The greatly renovated church of the Immaculate Conception is an integral part of the fortification at Hilongos. The old entrance, formerly the main entrance to the fort, is now blocked and the old nave converted to the transept of a new church. Part of the fortifications walls and some bastions remain. A ruin stands beside the church, probably the older convento. A newer convento has been built inside the fortification.
Lore has it that in the 12th century Amahiwan, an Ilongo from Iloilo, conquered neighboring barangays on Leyte’s western shore and extended his territory to the present limits of Inopacan, Hindang, Bato, and Matalom. He formed a settlement and named it Hilongos, because its inhabitants were Ilongos.
In 1710, the Jesuits established a residence there. In 1737, according to Redondo (1886, 207), Hilongos was already a parish before this year. However, Braganza (table 5) claims that Hilongos became a parish only in 1737. This year corresponded to the establishment of the town (Tantuico, 41). Redondo reports that as of 1884 the year 1754 was the date of the oldest parish books (deaths).
In 1768, the Jesuits ceded Hilongos to the Augustinians. From 1774 to 1779, the Augustinians established schools in Hilongos. In 1784, Palompon, a Hilongos visita, became an independent parish. This data seems rather strange because Hilongos was already a principal house of the Jesuits. Most likely, after their expulsion, the status of Hilongos was downgraded and the town placed under Palompon.
Fray Agustin Maria de Castro, an Augustinian assigned to Leyte after the Jesuit expulsion, lists Hilongos as among the towns with stone churches built by the Jesuits. He remarks about the stone walls surrounding the church and its artillery pieces. Of these walls large portions and a watchtower are still intact.
In 1862, Manicar led a revolt at Barrio Sta. Margarita.
In 1873, Leovio Magia led a revolt. Unlike the towns of eastern Leyte, which were ceded to the Franciscans in 1843, the towns along Leyte’s western coast fell one by one under the seculars.
Church complex—Redondo attributes the present church’s bell tower to a secular priest Don Leonardo Celis-Díaz, a native of Cebu. The building of the church fabric itself is disputed. Did Celis-Díaz build it or did he merely repair an older structure left by the Jesuits? Oral lore claims that the church and the ruined convento behind it are from the Jesuits; but Repetti reports otherwise. Certainly, there must have been some permanent structures when Hilongos became a residence. Examination of extant remains indicate that the church and the surrounding walls were built as one ensemble and is akin to 18th century construction.
It is quite clear that the church complex underwent major renovations over the centuries. The original church, now incorporated as a transept, was a single-nave structure whose main door was also the gate to a bastioned fortification. Some bastions and walls of that fortification still remain. The main nave of the church is a modern construction, and the bell tower build by Fr. Celis-Diaz is an independent multi story structure, now plastered over with Portland cement.
The church interior is completely new in contrast to the convento which may have been completed in the 19th century. The convento guards many of the church’s antiques including silver vessels from the 18th century.
A fortification surrounds the church to which an older church façade is attached suggesting that the fort was coeval to this old structure. There is very little data on construction otherwise.