Five years after it was severely damaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”), the Church of Guiuan, one of the oldest in the country, has been restored and reconstructed.
The church sustained the most damage when the supertyphoon, the strongest on earth in recorded history, swept through Eastern Visayas in 2013, leveling entire cities and communities.
Guiuan Church has been restored through the collective effort of the National Museum, United States Embassy, local authorities, the parish and the Diocese of Borongan.
This 18th-century church is the most significant of the Jesuit churches in Eastern Visayas with its one-of-a-kind shell ornamentations.
It was also the most preserved prior to Yolanda.
National Cultural Treasure
The church is a declared National Cultural Treasure and once considered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) Philippines for nomination to the World Heritage List.
It was in the wee hours of Nov. 8, 2013, that Yolanda devastated Guiuan, the first town in the country that bore the brunt of the storm’s 315-kph winds.
Yolanda survivor Letty Yerro recalled hiding inside the kitchen of her house together with 13 other relatives and friends.
She said there was sense of hopelessness among the people after the winds died down and they saw the devastated landscape around them.
A short but perilous walk due to debris to the town center made them realize their town had been flattened by the strongest storm on record.
One of the structures destroyed was their fortified church.
She said her only reaction upon seeing the damages was to weep.
One half of the church’s façade from the pediment down to the central portion of the second level collapsed.
Yolanda’s strong winds also reaped apart the roof of the belfry as well as the roof of the church noted for its ancient wooden trusses and dramatically painted ceiling.
The church’s apse likewise collapsed together with the beautifully carved and polychromed main retablo.
Old santo were toppled from their niches. Their parts were severely mangled.
The convent was gutted out.
Shell ornamentations decorating the baptistery and side chapels—the church’s most unique features—were partly damaged with pockets of dislodged portions.
Only left standing were the walls, belfry and six posts at the altar, two of which had been intricately carved and two with outstretched arms of wood where lights used to be hung.
It took more than two years before reconstruction and restoration to commence.
Damaged portions were restored using the same materials of wood and stone.
Dislodged shell ornamentations were restored to their previous state; the same species of shells were utilized.
The church and the belfry were covered with a roof while the convent is now fully restored together with the damaged santo.
Only the main and side retablos plus the painted ceiling are awaiting restoration.
Meanwhile, the new choir loft was constructed with a space separating it from the church wall to expose the stone carvings and the Jesuit seal, which had been previously partly hidden.
New parish priest, Fr. Edwin Lanuevo, said the conservation works were 80-percent complete. He added he estimated it would take two more years for the ceiling paintings to be fully restored. —CONTRIBUTED