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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Pindangan Ruins, San Fernando,
La Union, The Philippines

On our way to see the Ma-Cho Temple in San Fernando, La Union, we made a quick stop at a site I'd read about, just four kilometers or so south of the turnoff to the Temple.

Looking toward the altar end, where the statue is located under the tree

There's not much to see at the ruins of Pindangan Church, just a lot of lonely walls. But the story of the place is worth telling, and the loving care shown by the Carmelite Sisters next door (who own the property)--and who have kept it in what preservationists call "a state of arrested decay"--makes it that much more special.

It seems that in Spanish times, there was a settlement up in the foothills of the Cordilleras, the mountain chain that dominates northern Luzon, main island of the Philippines, to the east of here.

There are indigenous peoples living in these mountains to this day; but in those days, the 1700s, they were apparently not so "civilized" (whatever that means)--characterized as "headhunters"--and would occasionally raid the settlement, San Guillermo de Dalangdang.

Meanwhile, down on the coast at San Vicente de Balanac to the west of here, pirates--"Japanese, Chinese, and Moro"--plundered with equal ferocity, even taking away women and children.

View from in front of the altar area toward the Carmelite Sisters' chapel

And so, in 1759, an Augustinian priest named Jose Torres prevailed on the people to merge their settlements--and their churches--at a safer place somewhere between the two, a place called Pindangan, meaning "a place for drying fish." The church at this new site was dedicated to St. William the Hermit.

In 1765 a new priest, however, suggested the inhabitants should change the name of Pindangan to "San Fernando Rey," after St. Ferdinand, King of Spain. The name stuck: it is the modern city where the church's ruins (and the Ma-Cho Temple) are located. (There may have been more than a little self-interest here: the priest's name is reported to have been "Fernando Rey"!)

Later, an earthquake destroyed that church, and it was moved to another site, and then another. At last, it was built on the site of what is now the Cathedral of St. William the Hermit, on the Plaza in San Fernando, capital of La Union Province. This has led to the odd situation that a church dedicated to San Guillermo (St. William) is generally called San Fernando (Saint Ferdinand) Cathedral.

Door and windows along the right side, near the altar area

Dates are hard to pin down, but it seems the walls we saw went up sometime around 1786; other sources say 1817. Wikipedia, however, says the original "abandoned walls" were razed in 1873 after an 1860 earthquake (sounds fishy). There was also an 1892 earthquake. I honestly can't determine which San Guillermo Church these walls are the remains of--the first? second? third?--nor which year an earthquake caused its abandonment.

But I can tell you that the ruins were covered in earthen mounds and heavy vegetation until sometime after the Carmelite nuns built their convent there in the mid-1970s. And I can say that this St. William the Hermit (also called William the Great and William of Maleval, or in Italian San Guglielmo di Malavalle) founded a monastic order of Augustinians, the Williamites. He died at Maleval, in Tuscany, in 1157. At least seven churches are dedicated to him in the Philippines; one of them, the unique "sunken church" at Bacolor, is not far from my home, and will be "visited" in another post.

Through a left side door to a right side door

There are, naturally, two more--probably modern--additions to the story of the ruins. One is the apparition of a priest who was stabbed--I can't find out why, but does it matter?--and ended up headless, variously seen either carrying his head... or searching for it! (Did you get a chill?) Some claim to have heard his head calling out directions to his body to come find it. The other is the inevitable "White Lady," with a twist: this one is in a nun's white habit. Too bad we visited just after noon under a bright sky.

How I see it

A final note: Most websites that mention it at all say the modern church is "at/on the altar" of the ruined church. I disagree. For one thing, the far (east) end has an elevated platform, with a statue placed on it. (The other end has a platform too, but read on...) For another, what I take to be the bell tower is at the same end as the modern church--that is, near the back door and next to where the facade would have been, where I usually see bell towers on Filipino churches. So my captions and comments reflect my view; I think the two churches are "foot to foot." This would also place the altar of the old church in the east, where it should be (though often isn't, I've noticed).


More pictures, to round things out.

Looking into the bell tower near the facade end

A side door right "behind" the bell tower

The well on the right exterior

Buttresses on the right side, looking back toward the bell tower

A window along the right side, near the altar area

Buttresses on the left side looking toward the nunnery

The statue and the tree in the altar area

From behind the altar toward the facade end and the modern chapel

For visitors:

The nuns seem to charge around 20 pesos per visitor, maybe more for parking. There isn't much consistency apparently, but have some change ready.

Posted September 22, 2019

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