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San Joaquin Church: Militaristic in Design and Purpose

Submitted by on July 27, 2012 – 12:22 pm5 Comments


Now sitting quietly at one of Iloilo’s oldest and historic towns, the Church of San Joaquin is a must-see for those having their South Iloilo adventure. More than a century old, the church had been damaged both from fires and earthquakes, requiring several renovations from its original design. But one of its most impressive features, the relief or rendition of the Battle of Tetuan at its facade survives intact, untouched. Its military-influenced design is both a marvel and a sight to behold.

One of the most impressive works of art in terms of architectural design is the San Joaquin Church. Built in 1869 with the town’s Spanish priest, Fr. Tomas Santaren, the church was built with the help of skilled masons, famous sculptors, celebrated painters and craftsmen from Spain and Mexico. They, with majority of the labor force comprised of Filipinos, translated Fr. Santaren’s brilliant ideas into lines, arches and pillars, into caryatids and columns, frescoes and paintings.


The main feature of the church, a sculpted image high above the pediment, is a battle scene with an army of horsemen and foot soldiers led by St. James, the Moor slayer. The beautiful carving which brings to life the battle, commemorates the victory of the Spanish over Moroccan forces at the Battle of Tetuan in North Africa. Which brings to my mind the frequent Moro raids at the town; is the rendition a warning to pirates that the Spanish shall prevail against them? Only the artists can tell for sure.


Inside the church, you can certainly observe drastic change in design. Though the renovation projects were aimed at restoring the church’s original interiors, most of the old features were already lost. Damaged by fire during the Pacific war and tumbled into the ground by the Lady Caycay earthquake, the people of San Joaquin with the help of the national government restored what remained of the church in the 1980s.

From the sea, the church’s belfry stands out. A magnificent piece of architecture, its practical use is that of a watchtower


Built through forced labor

Unfortunately, the church of San Joaquin was built through the Spanish system of forced labor. The head of the village was responsible in making sure the people fulfills their quota of sillar – a limestone or rock shaped into a rectangular tube of a given dimension), lime, sand, and lumber. Failure to provide the materials incurred punishment of flogging (the duration depending on the amount of unfilled quota). Light offenses were punished with palmeta (hitting the palm of hand with a wooden paddle). The members of the barangay who could afford bought finished sillar from stone cutters in order to fill their quota.


Women and children were utilized in making lime which they also brought to the site. They also quarried gravel and sand from the town’s coasts. These efforts were said to be paid in kind like steel needles, threads, and other household materials.

A military fort

During the Muslim raids, the church was also used as a fort. Children and women take refuge inside the church while the men fought the raiders outside. It was also used as an evacuation center by the townspeople during the Japanese occupation.

In 1974, the church was declared as a national historical site. Reconstruction from the damages during the war and the earthquake started after with the National Historical Institute taking all the expenses. Continued improvement of the church continues with the generous help with the people of San Joaquin.

Other Photos:


The Baptistery located at the base of the belfry


The belfry standing mightily after its restoration from the 1948 earthquake


Inside the belfry (bats inhabit the bell tower on daytime)


Augustinians left their mark on the church facade. On top shows the devotion of Ilonggos to Sto Nino early during the Spanish times.


An image of San Pedro Regalado decorating the facade of the church


One of the original side entrances that survived the fire during the Pacific War.

The old and the new:

Interior of San Joaquin Church in 1932 (above)


The present altar still retains the major features of the original design (taken in 2012)


Many say that the church is one of the most militaristic both in design and purpose. The church represents both – a story of suffering, yet that of heritage and people’s aspirations. Now the church is a symbol of the people’s unique history and perseverance.

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  • Vic says:

    Vibrantly narrated , a piece of history that needs to be pondered by today’s soceity. With this fortification up to Guimbal , no wonder why pirates gave up raiding the coast of Iloilo in perilious time of late nineteen hundreds.

  • tetuan boy says:

    san joaquin had two watch towers , one once located at purok 5 of the town proper but demolished by the lot owner, the other still standing between the boundary of brgy. manhara and guibungan bayunan but in a very bad state. the town lacks heritage & culture NGO who will look after the dying san joaquin treasures . @ mark when in sj, drop by the bantayan in the said barangays, a short detour from the highway ( accessible by car ).

  • tetuan boy says:

    i recognize the picture of the old interior of the church ( i believe taken from the tarp beside the church) , feel free to drop by the parish house , our priest would be very much willing to entertain individuals with heritage & culture concerns , esp. sj.

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