Diocesan Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Facade of Diocesan Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Naic was an hacienda of the Jesuits adjoining Maragondon when it was acquired by the Dominicans in 1850. The town was founded in 1791 on the western bank of the river from which it took its name. Canayic is an old Tagalog term meaning town near one another. It was transferred to its present site on the eastern bank of the river in 1798, a year after its founding as a parish.

From 1797 to 1865, the parish was administered by the secular clergy who were mostly Filipinos. Most renowned of these was Padre Modesto de Castro who renounced a bigger assignment for this small town after his work Urbana at Felissa became a bestseller. After a comparatively long period of 68 years, the seculars were replaced by the Dominicans in 1865. They administered the parish until 1898.

The first church of stone was begun in 1835 and finished just three years later. It was built fairly low doe to lack of funds, and had no tower. After the roof and facade were greatly damaged by the earthquake of 1872, permission was granted to enlarge the church and add a transept. The project for the present church along neo-gothic lines was initiated in 1874 by Fray Francisco Govea who served as parish priest from 1867 to 1881 and again from 1890 to 1895. Stone was quarried from the hacienda and transported by the townspeople for free, but the stone cutters were paid.

Interior of Diocesan Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Stone for carved decorations on the arches and moldings were obtained from Meycauayan, Bulacan. Other materials were shipped from Manila in cascos. Foundations for the facade and bell tower were laid by the Tagalog priest Calixto Villafranca who was the interim curate for five months from 1881 to 1882. Construction was continued by Fray Simon Sanchez Cantador, curate from 1882 to 1890. Two side altars in neo-gothic style were commissioned with designs by Don Juan Garcia. The one dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary was executed by the town carpenters themselves. The main body of the church was finished in 1892 during the second term of Fray Francisco Govea. The bell tower and atrium were finished soon later.

The convent was largely the work of the seculars. Work must have started in 1848 soon after permission was given, but a virtually new one was built from 1859 to 1862 by Padre de Castro who was parish priest from 1857 to 1864. The structure was substantially renovated by Fray Govea in 1867, during which de Castro's principal stairway was built over and replaced by another with a different axis. Several arches on the ground level were filled and walled up. One friar commented that the seculars put too many arches, perhaps to save on building materials. This may not have been the case since the upper level was all stone which Govea changed using lighter tabique constructions. De Castro's 1862 steps were restored in 1995. A certain Hermano Ildefonso Candenas, the lay Dominican administrator of the hacienda, built several bridges, dikes and irrigation canals still in use at present.

Though Govea tried to design his church along neo-gothic lines, the realities of the Philippine environment, especially earthquakes, dictated the squat ponderous form characteristic of the country's colonial architecture. Huge tapering buttresses were placed at regular intervals. Fray Sanchez Cantador remarked that the doors and windows adopted Gothic pointed arches as further insurance against tremors. Nevertheless, Gothic decorative details on the wooden frames and masonry could barely hide what basically is an earthquake baroque building.

Altar of Diocesan Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Undoubtedly, the Gothic inspiration was provided by the Dominican mother church in Intramuros, the Sto. Domingo Church, which was built from 1864 to 1868, and itself a more refined example of earthquake baroque with Gothic details. The church was renovated sometime after the 1880 earthquake under the help of the indefatigable Fray Govea.

The church is one of the biggest in the Philippines, measuring 63.60 by 15 meters. It has undergone a series of renovations during the last three decades. Illustrations of the 12 apostles and the seven sacraments in stained glass have replaced the dilapidated antique rose windows. The convent has been outfitted with such modern amenities as jalousies.

To mark the bi-centennial establishment of the parish, His Eminence Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop of Cebu, consecrated the church on November 17, 1996 and the Most Rev. Manuel C. Sobreviñas, DD, Bishop of the Diocese, declared it a Diocesan Shrine on December 6, 1996.

The rosary garden of the convento that boasts of its gumamela and bougainvilla collections is a favorite lunch break destination of visita iglesia pilgrims during Holy Week.

The Dominican casa hacienda, now the Naic Elementary School, is one of the few Spanish structures of its kind still existing in the country. It used to have a bartolina where Andres Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were once incarcerated during the revolution before being court marshaled in Maragondon.

On account of these, Naic church and town has been a must see historical destination for those who want to trace the Freedom Trail of the Philippine Revolution, especially students of history.

Naic is only 47 kilometers from Manila, one one hour and thirty minutes by car. It has a population of more than 70,000 people in 30 barangays. It has the biggest irrigated area of Cavite. Thus, it is called the rice granary of the province. It coastal area and 11 beach resorts are a haven for beach lovers.

Naic fiesta is celebrated on December 8.

Excerpt from Shrines, Incarnating Christ Today. St. Paul Philippines, 2004. Photos from flickr.com.

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