If you are to ask Richard Tuason-Sanchez Bautista, one can tell which religious order built a Philippine church just by observing its architectural nuances. This was the topic of his Intramuros Learning Sessions webinar last June 24.
Called “Istilong Prayle: Architectural Character of the Five Colonial Orders in the Philippines- As observed,” it was an exploratory discussion on how five colonial religious orders in the Philippines — Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and the Recollects—built their churches following their own architectural characteristics.
The emphasis of Bautista’s research was pure observation. In his presentation, he talked exclusively about churches that were not altered and were built during the Spanish Colonial period. His motivation for exploring this subject was a rather careless observation from a colleague: that the architectural design of the five orders didn’t have any distinctive styles hence there’s not much to discuss about each of these churches other than their history. According to Bautista, the statement provoked him because he’s long observed that there is a pattern among these Philippine churches.
Bautista is a licensed architect from the University of Santo Tomas and previously the in-house architect of the Heritage Sites Office of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. His division used to oversee churches officially declared National Cultural Treasures.
The five religious orders were named after the saint they were devoted to, said Bautista, and the churches were likewise named following this train of thought. He said that if ever one finds himself wondering what church belongs to which order, there are tell-tale signs one can look out for.
The Augustinian style
For Bautista, the churches built by the Augustinians are distinguished by their “plumpness,” due to the emphasis on their horizontal heft. When you look at an Augustinian church, for example the San Agustin Church in Manila and the Sta. Maria Church in Ilocos Sur, one easily notes the emphasis on the edges and the width.
The Augustinians also incorporate “twinning” when building their sacred structures, meaning they would construct a church with almost the same design as one that’s been previously built, for example the Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte (1756) which has a strong similarity to the Pan-ay Church in Capiz (1774).
The details of their embellishments are also more pronounced than the churches from the other orders. Bautista observed that over time the Augustinians evolved in how they built their churches but they’ve retained an emphasis on width.
The Franciscan style
When it comes to the Franciscans, Bautista’s word for their design is “Beau Ideal,” which means that their style has a templated façade and ornamentation. Their convents usually have an atrium and are mostly, if not always, cloistered. Modern grills are typical in their design, and their pediments are typically all single level. If you take a quick glimpse at a Franciscan church, you will almost always see an octagonal shaped entrance or opening. The Nuestra Sra. Desamporados Church is the quintessential church of the Franciscans in Manila.
The Jesuit style
Bautista’s descriptive for the Jesuit design is “Au Naturel.” The Jesuits seem to prefer a very simple, almost plain facade. According to Bautista, the architectural structure of a Jesuit church is similar in fashion and principle to military designs—very plain and bare. It uses bricks for the lower half of the structure, and wood for the upper half. An example of this is the Immaculate Conception Parish Church in Jasaan, Misamis Oriental. Although it is worth mentioning that there are three churches in the Philippines made by the Jesuits that are exceptions to this style: the Church Company of Jesus, the Loboc Church, and the San Ignacio De Loyola church.
The Dominican style
If there’s something very distinct about the Dominican churches, it’s their “Crowning Glory,” says Bautista. They are known for their articulated and emphasized pediments. While the upper level of their church is articulated, the lower level is not so. A great example of this is the St. Peter Metropolitan Cathedral in Tuguegarao. The churches of the Dominicans also usually have a square and central monument.
The Recollects’ style
Finally, we have the Recollects, and Bautista’s word for their design is “Statuesque Intention,” meaning that the emphasis is on verticality. Just look at the San Sebastián Church in Quiapo. Since Recollects are a breakaway contemplative order from the Augustinians, we can see some similarities between their designs, but there are major differences. The ornamentations of Recollects churches are slim, not plump. They apply a central bay effect where the central bay gives that image of a slim figure. Their windows are narrower compared to the windows of Augustinian churches. Their pilasters are also slim and their bell towers try to capture the image of San Nicolas.
It is important to note that there are similarities among the styles of the orders. The reasons vary, says Bautista, one of them might be the hiring of workers that may have labored on churches built by a different order.
Meanwhile, the reason each order maintains a style among their churches is because of the constitution and traditions each order wants to keep. There is a directive per order, says Bautista, resulting in people often not having a choice in what design to adapt. When asked if there are any literature he can recommend for people to read about church designs and architecture, he suggests it’s best to “Just observe”.