The building of the Vigan Cathedral (Part IV)

THE SECOND petition concerned the safety of the church. He asked for a clear order that all around the church up to the distance of 100 “brazas” (ca 240 m.) no building should be allowed and that the existing buildings should be removed. His reason was the many fires.

(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.)


THE SECOND petition concerned the safety of the church. He asked for a clear order that all around the church up to the distance of 100 “brazas” (ca 240 m.) no building should be allowed and that the existing buildings should be removed. His reason was the many fires. It would be terrible if such a costly cathedral should become the prey of one of the frequent fires. He concluded the letter with the request that long paper work be avoided. A day later the bishop wrote a short letter to Don Pedro de Acuña y Malvar, Secretary of State y Gracia y Justicia de S.M. (por lo que toca a Indias), recommending to him his presentation for the King. He wrote as a “pobre obispo, viejo desvalido, y del ultimo rincon de mundo” and expressed the hope that the petition goes through without delay.

Unfortunately, this was exactly what happened. His petition reached Spain a year later and before the answer could get back Bishop Ruiz already died, partly at least a victim of his indefatigable zeal for the construction of the cathedral of Vigan. His successor, Bishop Blaquier, encountered much trouble with this quite simple request of Bishop Ruiz. No formal permission was given for the building by the Council of the Indies; there were no precise information available. Blaquier had to supply this. We owe then to him more information about the whole affair.

The “Permission of Governor Basco of 1786:

A copy of the “preliminary” permission of Governor Basco of January 23, 1786 was attached to the letter of Bishop Ruiz. How else could a bishop start building a cathedral without the permission of the Royal Patron in Spain, or at least without the conditional go-signal of the Vice-Patron in Manila? The bishop requested this copy from his secretary Dr. Eustaquio Benson in a letter of May 14, 1794. Benson had the copy made on May 27.

Basco, the governor of the tobacco monopoly and the conqueror of Batanes, was certainly a man of action. Without submitting all the needed documentation to Spain and without waiting for an answer, he gave for the time being the permission (licencia por via de interinidad) according to the reasons exposed by the bishop in a letter of January 14, 1786. (The bishop was probably at this time in Manila for his ordination) and on the basis of the exposition of his Fiscal. The bishop could start with the work as long as money was available either from the burse of the bishop or through voluntary donations. The Bishop and the Fiscal testified on the “estado ruinoso y indecentissimo” of the present church, and consequently on the absolute need of the work. Basco himself concurred since he had seen with his own eyes the “cathedral” during his visit to the north. A repair of the old church was out of the question. For it would mean depriving both the bishop and the town of a usable church for a long time. The permission was given with the understanding that in due time a well documented report would be sent to the King. Hence the Alcalde of Ilocos was to prepare the necessary testimonies as demanded by the Fiscal in his expediente of October 25, 1785. The Alcalde was not allowed to stop the work. He had to give the support which the law provided for such a case. All these things had to be indicated into the final report for Spain. The cathedral which was now to be built should not be considered as a new church. The materials from the old church should be used as much as possible.

Negotiations 1785-1786:

The following informations are taken from the report which Bishop Blaquier wrote in late 1799 and submitted to the King early 1800, a report which Bishop Ruiz and Governor Basco failed to submit as promised in the preliminary permission.
It began probably with the visit of Basco to Vigan early 1785. Bishop Ruiz and his secretary Fr. Juan de la Concepcion were then residing in the spacious convento of the Augustinians in Bantay parish (just as some twenty years earlier Bishop Ustariz also enjoyed the hospitality of the Augustinians). In February 18 he made a copy of the Royal Cedula of 1769, the basic document for the building of the cathedral. At the same time Basco gave orders to the Alcalde of Vigan Don Vicente Verzosa to organize a careful inspection of the actual condition of the existing parish-cathedral church of Vigan.

Bishop Ruiz submitted, perhaps at this time, his own report about the condition of his cathedral. Unfortunately no date was given, as it happened very frequently with ecclesiastical documents.

The next document belonged to Governor Verzosa, dated March 16. Basco probably already left. Verzosa was back for business in Vigan. In this letter he, together with his two companions, (poor Vigan could not yet afford an escribano publico) Don Simon Melgarejo de Leon and Don Joseph Pablo Manlapos, summoned the “maestro carpentero” Pedro de la Cruz in order to inspect the church and to submit a report.

Perhaps that very same day Pedro de la Cruz gave his report. Pedro knew some Spanish, so no interpreter was needed. He could write and sign his report. It said that the church had 150 beams for the roof (quilos) and two rafters (tirantes), all joined together (todos dormientes); it had sixteen posts, all rotten and useless. If nothing were to be done, the church would soon collapse completely.
(To be continued)