The building of the Vigan Cathedral (Part III)

A year later the letter and the documentation of the bishop was in the hands of the Council of the Indies. On July 13, 1769 the Council sent the papers to the Fiscal for his opinion. The Fiscal answered in July 26 and the decision of the Council followed in Auigust 3. This led to the important Real Cedula of August 23, 1769.

(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.)

Reaction and Decision in Spain

A year later the letter and the documentation of the bishop was in the hands of the Council of the Indies. On July 13, 1769 the Council sent the papers to the Fiscal for his opinion. The Fiscal answered in July 26 and the decision of the Council followed in Auigust 3. This led to the important Real Cedula of August 23, 1769.

In general the letter and its attached documentation were well received and the merits of the case acknowledged. We have a summary of both the letter and the documentation which speaks of the pitiful state of the “cathedral” of Vigan and of the neglect of the local government officials to implement the provisions contained in the decree concerning the transfer of the episcopal see. The absence of a palacio for the bishop was also noted. The Fiscal agreed with the petition of the bishop since it was in line with the laws of the Indies, and that accordingly the government officials in the Philippines should be told to act quickly. His proposals were accepted and found their way into the Cedula Real. Permission and help for the building of the cathedral were granted, but some conditions were laid down, namely: the place for the new cathedral must be carefully chosen in cooperation with the civil government: the spoils of the predecessors of Bishop Garcia were to be paid for this purpose; the Governor of Manila and the Alcalde of the three provinces should extend their help; the plan for the cathedral was to be submitted; an exact yearly accounting of income and expenses and a final account had to be submitted to the Council of the Indies.

Bishop Garcia may have been in a possession of the answer of the king in 1770 or 1771. But it seems nothing happened. He himself and the government in Manila may have had enough preoccupations with the visitation controversy. It is true that Bishop Garcia spoke of his “palace” in his report to the king in 17741, but his successor 14 years later found himself still without residence and without cathedral.


1. The Letter of Bishop Juan Ruiz de San Agustin in 1794:

The next document is a letter of Bishop Juan Ruiz de San Agustin, OSA, of May 26, 1794, written in Imus, Cavite, and addressed to the King. Ruiz was the successor of Bishop Garcia. He was nominated for Vigan by the King on December 20, 1780, took possession of his see on May 15, 1782, was confirmed by the Pope on June 25, 1784 and ordained as bishop on March 12, 1786 in Manila. He died in Vigan on May 2, 1796. The letter was co-signed by his trusted pro-secretario, Fray Agustin Pedro Blaquier, OSA, who became — as desired by Bishop Ruiz and recommended by the authorities in Manila — his successor. He was nominated either in 1797 or 1798, took possession of his see on May 29, 1799, received the Papal confirmation on January 20, 1801 and was ordained a bishop on February 20, 1803 in Ilagan, Isabela, during his visita pastoral. The letter of Bishop Ruiz was to occupy him for many years.

The first part of the letter of Bishop Ruiz is a report containing the permission to build, his building activity and the expenses. The second part contains two petitions, one for help, the other for a decree keeping away houses from the Cathedral in safe distance. The bishop started with the statement that, when he took possession of his see in Vigan in 1782, he found neither a bishop’s residence nor a decent Cathedral. The first thing the bishop did was to build a residence, a “palacio”, so as not to live any longer at the mercy of others. He must have submitted a report about this, and he thanked once more for the help extended by the Royal Majesty for this project.

As soon as his residence was finished, he concentrated all his thoughts on the building of the Cathedral. In 1785 when Don Jose Basco y Vargas the Capitan General and Vice Patron, visited Vigan, the bishop used the opportunity to show him personally the old church in order to convince him of the need for a new building. When the bishop came to Manila early 1786 for his ordination, he pushed the project and obtained from Basco the permission to start with the building and to continue it unhindered. Back to Vigan, his one concern was to gather the necessary material without bothering too much about the documentations from Manila which were slow in coming. He trusted in God’s help.

After this short remark on how he received the necessary permission, the bishop now described the building of his Cathedral. It has three naves; it is a little longer than 97 “varas” (ca. 81 m.); its width is a little more than 35 varas (ca. 29 m.) and its height is 18 varas (ca. 15 m.) The cornerstone was placed on January 31, 1790. After four years the walls were finished, all in stone. The baptistry was completed together with the side chapels; the beautiful facade was finished up to the cornice; the wall at the back of the Cathedral was also ready. The wood for the roof presently being made was available. Part of the tiles of the roof was being placed. The Cathedral was the first building in Ilocos with tiles on the roof. The bishop insisted on this because of the perennial danger of fires, to which the houses all made of wood or bamboo or grass were exposed. Work continued also even during his absence as long as money was available.

All this could not have been done without incurring great expenses. Accordingly, he tried to avoid unnecessary things as much as possible. The people of Vigan helped as best as they could. But they were poor. They transported water, sand and other things. So far the bishop spent 20,000 pesos for the building of the church. He spent some 16,000 pesos in addition to procure ornaments for the Cathedral (e.g. a custodia with diamonds). The church was indeed very poor.

The income came from the royal stipend of the bishop (_000 pesos yearly) and from the royal help extended to cathedral churches (for Vigan 528 pesos). To this could be added the little income of the parish which went to the maintenance of the church, not more than some 500 pesos yearly. Truly, divine providence had to help very much. The parish priest of Vigan was always ready to help, imitating the bishop who gave all that he could. But there were also many poor people in Vigan and in the diocese who needed help. The bishop eventually contracted some debts and still much was to be done in order to finish the tower, the front of the Church, the roof, the doors, the windows, and the altars, so that the church could really become a house of the LORD and a church worthy of the “V.M., patron of this church, whose coat of arms greets from the front of the church.”

This brought the bishop to the second main point of the letter, his two petitions. He asked for a subsidy in the form of a free donation. He did not indicate a specific sum. He did not like to make a formal request, because he feared the endless delay of the papers in the offices for cases like this and because of the additional expenses involved for such a request. He in turn promised to spend the money up to the last centavo for the church.

(To be continued)