of earthquakes and churches

The faults in the Philippines move every 400 years on average. Last time it moved was 355 years ago. In the 17th century, at least 20 recorded earthquakes (Intensity 8 on average) hit the country. If you do the Math, Philippines’ old churches weren’t there yet during that era.

To give you samples of the devastation of the last major tectonic plate movements, here are some accounts that I dug from my history books:

  • The Intensity 9 Panay earthquake in 1620 was so strong that it changed the course of Aklan River;
  • The January 16, 1601 quake that struck Manila lasted about 7 minutes, and aftershocks were experienced the whole year;
  • An intensity 10 quake struck Northern Luzon in September 14, 1627 causing Caraballo Mountains to subside.

You may be wondering why houses in the Philippines look so ugly from a bird’s eye view with all the rusty GI sheets as roofing material. Well, it is actually the fault’s fault: following the June 3, 1863 earthquake that destroyed the Manila Cathedral, the Ayuntamiento (City Hall inside Intramuros), the Palacio del Governador and much of the city, the governor discouraged the use of terra cotta tile roof and mandating the use of corrugated sheets by the end of 1880, voila—The birth of GI sheets that is now the icon of urban poverty and social exclusion.

The same earthquake, by the way, was the reason why Fernando Primo de Rivera converted Malacanang from summer palace to the seat of power (and corruption).

The bell tower of the Manila Cathedral after the destructive earthquake of 1880 (Photo Source).

The seismic activities in the archipelago made the clever Ilocanos build an Earthquake Baroque church. Yeah, it is squatty, wider, heavy at the bottom, virtually nothing on its top and some serious big butts, sounds like Kim Kardashian, yeah? but when I said butts I meant buttresses. It is a specific type of ecclesiastic architecture designed to withstand the frequent earth movements. There are only two Earthquake Baroque churches in the world, one in Paoay Ilocos Norte and the other in Antigua Guatemala.

One of the most beautiful churches in Iloilo was the Oton Church damaged by Lady Caycay–not a name of a typhoon nor a villain character in Darna, but an 8.2 intensity earthquake in 1948. It damaged a lot of old churches including the Miag-ao and Igbaras, but the unique Greek cruciform Byzantine-gothic church of Oton was the one severely damaged and WORSE, it was not restored (possibly due to lack of funds and government support) and the people settled with constructing a new church instead.

WORST, the new church is in powder blue.

Photo from Mill Hill Missionaries Collection

The new Oton Church (Photo by our fellow travel blogger RJDEXPLORER.COM)

I was lucky enough to see the churches in Bohol before the October 15, 2013 catastrophe hit the region. The neo-gothic romanesque church of Dauis is perhaps the one that I remembered the most. It was the first structure you’ll see upon crossing the bridge to Panglao. The locals believe that the church is miraculous, evidenced by the presence of a well at the foot of the altar providing fresh potable water despite the fact that the sea is just meters away.


The Church of San Pedro in Loboc was constructed during the time of Galileo, predating India’s Taj Mahal. Whenever I read historical timelines of heritage structures, I just brush in passing when a line says “Destroyed in year…” Sad that we witnessed that line happen in this lifetime.

Another church close to my heart was affected by the recent earthquake. The belfry of Basílica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu collapsed and now carefully being studied in preparation for the restoration. It is the oldest church established in the country so I am hoping and praying they will properly restore the building, be faithful to the original design and not color it powder blue.

To know more on how you can help reconstruct the churches of Bohol, you can go to IVANHENARES.COM for details.

Padayon Visayas.



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