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The building of the Vigan Cathedral (Part VIII)

The ball was now with the Alcalde of Ilocos in Vigan, “Don Joseph Mariano Cubells, Alcalde Mayor y Capitan Aguerre de esta Provincia de Ilocos, su termino y jurisdicion, que actuo como Juez Receptor con assistencia de los testigosmis acompañados por falta de Escribano Publico o Real.” On October 6, 1798 he gave the order to search in his archives for the famous Basco decree of 1786. This order was signed thus: Joseph Mariano Cubells, Vicente Ines de Viscarra, Mariano Antonio de Torres.

(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 requesting the National Historical Institute to rectify the error in the historical marker in the right side of the front door of the Cathedral of Vigan.)

Vigan 1798:

The ball was now with the Alcalde of Ilocos in Vigan, “Don Joseph Mariano Cubells, Alcalde Mayor y Capitan Aguerre de esta Provincia de Ilocos, su termino y jurisdicion, que actuo como Juez Receptor con assistencia de los testigosmis acompañados por falta de Escribano Publico o Real.” On October 6, 1798 he gave the order to search in his archives for the famous Basco decree of 1786. This order was signed thus: Joseph Mariano Cubells, Vicente Ines de Viscarra, Mariano Antonio de Torres.

Two days later the governor and his two companions had to confess that they could not find anything about the building of the cathedral, nor the decree of Basco.

On the same day, October 8, 1798, an order was sent to the two “maestros de obras”, Don Thomas Arenas and Don Alexander Arenas asking them together with the Alcalde to inspect the cathedral, look at its present state and estimate how much money it may have cost, and how much money would still be needed for the conclusion of the work so that the requested documentation could be prepared for the Governor General in Manila. The provisor of the vacant diocese was also to be informed, so that he too could voice out his opinion. The information was sent to the latter on October 9. Since the two maestros de obras were well educated men, professors, citizens of Manila having a good command of Spanish things went smoothly without  any interpreter.

On October 12 they submitted their report which was signed by Cubells, the two Arenas and Viscarra and de Torres. The report says: The Cathedral is ninety three varas long (the bishop spoke of 97), and 33 varas wide (bishop mentioned 35). It has fourteen columns in the middle aisle to support the three naves and sixteen buttresses to fortify the walls which are two varas thick and seven varas high, all firm, safe and well arranged. Considering the strength, the capacity and the other good parts their estimate is that up to this day the sum of 43,808 pesos must have been spent (plus three reales and eight grains!) They think that some 14,000 pesos are still needed to complete the unfinished cathedral with all the necessary things. The following thing are still needed: the ceiling above the platforms of the two side galleries (el quisame de entablado de los dos cañones colaterales) (work is going on in this area and the ceiling of the middle aisle is the only one finished); nichos for funerals, (los entarimados para sepulturas). The cathedral still needs also a pulpit, a cemetery, a courtyard (patio a atrio) as a protection for the church. The sacristy has to be enlarged and another division has to be made, since the one they now have is not sufficient. It is also necessary to double the tiles of its roofing, because in their present state the rain comes in. Finally it is also necessary to put iron grills before the altar and behind the sacristy because it is there that they deposit and keep the treasures and ornaments of the church.

On October 14, a request was sent or rather was prepared, although it was not sent to the Provisor asking him to send a copy of the Basco permit to the Alcalde. The reason for this negligence is overwork in the office of the Alcalde.

Things began to move again only on October 9, 1799. Vigan had by now an Escribano Publico in the person of Josef Florentino de San Juaquin. He notes down the oversight and prepares at the order of Cubells on the same day a letter for Bishop Elect Blaquier who had taken possession of his see and was in the process of making the visita Pastoral of Vigan.

The bishop answered on October 18, 1799 and sent him the request papers covering the negotiations of the years 1785 which we used earlier for the reconstruction of the events.

On October 21, Cubells sent one more letter to the bishop referring to the Royal Cedula of 1797 and to the order of the Governor General of 1798. The bishop should now describe the actual state of the cathedral and report on the money spent and the remaining needs so that the expediente for the King could fully be prepared.

The answer of the bishop was ready on October 25, 1799. He writes: To avoid further delays in a thing so important we will truthfully give an answer to the three points. For greater clarity he (the bishop) has ordered a plan of the church which he includes and with this help he explains now the actual situation of the cathedral at this moment. Everything which pertains to the material structure of the Church (brick-work) is finished, namely, the whole facade, the windows with their wooden grills and seashells which are rather ordinary and are products of the land, doors and the other things and the southern tower where the bells are placed. The center of the middle nave has a wooden ceiling; the floor has porcelain tiles from China which is a novelty here. The sides of the same nave and what is found between and below the arches are paved with bricks, plain products from the province. This has been done out of necessity and there is a plan to change them (?). The side naves are without a ceiling, tiles and wooden platforms (??) which it should have for the burial of the dead (???) After all, this church is both a cathedral and a parish church at the same time. The two smaller rooms at the side of the main chapel are neither whitewashed nor with ceilings. Thus they look very crude and improper for a cathedral of which Your Majesty is the patron and whose royal coat-of-arms appears on its facade.

The first Mass in this church was said on the Octave of Corpus Christi, June 22, 1797, because at this time the old church threatened to collapse. They tried to make it look decent. Work went on as much as possible when money was available. Only the main nave can be called a church, since it has a ceiling and a clean floor and as such it is decent. Everything else including the sacristy is really in an improper condition.

(To be continued)