“The castle of Guiguan . . . is the best and most regularly planned in all the Visayas. It exceeds in grandeur the celebrated fort of Zamboanga. The Fathers with the aid of the townspeople built the fort for their defense. It is quadrilateral, each side being 70 brazas long. At every corner is a bulwark. On these bulwarks six pieces of artillery can be mounted. Within the fort, which is all of cut stone, stands the single-naved church, large and capacious, and the house of the priest with all the necessary offices. It has four large patios, one serves as a cemetery and affords a commodious space for the schools. The other has a garden where a two-story warehouse stands. The kitchen is found in one of the bulwarks. On the bulwarks facing the sea are mounted six bronze cannons of various calibers, and a large one of iron, plus various lantacas, whipstaff, swivel guns, muskets and other arms which the ministers buy with the alms given by the inhabitants. They also purchase gunpowder and bullets as an annual surety with which they can defend the town from any armed enemy attack” thus Fr. Delgado (1754, 239–40) describes the fortification at Guiuan.
The Guiuan fort is partially preserved. The southeastern bulwark where the Franciscans built a bell tower in 1854 still stands. So does another bulwark on the southwestern end, and parts of the southern and western wall. We gather from Delgado that the Jesuits did not build a bell tower because he mentions the bell used to sound alarms as hanging inside the fort. Mentally extending the remains of the southern wall shows it once bisected the convento built on the southern side. Although Repetti identifies this convento as Jesuit, he appears to be mistaken. Why build a convento outside the defensive perimeter? Besides, Delgado remarks that the Jesuits lived inside the fort. Rather the building on the southern side is the 1872 convento, while we infer that the Jesuit convento or what is left of it are the two rooms directly behind the sanctuary, beneath which the old sacristy stood. This would place the residence within the defensive perimeter, as Delgado states. Besides, the convento fits Huerta’s description of a stone building.
The Franciscans apparently added a transept and a baptistry. This is the sense of Huerta’s “reedificada.” Architectural evidence bears this out. The main nave (Delgado’s single-naved church) is unified in its interior motifs and dimensions. Stucco angels decorate the church interior, and the doors leading to the choir loft bear the emblems of Mary and the Society above their arches. The main nave is more than two meters taller than the transept and the concourse from the transept to the main nave is impeded by a few centimeters of wall, unusual if the transepts were planned together with the nave. The transept appears as an afterthought. The thickness of the church wall at the transept opening is less than that of the rest of the church suggesting that room was made for some structure, very likely a retablo, which was then removed and transferred elsewhere. In fact, parts of that retablo are in the church.
Guiuan owns numerous altars—a virtual history of the parish. Aside from the main altar two side altars stand along the nave. One bears mixed parentage, a retablo from Franciscan times and a rococo frontal with the Augustinian emblem. Each transept end has an altar. One which houses a templette has florid baroque motifs, probably remnants of the side altar from Jesuit times. The altar table itself is cuplike, typical of Franciscan rococo, similar to the altars in the Franciscan church of Baras. Could these altars have come from Luzon?
The main altar belongs to the Baroque style and traces to the Jesuit era. Divided into a number of niches separated by solomonic columns and encrusted with heavy floral carvings, the impression created is that of being heavy and overwrought. The carved wooden altar frontal bears the image of the Virgin Mary flanked by kneeling priests in chasuble with the images of Jesuits saints in floral roundels. Two processional candle holders are shaped like altar servers or sacristans, dressed in cassok and surplice. One wears a medal with a monogram of the name “Jesus” and the other “Mary.” A pair of solomonic columns stretching to the ceiling flanks the main retablo. From a corbel shaped like a human hand hangs a pulley, probably used to raise and lower a sanctuary lamp or probably used to raise a curtain known as manto lanquin (manto from Spanish meaning veil; and lanquin from Chinese meaning black) that covered the altar from Passion Sunday to Holy Saturday.
An outstanding Franciscan addition is the baptistry located near the church entrance. It is decorated like grottoes—that is, with shells—and coral. Probably the only example of its kind in the Philippines. Recently, the National Museum of the Philippines documented the baptistery and identified at least eight types of shells used to decorate. The baptistry alone makes Guiuan church worthy of being considered a “national treasure.”
The Guiuan façade gives a hint of the treasures within. While following the standard divisions into verticals and horizontals, the use of multiple but slim engaged columns gives the façade a delicacy lacking in many colonial churches. The decorations over the pediment further adds to the delicate feel. The original nave had three entrances, one in front two at the sides. These had elaborately carve hardwood doors. The two remaining doors are worth studying. The front door represents the apostles, a side door facing seaward represents the angels. The missing third door (said to have been sold surreptitiously in the 1980s) may have represented the Holy Family as indicated by the monograms of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the door jamb. (Panublion)