Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Boac Cathedral's Architecture: BAROQUE, not Gothic

A green signage with white english texts stands at the front patio of the Boac Cathedral with translations in Nihongo and Chinese. The misleading signage mentions that the architecture of the Boac Cathedral is "Fil-Hispanic Gothic." This post aims to rectify this misleading oversight.

  Click on image below to enlarge to readable [actual] size.
"... The architecture is Fil-Hispanic Gothic..." the signage boldly states.

Really? So where are the gothic spires?


The only true gothic church in the country is the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian at Plaza del Carmen, Quiapo; epitomized by its distinctive pointed spires, pointed [ogival] arches, ribbed vaults, piercing pinnacles and pointed ceilings [below]. It’s a product of the Gothic Revival in the 19th century and its all steel construction is an enduring aesthetic symbol of the industrial revolution. UNESCO has tentatively listed this gem as a possible World Heritage Site inclusion “being the only neo-gothic steel church in the Philippines and in Asia.”

             Basilica Minore de San Sebastian,Quaipo Manila

The Salisbury Cathedral, Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral and the Milan Cathedral are other first-rate Gothic examples from Europe. All of these edifices have notably pointed spires. Curiously, the Iglesia Ni Cristo [INC] has adapted gothic architecture in their church design, perhaps as a countervail to the ubiquitous baroque of  Philippine Roman Catholic Churches.

Secondly, the Hispanic Era in the Philippines did not introduce any Gothic architectural influences.  The missionary designers-builders, instead leaned heavily towards the baroque. In fact, no gothic churches were constructed in the country excepting San Sebastian church built in the 1890's.

The term 'Fil-Hispanic' Gothic is  non-existent in both books or historical notes and in physical form - churches or buildings built during the Spanish times,  with the exception of San Sebastian, completed in 1891 less than a decade before the end of Spanish colonialism in the islands. Note that Boac Cathedral dates way back to the first decade of 1600..

Boac Cathedral [and the Sta. Cruz Church for that matter] is definitively Baroque patterned by the Jesuits after Il Gesu, their mother church.  The missionaries who supervised its construction [early 17th century] came from Renaissance Europe where the prevalent style in arts, sculpture and architecture was early baroque. In fact, the Papacy in Rome continued to be a principal motivating force and commanding Popes continued to support important architectural commissions resulting in baroque architecture being directly linked to the Counter Reformation Movement. Even the interior design of Boac church clearly relied on European Baroque.

In glaring contrast, Gothic prevailed in the 12th century, partially revived in 19th century hence the term neo-gothic. The word "Gothic" came from 'Goths'  "....a term describing a group of Germanic peoples — the Visigoths and the Ostragoths..."  considered by history as "primitive barbarians who destroyed classical culture." Scholars regarded gothic architecture, dominant from the 12th to 15th centuries, as "as crude and primitive in contrast to the beauty, symmetry, and formality of classical (ancient Greek) architecture." on which the High Renaissance and Baroque were based upon.  Baroque and gothic can be considered then as opposites.

By and large, Baroque architecture’s emphasis is on girth; bulk is achieved via horizontality and width whereby Gothic stresses verticality and height. Baroque uses a preponderance of curvilinear shapes; ovals and circles suggestive of smoothness and gracefulness. On the other hand, Gothic relies on harsh, straight lines, on the predominance of isoceles triangles and trapezoids.  If is further characterized by ribbed vaults, arch windows, and flying buttresses.  Clearly, Boac Cathedral did not employ these gothic contrivances.

A picture is worth a thousand words, it is said,  visual comparison of Gothic vis-à-vis Baroque architecture results in these:

Milan Cathedral: Gothic
(Duomo di Milano, Italy)

 Il Gesu: European Baroque
(Santissima Nome di Gesù all’Argentina, Rome)

"The plan of the Gesù became the model for Jesuit churches throughout the world." June Hager [Il Gesu and San Ignazio}

Baroque in Philippine Settings

Philippine colonial conditions in the 1600’s were a far cry from those of Spain and Europe so the Spanish architects/designers and maestros de obra adapted their design and construction methods to our local conditions resulting in an interesting mutation that came to be called earthquake baroque.
The Binondo Church [above], Guadalupe de Viejo [Makati, Metro Manila], and San Agustin Churches are some classic examples of baroque, Philippine style.
San Agustin Church [above] at Intramuros, Manila is an interesting study. It has survived the earthquake that leveled the city in 1645. In 1863 and 1880, the same calamity destroyed the city but the church literally stood its ground except for a few cracks on its belfry [left]. Repairs aimed at reinforcing the structure had somehow affected its architecture in what is now called severe baroque through the influence and experience of the Mexico Viceroyalty and partly inspired by the Vignolesque and Herrera touches. As such, the revered church is now a World Heritage Site.

The vintage baroque churches of Montserrat de Marinduque [now Boac Cathedral] and San Juan de Marinduque [now Sta. Cruz Church] are veritable icons of our island’s history, of our identity and consciousness as a people. They are the most ancient, principal illustrative modules of Marinduque’s architectural heritage. Entrusted to us the current generation by our ancestors and to the clergy as its stewards, it is our collective duty to show them in their true light. ©

Boac Cathedral: earthquake Baroque

Photos of San Sebastian, Binondo, and San Agustin Churches courtesy of aenet.org, Milan Cathedral -emporis.com
Boac Cathedral Artwork - Dindo Asuncion


  • Boac Cathedral and Sta.Cruz Church together, their history and architecture are covered extensively on the article "The Old Churches of Marinduque - Beneath the Mortar Plaster" contained in the coffee-tablebook "Marinduque - The Heart of the Philippines."

  • If the deceptive text of that patio signage is to believed, then the National Historical Institutute (NHI) who submitted San Sebastian Church as a Philippine entry for UNESCO World Heritage Site inclusion has overlooked a vital historical piece:  Should we then inform them that there is another and much older gothic church existing in the Philippines???... and it is right here in Marinduque - the Boac Cathedral ??? Oh, come on....*

*Ano sa salitang marinduqueño ang "oh, come on"             Sagot: Ati Aah!


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