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Friday, January 30, 2009


A massive stone baroque church, the Paoay Church is well known for its massive and imposing character given to it by its large overpowering buttresses. The buttresses alone are a visual spectacle. They line the sides of the church with each one a rhythmic flow of stone cascading down from the pinnacles to the ground, emphasized by spiral reliefs visible on each side of the buttresses.

The materials used for the walls were a mixture of coral stone and bricks. Large coral stones were used at the lower level of the walls, while bricks, smaller and more manageable to transport, were used at the upper levels.

The facade of the church, even as it now begins to lean towards the front, still manages to be as equally impressive as the buttresses. Viewed from the side, the giant buttresses look like huge volutes making the facade appear as a massive pediment rising from the ground. The facade is divided vertically by square pilasters that extend from the ground and all the way to the top of the pediment. The Gothic affinity of the church is suggested by the vertical movement of the pilasters and the finials that cap them at the top of the pediment. The facade is also divided horizontally by stringed cornices that extend all the way to the edges. The cornices extend to the sides of the church and wrap around each buttress, adding attention and articulation to the massive side supports. At the apex is a niche, while the otherwise stark plaster finish is embellished with crenallations, niches, rosettes, and the Augustinian coat-of-arms.

The facade is complemented with a belltower located at its right hand side. Belltowers are a very important element in the overall composition of colonial churches, both for its function and aesthetics. For practical purposes, belltowers were used as a communication device to the townspeople. In the case of the Paoay belltower, it also played, ironically, an explicit role in the lives of the Filipinos during the war.

As one enters the edifice, the church abruptly relinquishes the powerful strength of the massive buttresses that they discharge at the exterior. Inside, the church has a very solemn, almost sentimental ambiance. The interior looks bare and empty. The ceiling was once painted with a scene similar to that of the Sistine Chapel in Italy. Unfortunately, the original ceiling is no longer in existence today. What is left is a cavernous maze of trusswork with exposed and rusting corrugated roof sheets.

Historic and Social Aspects of Stucture/Site

The church was started by the Augustinian Fr. Antonio Estavillo in 1694. It was completed in 1710 and rededicated in 1896, just three years before the expulsion of Spanish rule in the country. The style of the church has been dubbed “Earthquake Baroque” by Alicia Coseteng, one of the early authorities on colonial church architecture.

Outstanding Features

Because the buttresses extend out considerably from the exterior walls, the entire visual experience becomes three-dimensional, unlike most of the churches in the country where the inherent beauty of the church is limited only to the facade.

Another interesting feature of the buttresses is the existence of a step buttress at the sides of the church, at or near half of the length of the exterior wall. There seems to be no other reason for building this other than as a means to access the roof. In the early days, this would have been necessary when fixing or patching the cogon grass roof. What throws off everyone’s speculation is that the stair-like buttresses have steps that were built too steep and too far apart for a normal person to climb. But perhaps, they were built in such manner in order to save on valuable space. If the step buttress on the left of the Paoay church was built properly, it would have jutted out far beyond the boundaries of the church fence.

Source: UAP Sentro ng Arkitekturang Filipino

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