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At first glance, this church of Santa Barbara looks like many others built across the country during the late 19th century.
It is made of quarried stones reinforced by wood and steel; its facade divided into three sections by cornices and capitals and topped by a trefoil-shaped pediment.
Fr. Francisco Aguerria, of the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), initiated the construction of the church and rectory in 1849. Lack of equipment and materials hampered the work on the massive edifice so that it was yet unfinished when his predecessor, Fr. Florencio Martin, took over administration of the parish in 1854.
It was only in 1873, during the tenure of Fr. Calixto Fernandez, that the Santa Barbara Church was at last completed. The parish of Santa Barbara started out in 1617 as “Visita Catmon” that formed part of the Jaro Vicariate. When Santa Barbara was constituted into a “pueblo” in 1760, it was headed by Fr. Juan Ferrer, OSA.
Giving the Santa Barbara Church distinction is the hundreds of bats that make the structure their home. They hang upside down on the stone walls or fly high up near the ceiling even at daytime. Construction wonder
Considering the absence of modern equipment, the construction of this house of worship was viewed as a wonder.
Workers had to quarry and transport huge slabs of stones called “pieda silleria” and “piedra tsina” from the mountains of Leon, Alimodian, and Tubungan for the building’s walls, pillars, and floors.
The cut stones were loaded into carts pulled by oxen or carabaos which had to pass through narrow and rocky roads.
Many people puzzle over how the early builders were able to create a huge and strong church sans the advantages of present day engineers and architects.
The answer could be the sketches of doors, posts, and other church parts found on the walls. Church engineers may have designed the edifice piece by piece, etching the plans for the next part on the walls when one portion was completed. These drawings can still be found in the church today.
During Spanish colonial times, the laws of “Repartamiento” require that all males render 40 days of compulsory service each year when they reach 16. This represented the free labor used to build the massive 19th century church.
As a source of fund, each family was made to contribute 8 reales (P1.00), later increased to 12 reales (P1.50). Also, people who could afford it were allowed to skip the 40 days of compulsory service by paying cash.
The Santa Barbara Church’s facade and three altars were patterned after big churches in Spain, under the guidance of Augustinian friars who supervised the construction. It carries influences of Baroque-Renaissance architecture as adopted by the Spaniards.
Decorating the facade are niches where status of saints are placed. The seal of the Pope and the Augustinian order have been etched on the stone.
Red and white stones were used on the church and convent walls to symbolize the Holiness and martyrdom of Santa Barbara.
Devoid of ill-placed pillars, the church interior is large and spacious. A transept that cuts across the nave gives it a cruciform floor plan. Behind each wing is a room for the sacristy and storage for the necessary paraphernalia during liturgical celebrations.
The plan to put up a belfry beside the structure never materialized because of the outbreak of the Philippine revolution against Spain in 1898.
What used to be the most outstanding feature of the Santa Barbara Church was its dome-shaped ceiling painted with the portraits of the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A strong earthquake in 1948 brought the ceiling down and completely destroyed it.
It was in this neoclassical church that Gen. Martin Delgado of the Visayan Revolutionary Government convened the junta that raised the first cry of revolution against Spain in Iloilo.
In 1990, the National Historical Institute declared the church and rectory of Santa Barbara as a National Historical Landmark.
In November 2013, the Church and Convent were declared National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines.