Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Flowers In Brick - The Tumauini Church in Isabela

Having seen Saint Mathias Church in Tumauini, Isabela in one of DOT’s advertisements (with the Songbird as model) and having read about the its unique history and design encouraged me to visit this marvelous architectural structure.

HOW TO GET THERE : Take a bus to Tuguegarao which will pass by the town of Tumauini. Tell the bus driver or collector to drop you at the central town of Tumauini. The church is just a short walk from the highway.

Let me share below article about Tumauini to all Lakbay Loyd followers. This was written by Roger Gaspar in one of his architectural blogs (I wish to thank him for this informative arcticle – though I don’t know him personally).

Flowers in Brick: The Tumauini Church in Isabela

- By Roger Gaspar

Jewel of the Valley.” This is how Benito Legarda calls the Parish Church of Saint Mathias in his inquiry, Angels in Clay: The Typical Cagayan Church. Its exquisite brick ornamentation makes this church in Isabela one of the most striking and interesting churches built during the Spanish colonial period.

The church stands in a quiet little corner of the town, away from the mad rush hour of everyday life, at the end of a short, narrow, uneven asphalt track that diverts unobtrusively from the main road of Tumauini, a bustling little town where every mode of transportation- cars, jeepneys, buses, tricycles, bicycles, calesas- claim a stake to the same road. Tumauini is located in the northern part of Isabela, only an hour-and-a-half drive away from Tuguegarao in the Cagayan Valley.

Tumauini church was built by Fr. Domingo Forto from 1783 to 1788. With a keen eye to details and an affection to decoration, Fr. Forto created a work of art in his church. To achieve the ornamentation he wanted, he went as far as importing artisans from Pampanga to carve the wood moldings for the clay insets. Likewise, he devised an ingenious method that assured him that the laborers followed exactly his design, especially when he went away on missionary travels. A closer look at the spiral relief of the facade shows carved out numbers that indicate the proper sequence of the bricks. Some of the bricks were even stamped with a date; one brick displays the year “1784″.

Paired pseudo-Corinthian columns on the facade create a vertical rhythmic division, perhaps inspired by native foliage. Directly above an arched doorway in the central portion of the facade, a niche for a statuette precariously sits within the heavy laden horizontal cornice. Two larger niches, set in between paired columns, flank each side of the doorway. Another horizontal cornice traverses along the lower portion of the facade, demarcating a solid base for the entire composition.

The abundant ornamentation is seemingly overwhelming to the untrained eyes that it is easy to miss the fine details that give life to the facade. Perhaps, one must take moments of repose to scan the wealth of each red clay brick and discover trimmings of flowers, foliage, swags and angel faces. Some ornamentation are so subtle that discerning their meanings or allusions could bring a sense of fulfillment. For example, the columns that frame the side niches are faintly shaped just enough to suggest solomonic or twisted columns.

On the other hand, it is perplexing, almost impossible, to draw any meaning from some other ornamentation. For instance, one can only guess the significance of carriage wheel images at the base of the facade.

Possibly the most intriguing of all the ornaments are the odd-looking clay insets that bound the sides of the facade. These insets come to life as curvilinear forms that seem to crawl on the surface of the wall. Shaped like a reversed letter “S” or the number “3”, they could have originally signified some important message or idea that is now lost to an observer. The brick walls remain silent and they won’t tell the story.

The proliferation of ornaments on the facade is crowned by a pediment with stepped pinnacles on both sides. The stepped pinnacles are embellished with more clay insets varying from flowers to a coil. The pediment itself is also uncommon, being the only pediment in the colonial church lineage that has a very strong circular form. It is punctuated with a rose window that is decorated with a dazzling movement of swag-like ornaments.

Besides its brick inset ornamentation, the church is also exceptional among the colonial churches because of its unusual exposed brick construction. Unlike most timeworn churches, Tumauini church lacks a protective coating of plaster on its walls. One can assume that bricks in Tumauini were made durable enough to last natural elements as well as the passage of time.

To complete the composition, a belltower resolutely stands close to the facade. Built in 1803, the belltower is a rare gem, too. According to Winand Klassen, in his book Architecture in the Philippines, the Tumauini belltower is the only known cylindrical tower in the colonial period. The belltower’s cylindrical shape reinforces its kinship with the circular composition of the pediment. Like the facade, it is festively decorated with festoon garlands that wrap around each tier of the belltower. Here, the embellishment is magnified by the effective contrast of the reddish clay insets against the white plaster finish.

The happy gathering of brick ornaments extends into the church interior. Above the altar, a half canopy that is made of stone and carved with delicate ornaments becomes the central focus. The half canopy is unprecedented within the context of this brick church since stone, according to Legarda, was rarely used in this region.

The book, Great Churches of the Philippines, sums up the brick ornamentation of the church: “An ultra-Baroque church, it is unique for its extensive use of baked clay both for wall finishes and for ornamentation. In the construction of Western-style churches, clay is an off-beat idiom. It is structural slang!”

Surely, Tumauini church is an amalgam within the realms of Western traditional architecture. But the Parish Church of Saint Mathias is not in the west, or anywhere else. It is in the busy little town of Tumauini in Isabela. Here, the church contentedly awaits the next visitor to come and relish its wonderful architecture.
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