The Arrival of the Spaniards
LUBAO was a prosperous kingdom with an organized system of government and with strong military fortifications when the Spaniards led by maestro de campo Martin de Goiti together with Lt. Antonio Carvajal, other selected Spanish soldiers and Augustinian friars set foot to conquer Lubao on September 14, 1571. In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, the date is one of the most important religious celebrations because it is the Feast Day of the Triumph of the Cross. In Greek, it is called “Raising Aloft of the Precious Cross” and in Latin, Exaltatio Sanctae Crucis or literally, “Raising Aloft of the Holy Cross”. (“Exaltatio” is “Exaltation”, “Triumph”). It is the glorious moment when the Lord Jesus Christ won the victory against man’s sinfulness. It is the date to rejoice in songs and praises because it is the day when the gates of Heaven finally opened for man’s salvation. It is also celebrated with great gladness and tidings because it is mankind’s reunification with his Almighty Creator. In reverence to the Feast Day of the Cross, the Spaniards deemed necessary the offering of a black miraculous Holy Cross to the people of Lubao as a sign of their amity with them and their acceptance of the Christian faith. Hence, God providentially chose Lubao to lead in the propagation of the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ with the Augustinian Church as its missionary center in the propagation and configuration of Christendom in the central and northern Luzon areas.
Immediately after the arrival of the Spanish militia and Augustinian missionaries on September 14, 1571, missionary efforts were made by the friars by immersing themselves in the socio-cultural traditions of the people. Trained as church builders and equipped with socio-anthropological foundations, the Augustinians started their evangelization and conversion with faith in God with Datu Macabulus as its first convert.
Later, the pioneering missionaries built the first chapel along the lakeshores (paroba) of the village of Gato (now barangay Santa Catalina). Using local materials, the church was made of light structures of indigenous wood, bamboos and thatched nipa by Fray Juan Gallegos with the help of maestro de campo Martin de Goiti during the early days of 1572.
On May 3, 1572, few months after its construction, the Iglesia San Agustin de Lubao was officially accepted by the Archbishopric of Manila as a visita of Tondo. This acceptance officially marks the foundation date of the church. During the same year (1572), the church of Betis was annexed to Lubao.
On December 18, 1572, Agustin Cubacub and wife Mulao and four children received Christian baptism from the Agustinian missionaries through Martin de Goiti and Captain Lorenzo Chacon.
On March 5, 1575, Father provincial Alfonso Alvarado was deputized to take care of the convent of the church and Father Juan Gallegos was named resident priest.
In 1580, a school of Latin and Humanities was established for the inhabitants and missionaries from Spain and Mexico.
In 1591, Lubao, together with Betis, had four convents and 20,000 souls or Christian converts.
On May 12, 1596, the Estudio de Gramatica (School of Grammar and Rhetoric) was transferred from Candaba to Lubao with the school’s superior Fr. Alonso de Mentrida as professor of Grammar. The school provided positive influences on the moral and cultural life of the people of Lubao that made them one of the earliest educated in the islands.
In 1599, the convent of Lubao contributed 100 pesos and 50 bushels of rice and 100 chickens for the construction of the San Agustin monastery and infirmary in Manila. As an Augustinian missionary center, its Book of Baptisms was often signed on the same day by several priests administering the sacraments.
Thirty years later (1602), due to the continuous floods that swept Santa Catalina, the church was transferred to its present site in San Nicolas 1st. Fr. Mateo Peralta, who was the church’s parish priest in 1602, must have started constructing the church with the same light materials that were used in erecting the first church in Santa Catalina. Later, the nearby river that served as the landing area of the friars and missionaries was called “Sapang Pari.”
In 1613, Fr. Francisco Coronel started the construction of the present church building with stronger materials.
In 1614, the first Augustinian printing press in the country, which was bought by the Augustinians from Japan, was established in the convent of Lubao. The first book ever printed in the printing press was “Vida del Glorioso San Nicolas de Tolentino” (The Life of Saint Nichols) by Pr. Phelipe Tallada. Other books printed included the “Arte y Reglas de la Lengua Pampanga” by Fr. F. Coronel in 1617, “Relacion de el Martyrio de el S.F. Hernando de S. Josef en Japon y del Santo Nicolas melo en Mofcovia…” by Fr. H. Becerra in 1618, “Catechismo y Doctrina Christiana en la Lengua Pampanga” by Fr. F. Coronel in 1621 and others. In 1635, Fr. Jeronimo de Venasque continued the construction of the building.
In 1638, Fr. Francisco Figueroa led in the completion of the church. The structure of the church was Fr. Architect Antonio de Herrera, who also constructed the Church of San Agustin in Manila.
In 1645, the Church’s building must have been slightly damaged during the earthquake since the convent was then relieved from paying rent, an indication that there may have been construction going on.
In 1710, the prior of the church was exempted from paying the rent for the second time, later in 1717, due to the convent’s extreme poverty, and again in 1722. Due to the poor condition of the church, the Chapter of October 31, 1729 appropriated 500 pesos from the provincial funds for the construction of the convent of Lubao. Aside from this, all the income of the chaplaincies of the convent was allotted for this purpose all through the duration of the construction. Fr. Vicente Ibarra was the prior at that time.
In 1762, when Manila was occupied by the British, the students of Arts and Theology of the Estudio de Manila were transferred to the convent of Lubao for the continuation of their studies conducted under the supervision of Fr. Diego Noguerol. During this time, one author described the San Agustin Church of Lubao as “one of the most sumptuous in the islands.” Apart from being finely constructed with bricks, it had large proportions that resulted in a comfortable dwelling. It is the largest church in Pampanga.
From 1773-1791, the administration of the church was transferred to clerigos or secular priests. Fr. Martin Victoria was the first secular priest and Fr. Juan Zita was the last. In the inventory made in 1774, Lubao owned 2 large crosses of the Christ Jesus and another 2 smaller ones.
In 1791, after 18 years of secular administration, Lubao Church was returned to the missionary of the Order of San Agustin. Upon its transfer, Fr. Josef de Vetonio was assigned the parish priest in 1791.
A document dated 1829 disclosed that the church of Lubao was constructed by its people with massive masonry stones and bricks. It was constructed using indigenous materials including stones, egg white, lime, mollasses and heavy quality timbers such as Acli (Albizzia acle Merr.), Anibiung (artocarpus cumingiana Trec.), Bulaun (vitex parviflora Juss.), Apalait or narra (Pterocarpus indicus Wild.), Tindalo (Pahudia rhomboidea Prain.), Saplungan or yakal (Hopea plagata Vid.) and others.
In 1877, Fr. Antonio Bravo did some repair works. In 1893, Fr. Antonio Moradillo worked on the bells and interior decoration of the church. The murals depicting scenes from the life of Saint Augustine were also done during this period. Fr. Moradillo also built the chapel of the Lubao Catholic Cemetery in San Nicolas.
In 1898, the buildings were occupied by the revolutionary forces of General Emilio Aguinaldo. In 1945 and in 1962, they buildings of the church were damaged by the war and strong typhoons. The dome, transept and roof collapsed during the heavy shelling during the Japanese occupation. The sunken panels and other liturgical ornamentations painted by Dibella and Alberoni were lost. The main retablo escaped the damage.
In 1949-1952, it was repaired under the direction of Fr. Melencio Garcia. The rest of the church was restored in 1954. In 1961, at the time of the ascendancy of Diosdado P. Macapagal as the 9th President of the Philippines, he helped in the massive rehabilitation of the church and planned to convert portions of the convent into museum.
On April 21, 1997, shortly before former President Diosdado Macapagal died, upon his request to his family to be with his town mates for the last time, his revered remains stayed and eulogized inside the church for the whole day, and was later interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Makati City. Since 2001 to present (2009), President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has celebrated her thanksgiving birthday celebration in the church.
On June 24, 2002, the church parish priest, Fr. Rodolfo de Guzman helped in the refurbishing of the whole church and its convent and patio due to the wedding of then Pampanga Vice Governor Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, eldest son of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo with Angela Montenegro in simple but solemn rites. Former Presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos were among the prominent principal sponsors. On that occasion, His Holiness Pope John Paul II greeted the couple “abundance of joy and peace upon Juan Macapagal-Arroyo and Angela Montenegro” through a message sent through Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Antonio Franco, and was read by officiating priest Pampanga Bishop Paciano Aniceto.
On September 14, 2006, the 329-page book “Lubao: The Cradle of Kapampangan Civilization,” written by Dr. Rodrigo M. Sicat and published by the Municipal Government of Lubao, was launched inside the church and was attended by Mayor Dennis G. Pineda, members of the Municipal Council and the people of the town. Pampanga Second District Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo and Pineda led the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon.
In 2007, the constructed portico that dwarfs the church’s magnificence was removed and the defaced original flat surface of the church’s facade was reconstructed with new red block bricks. The old roof was entirely restored with durable and brand new red materials.
In 2009 under the supervision of its present parish priest, Fr. Noli Fernandez, major restoration works on the convent were made to serve as the parish priest’s residence and to house the museum. The architectural design was with neo-classical. Since the continuous restoration and conservation efforts to re-establish the glorious history of the San Agustin Church of Lubao were made, it gradually towers today as one of the finest and magnificent Augustinian churches in the archipelago.
The San Agustin Church of Lubao is not only Pampanga’s oldest and largest Agustinian church in Central Luzon but in Northern Luzon as well. The San Agustin Church de Lubao is second only after the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila that were both designed and bulit by Fr. Architect Herrera.
More than a national historical landmark, an honor it received from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the church deserves greater than the accolade: to be recognized as one of the country’s National Treasures.