Cathedral. It throws some light on the Vigan of the late 18th century, especially on the conditions of the old former parish church of the pueblo Vigan. At the same time we can see from these documents how the Patronato worked in a concrete case and feel something about Spanish bureaucracy, which must have been exasperating for more than one person who wanted action and not a mountain of papers of providencias and expedientes. After some thirty years of tedious negotiations the bishop of Vigan has not yet received the help which was due to him by law and by decision of the Spanish king!

A First Attempt Under Bishop Miguel Garcia

The Letter of Bishop Garcia of 1768:

Garcia was nominated bishop of Nueva Segovia in 1766 as successor of Bishop Ustariz, the bishop during the Diego Silang uprising, who died in August 1764. He took possession of his see on June 20, 1767.  Garcia faced immediately two big problems in Vigan which became the official seat of the bishop of the diocese since 1758 instead of Lal-lo in Cagayan. There was neither a real Cathedral, nor a real episcopal residence (palacio) for himself and for his administration. A year later, on June 18, 1768 he sent a well documented letter to the king, informing him about these two urgent needs of his diocese and asking him for help as provided for by the Law of the Indies for cases like this and by the Real Cedula of the transfer of the episcopal see as well.

He wrote that, as bishop, he had no house of his own; that he was lodging for the time being in the house of the parish priest, an old place without any comfort. He found the existing parish church of Vigan simply unworthy not only for the majesty of Almighty God, but also for the other “Majesty”, the Spanish king. The church was old, not well built, and was close to collapse. A repair would not change this church into a decent Cathedral; neither would it be spacious enough for the growing population of Vigan.

The document of the transfer of the episcopal see was already issued by Ferdinand VI, brother of the reigning King Carlos III, September 7, 1758 in Villaviciosa and stated that Vigan should have a Cathedral. Vigan was raised at this time from the status of a “pueblo” to that of a “city”, the Ciudad Villa Fernandina. This document was found in the archives. It was duly promulgated in Vigan. Yet no action was taken, neither a trace of a Cathedral. No house of a bishop, even now, ten years later, was visible.

Therefore the bishop asked for the permission to build both, the Cathedral and the palacio, since both were equally necessary and urgent.

He then petitioned for the application of the law for the Spanish colonies, namely, that the Royal Vice Patron in Manila and the governors in the three provinces of Ilocos, Pangasinan and Cagayan which comprised the diocese of Nueva Segovia, grant the necessary helps. He suggested that money could come from the “spoils” of his predecessors. He also asked that the support, until now given to the church in Lal-lo for wax and oil and ornaments, be transferred to the church in Vigan. He thought that under these conditions he could build a church, a cathedral, in the span of four years. Once more he repeated that a repair of the old Vigan church was out of the question, since its condition was so bad and it was so weak and poorly built.

(To be continued)

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