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ESSAY: Catholic Faith in Nueva Segovia (First Part)

NUEVA Segovia is the name of the archdiocese now located in the venerable and historic town of Vigan in the province of Ilocos Sur. The town of Vigan takes its native name from bigaa (Alocasia Macrorrhiza), a leafy tuberous plant which thrives in abundance on the banks of the Mestizo River. As a colonial settlement, the town of Vigan was founded by Juan de Salcedo, grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi who founded the city of Manila. Salcedo went to the Ylocos in Northern Luzon putting up a military settlement in Vigan on 13 June 1572 which, two years later, he named Villa Fernandina, establishing in the Poblacion a Spanish residence in honor of Prince Ferdinand, first born son of King Philip II of Spain. At the age of four, Prince Ferdinand died.

The city of Nueva Segovia, however, was founded in 1581 by Pablo Carreon three leagues away, from the mouth of the Ibanag river, (Rio Grande de Cagayan). Nueva Segovia, named after the old city of Segovia in Spain, was the capital and principal port of Cagayan Valley. As a diocese, it was canonically erected by Pope Clement VIII with the bull Super Specula Militantis Ecclesiae on 14 August 1595 with Miguel de Benavides, OP, as its first bishop. Its territorial jurisdiction extended over all the provinces of Northern Luzon. It was placed under the  principal patronage of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Together with the dioceses of Cebu and Caceres, it was made suffragan to the new Archdiocese of Manila. Before the end of the Spanish era in the Philippines, only Jaro was added as a new diocese in 1865.

Because of distance and the need for a site at the center of diocese, the See of Nueva Segovia was transferred to Vigan at the request of Bp. Juan de la Fuente Yepez, sec., during the Pontificate of Benedict XIV, the reign of King Ferdinand VI of Spain on 7 September 1758. Then the city of Nueva Segovia was also slowly being washed away by the river and so it was assimilated further inland in nearby Lal-lo. Vigan, on the other hand, was rising as a center of Spanish culture, politics and economy. Furthermore, already the second bishop of Nueva Segovia Diego de Soria, OP, as well as the succeeding bishops, preferred to stay in Vigan until it was deemed necessary to transfer the seat of the diocese permanently. The Villa then became Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan in honor of the then current King of Spain.

The parish of St. Paul was founded in the poblacion of Vigan on 30 April 1575 by the Augustinians led by P. Alonso de Alvarado. The Franciscans took over in 1578 and later the secular clergy in 1591 some-times alternated parish administration with the Augustinians. The visitas were Santa Catalina, Caoayan, Bantay, San Ildefonso (Bantaoay), and Sto. Domingo.

The beginning of Christianization of the Ilocos was perhaps the most typical example of the Augustinian plan of evangelization. Briefly, it involved six parts: Personal preparation was undertaken by an orientation period given in Spain, training the missionaries to their specific assignments. Once in their pastoral areas, the missionaries were expected to specialize in one or two of the native languages. Wherever possible, the people were persuaded to gather in basic groups which slowly were organized into towns in carefully selected sites, usually by the sea or along the rivers. Immediately aware of the moral influence that the presence of the priest had on the natives, the missionaries established permanent residences where the people lived.

     (To be continued)