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Dumaguete Cathedral Belfry

Posted by admin on July 28, 2006

The Dumaguete Belfry along Perdices Street (formerly Alfonso XIII Street) was used as a watchtower during the 19th Century to warn the inhabitants (by ringing the bells) of the then small fishing village of impending raids by marauding pirates from the south of the islands. From its top can be seen the island of Mindanao on the horizon (now obscured by trees and buildings).These raids were so rampant in the area during those times that this little fishing village came to be known as “Dumagit” or “Dagit” which means “kidnap” in the local Cebuano language. The Spanish authorities later adopted and restructured or “hispanized” the name to “Dumaguete”.

Submitted by Dindo Generoso
Overseas Filipino Council


4 Responses to “Dumaguete Cathedral Belfry”

  1. Corey said

    I’ve seen photos of this place and I knew its significance to Dumaguete. Yet, when I was there I never saw it! Actually, there were many sights in Dumaguete that I never made it to. Ahh, that’s what next time is for 😉

  2. rene b javellana, sj said

    Here’s some data on the Dumaguete tower that I have gathered.

    A four-storey ovoid tower supported by three buttresses. Made of coral, lime with brick facings it has arched and diamond-shaped windows. Repaired with cement and Mactan stones, a fourth storey clearly shows signs of repair. It is located beside, though separated from, the church, which was damaged during the World War II and subsequently lengthened with the addition of two bays and a facade.

    The Dumaguete tower shows signs of being constructed and repaired a number of times. Although the date of construction is generally claimed to be 1811, based on the assumption that the nearby church and tower were built together as attested by a stone marker at the entrance of the cathedral, other dates are given, namely, 1624 by José E. Marcó (1912) and ca. 1760s (Kasaysayan, 1998). Fray Mariano Bernad OAR, who was assigned to Dumaguete in 1866-67, 1880-91, and 1894-97 writes in Reseña historica de Dumaguete (1895) that the belltower was built upon one of four watchtowers that defended the church. “At the four corners of the fortification were constructed four strong towers of cut stone and lime mortar, well provided with artillery …for the purpose of defense. Today, nothing much remains of the towers, except the corner where there is a belltower constructed over the tower which stood there” (p. 11). The fortification was the handiwork of Fray José Manuel Fernandez de Septién, who administered Dumaguete from 1754 to 1776. He was also responsible for building a single-naved church to which transepts were added later, a convento well supplied with arms, and the two-meter tall perimeter wall that offered safety to the townspeople.

    Fray Septién’s construction of defensive structures were catalyzed by the slaving raids that devastated Dumaguete and the surrounding towns in December 1722, May to June 1754, 1755 and 1756. The Cosas Notables de Dumaguete of 1855 onwards makes no mention of slaving raids, perhaps this is the reason why three of the watchtowers were razed and a portion of the wall by Calle Alfonso XIII was left to ruin.

    Fray Septién had constructed the first two levels of the watchtower in the 1760s, but it was during the administration of Fray Juan Felix de la Encarnación (1867-79) that the Dumaguete belltower took its present shape. Fray Encarnación added the third and fourth stories in the 1870s, and built buttresses to support the lower wall. Encarnación’s design allowed access to the first three stories, which were protected by railings. The fourth floor was capped by a dome, originally of galvanized iron but replaced by one of brick. This dome had a lateral egress by which workers could climb out to do repair work. The dome, locally known as bonete, literally a skull cap, was crowned with a weather vane.

    The tower was repaired in 1987 during the bishopric of Mgsr. Angel N. Lagdameo. A total of 125,000 pesos was spent to replace the staircase with one of reinforced concrete, strengthen the support of the dome, and replace missing stones with cut coral as in the original.

  3. […] Living in the province has its comforts and challenges. (Source: heritageconservation) […]

  4. Hi Father,

    Came across your reply upon doing some research on the belfry of Dumaguete for
    an info mural I am doing for the Diocese. I will be quoting your notes on the brief
    that I have crossed referred on some data. Here is an email from Architect Gerard
    Uymatiao who was involved in the restoration project. There may be some details
    here that may be of use:

    Other notes on the Belfry Restoration Project (as I can recall):

    The project was restored under the administration of Bishop Epifanio Surban. The lighting of the belfry was done under the administration of Bishop Angel Lagdameo a few years later (I’m not sure of the year, but probably in the early 1990’s).

    There was a historical committee formed by Bishop Surban. Among the members were Ms. Sising Magbanua, Antonio Calumpang,Ms. Lourdes Calumpang (of CWL), a priest and other civic/historical minded parishioners.

    The top of the tower was damaged by typhoons and a makeshift roof of corrugated sheets was installed to cover the bells which were still in use. Without the dome, the tower did not look well (to think that this structure was in our official seal of the City).

    The Bishop wanted to restore the Belfry with the dome. Project started around 1986 including the construction of a winding reinforced concrete stairs inside the tower to reinforce the structure and to replace the old wooden ladders that were in disrepair. Engr. Manuel Patrimonio designed the structural work with Greg Uymatiao, and the drafting was done by Julius Demerre. The design was of the tower based on old pictures of the 1920’s provided by the committee.

    I remember there were close to a hundred steps (but I’ll do a recount on site), the stair landings were positioned to align with the existing triangular openings in the tower. The intention was to make this a tourist attraction, where one can take a breather in the stair landings and see the view of the city through these windows.

    Giancarlo Orig was the architect assigned to supervise the dome work including the making the pattern for the clay tiles, which were done by the local potters in Daro in varying sizes to fit the shape of the dome. It has been 30 years now, but I do remember vividly Gian layouting this in 14 layers, and prepainted metal clips were embedded on the lower tile to help hold up the upper layer (for good alignment, and to prevent the tiles also from falling off during construction and during tremors), good to know that the clay tiles are still good. The crucifix was added at the top of the dome, although one of the local historians commented that the picture was actually a pointed rod only.

    This is one of the projects, we were so pleased to be involved with as this has been a symbol of our city.

    Yes, for the facing of the walls supporting the dome, we did use the old “manongol” stones from the old fortress wall, which we dug up nearby. Our construction workers actually informed the committee about this as they were working on some of the adjacent buildings for the Dgte Cathedral School years earlier.

    The foreman for the carpentry work to do the formwork for the winding staircase was Eduviges Quisel.

    The bells up there have engravings of the year and place were this was casted.

    I’ll check with Gian, but I think our mason who did the stone work was Dodo Cepria.

    The railing for the winding stairs many years later by the Diocese.

    The City Government then under Mayor Tuting Perdices helped financially on the lighting of the bell tower. A simple ceremony was held for the official lighting of the belfry with Mayor Perdices and the Bishop in attendance. Emilio Cutillar was the engineer assigned to this lighting project and coordinated the lighting design with Philips Lighting from Manila.



    ​Gian: please confirm the year as I think we did this around 1986 to 87.

    ​Sir Greg suggested using chicken wire to get the concrete mix contained which was a very practical solution, otherwise the weight of the wet concrete was quite hard to stabilize and support the upper portion. Our masons Zario Umbac, Tino Aranas and I think Johnny Sison were pulled out from the other projects to help get the concreting of the dome done, I remember the work going through the night as we were just using pulley and pails to bring the concrete up.

    Looking back, it was hard to do research on dome construction, and we just did this through sheer belief and effort that we can pull this through,… of course with Divine guidance.

    I also remember insisting on the Crucifix you designed as the crowning glory (although not historically accurate), the belfry was inside the Cathedral compound. Glad you did that.

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