Why is San Joaquin Church militaristic in design?

// October 28, 2015

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.

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.