I can no longer recall why I visited Guiuan Church at the tip of Eastern Samar in February 2015. But it was probably that I wanted to see for myself the devastation it suffered. On November 2013, Supertyphoon Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan) devasted Central Visayas and with it, the almost total destruction of this edifice.
The first time I visited this town was when I did a solo trip to Homonhon Island in the 90s when I was still in college. I can’t recall much about the church then. A second visit was around 2004 or 2005 when I did the Philippine Church Facades (published, 2007) book project for Fr. Pedro Galende of the San Agustin Museum in Intramuros, Manila.
The Jesuits founded the town of Guiuan in 1595. And they build the present Immaculate Conception Parish Church in 1718. The belltower was added in 1854. After the Jesuit expulsion in 1768, the parish was administered by the Augustinians and the Franciscans took over in 1795.
Guiuan Church was originally built within a fort which is long gone. It is known for its exquisite shell mosaic, the only one of its kind adorning a church dating from Spanish colonial era. Its main portal and side entrances have ornately carved wooden doors and at its apse is an elaborate baroque retablo.
The National Museum designated it as a National Cultural Treasure in 2001.
On November 8, 2013, Supertyphoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) ravaged the Philippines and left a swath of death and destruction across the central part. It was one of the strongest typhoons that have ever battered the country, packing winds as much as 285 KM/Hour. When the typhoon left, around 6,300 people died and billions of dollars in economic loss.
The island of Samar was the first to feel the fury of Supertyphoon Yolanda and Guiuan was directly at its path. In the aftermath, Guiuan Church suffered heavy damages. The belfry and the church lost its roof. A big portion of the facade toppled. Several reliquaries and priceless antique artefacts got lost or badly damaged while the lower half of the beautiful retablo was left standing.
In 2019, the National Museum of the Philippines restored the church.
This is part of my Filipino Faith series.