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Tumauini Church

Posted by admin on July 27, 2006

Church of San Mattias, Tumauini (Isabela)

The church walls are made entirely of brick. The façade is a magnificent display of the use ornamented brick laid out in characteristic design. Customized bricks were numbered, and placed customized to fit the walls. The interior of the church, similar to the façade is veneered with ornamented bricks. The upper half of the interior wall is laid with ornately designed brick blocks.

The bell tower of the church is cylindrical. The complex is fenced with brick walls, which is also ornamented like the rest of the church. The convent, located at the Gospel side of the church is now in ruins. (Text from UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List)


9 Responses to “Tumauini Church”

  1. admin said

    Built in 1753 under Dominican Supervision and completed in 1805, it is an ultra-baroque church unique for its extensive use of baked clay both for wall finishing and ornamentation. Clay bricks come to life in concentric circles on the façade, spiral curves on the finial serpentine reliefs, and many finely molded details – flowers, foliage, surfaces, cherubs, and saints. Its architecture bears Chinese ancestry. This church of stone features a unique cylindrical bell tower that is the only one of its kind in the Philippines. It was declared a National Historical Landmark on February 24, 1989.

  2. admin said

    Flowers in Brick: The Tumauini Church in Isabela

    Jewel of the Valley.” This is how Benito Legarda calls the Parish Church of Saint Mathias in his inquiry, Angels in Clay: The Typical Cagayan Church. Its exquisite brick ornamentation makes this church in Isabela one of the most striking and interesting churches built during the Spanish colonial period.

    The church stands in a quiet little corner of the town, away from the mad rush hour of everyday life, at the end of a short, narrow, uneven asphalt track that diverts unobtrusively from the main road of Tumauini, a bustling little town where every mode of transportation- cars, jeepneys, buses, tricycles, bicycles, calesas- claim a stake to the same road. Tumauini is located in the northern part of Isabela, only an hour-and-a-half drive away from Tuguegarao in the Cagayan Valley.

    Tumauini church was built by Fr. Domingo Forto from 1783 to 1788. With a keen eye to details and an affection to decoration, Fr. Forto created a work of art in his church. To achieve the ornamentation he wanted, he went as far as importing artisans from Pampanga to carve the wood moldings for the clay insets. Likewise, he devised an ingenious method that assured him that the laborers followed exactly his design, especially when he went away on missionary travels. A closer look at the spiral relief of the facade shows carved out numbers that indicate the proper sequence of the bricks. Some of the bricks were even stamped with a date; one brick displays the year “1784”.

    Paired pseudo-Corinthian columns on the facade create a vertical rhythmic division, perhaps inspired by native foliage. Directly above an arched doorway in the central portion of the facade, a niche for a statuette precariously sits within the heavy laden horizontal cornice. Two larger niches, set in between paired columns, flank each side of the doorway. Another horizontal cornice traverses along the lower portion of the facade, demarcating a solid base for the entire composition.

    The abundant ornamentation is seemingly overwhelming to the untrained eyes that it is easy to miss the fine details that give life to the facade. Perhaps, one must take moments of repose to scan the wealth of each red clay brick and discover trimmings of flowers, foliage, swags and angel faces. Some ornamentation are so subtle that discerning their meanings or allusions could bring a sense of fulfillment. For example, the columns that frame the side niches are faintly shaped just enough to suggest solomonic or twisted columns.

    On the other hand, it is perplexing, almost impossible, to draw any meaning from some other ornamentation. For instance, one can only guess the significance of carriage wheel images at the base of the facade.

    Possibly the most intriguing of all the ornaments are the odd-looking clay insets that bound the sides of the facade. These insets come to life as curvilinear forms that seem to crawl on the surface of the wall. Shaped like a reversed letter “S” or the number “3”, they could have originally signified some important message or idea that is now lost to an observer. The brick walls remain silent and they won’t tell the story.

    The proliferation of ornaments on the facade is crowned by a pediment with stepped pinnacles on both sides. The stepped pinnacles are embellished with more clay insets varying from flowers to a coil. The pediment itself is also uncommon, being the only pediment in the colonial church lineage that has a very strong circular form. It is punctuated with a rose window that is decorated with a dazzling movement of swag-like ornaments.

    Besides its brick inset ornamentation, the church is also exceptional among the colonial churches because of its unusual exposed brick construction. Unlike most timeworn churches, Tumauini church lacks a protective coating of plaster on its walls. One can assume that bricks in Tumauini were made durable enough to last natural elements as well as the passage of time.

    To complete the composition, a belltower resolutely stands close to the facade. Built in 1803, the belltower is a rare gem, too. According to Winand Klassen, in his book Architecture in the Philippines, the Tumauini belltower is the only known cylindrical tower in the colonial period. The belltower’s cylindrical shape reinforces its kinship with the circular composition of the pediment. Like the facade, it is festively decorated with festoon garlands that wrap around each tier of the belltower. Here, the embellishment is magnified by the effective contrast of the reddish clay insets against the white plaster finish.

    The happy gathering of brick ornaments extends into the church interior. Above the altar, a half canopy that is made of stone and carved with delicate ornaments becomes the central focus. The half canopy is unprecedented within the context of this brick church since stone, according to Legarda, was rarely used in this region.

    The book, Great Churches of the Philippines, sums up the brick ornamentation of the church: “An ultra-Baroque church, it is unique for its extensive use of baked clay both for wall finishes and for ornamentation. In the construction of Western-style churches, clay is an off-beat idiom. It is structural slang!”

    Surely, Tumauini church is an amalgam within the realms of Western traditional architecture. But the Parish Church of Saint Mathias is not in the west, or anywhere else. It is in the busy little town of Tumauini in Isabela. Here, the church contentedly awaits the next visitor to come and relish its wonderful architecture.


  3. This is very nice and informative post. I have bookmarked your site in order to find out your post in the future.

  4. efren said

    its great to have this kind of heritage!!st matthias is a unique structure…

  5. sol acosta said

    our st mathias church in tumauini, isabela has been damaged by typhoon juan. please check my facebook account sol cabauatan acosta so you can see the extent of the damage. roofs were blown away and there is an imminent danger because the ceiling collapsed, our priest is now celebrating mass at a smaller capilla by the side of the church.

  6. They say thre was and treasure hiddend in this church

    • ma. aurora de alban said

      Please read my FB post August 1, 2019, and let us unite to preserve our beloved church with its cylindrical tower from gold hunters.

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