The Beginnings of Bohol’s Capital
To end this year’s National Heritage Month, here’s a special feature about the beginnings of Bohol’s capital, the City of Tagbilaran.
Between 1751 to 1754, Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, a Spanish Jesuit priest, and cartographer wrote about Tagbilaran and described it as a “new village”. Established by the Jesuits first as a visita of Baclayon, then as a parish sometime around 1767, it became the provincial capital when Bohol became a separate province from Cebu in 1854.
Before the Jesuit expulsion from the Philippines in 1768, the missionaries constructed a church with a stone masonry base of about one meter, with Tabique Pampango walls and a nipa roof. Unfortunately, the church and its convent caught fire in 1798. Renowned church historian and author of Visita Iglesia Bohol, Regalado Trota Jose, suspects that the two side Retablos could be remnants of the long-gone Jesuit period church. This theory is backed by the baroque details and the Jesuit logo (IHS and cross) on the pediment of one of these retablos (on the gospel side).
From around 1839 to 1855, a new coral stone structure was constructed during the tenure of Fr. Valero de San Sebastian. In 1872, the convent was significantly expanded by Fr. Lucas Coromina. In 1873, a silver tabernacle and altar frontal from Manila were installed. The silver altar frontal is embellished with fine repoussé metalwork known as “inisot” or Ysot engraving.
A belfry was later added by Fr. Jose Sanchez, the same priest who started the construction of the similarly designed belfry of Talibon Church. Construction of the bell tower began in 1886 and was completed in 1891. The church was finally completed during the time of Fr. Escolastico Enciso who also facilitated the painting and decorations in the 1890s. Existent to this day are a silver tabernacle and silver fittings from Manila, installed in 1873.
Over the years, the expansion of the church in Tagbilaran has been done to accommodate the growing number of churchgoers. In the 20th century, it became a cathedral when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tagbilaran was created on Nov. 8, 1941.
In 2019, the St. Joseph’s Cathedral or Tagbilaran Cathedral along with the Plaza Rizal were declared an Important Cultural Property (ICP) by the National Museum of the Philippines as part of the Tagbilaran City Spanish colonial period plaza complex. Also part of this complex is the Escuela Niñas, a school building for girls, and the former Capitol Building which is now the home of your National Museum Bohol. Both buildings have also been declared ICP. As Important Cultural Properties, these structures have been recognized for their exceptional cultural, artistic, and /or historical significance to our nation.
Photos courtesy of Marianito Luspo from the Gallares-Gallardo Collection; Prof. Luigi Apuhin Romanillos via Archivo Recoleto, Marcilla, Navarra, Spain; Lemuel P. Montejo; and Gerald James Cabal.
© National Museum of the Philippines (2022)