Capul Fortification • Capul Island, Samar


Capul belongs to a cluster of islands (Dalupiri [San Antonio], Destacado [San Vicente], Naranjo) on the San Bernardino Strait that guarded the embocadero, the gateway toward the Pacific Ocean, through which the Acapulco galleon sailed. Capul location was strategic. It was the last island where ships could replenish its water supply before sailing to the Marianas and Guam, the next landfall. One etiological legend has it that Capul is a corruption of A-Capul-co. Long time ago, it is said the galleon would dock at the island to provision itself with sweet and fresh water that gushed from an underground stream in a sitio south of the población. A sailor whiled his time by carving the name “Acapulco” on a rock. In time, the letters a, c, o abraded—and left behind the letters “capul,” hence the town name.

But from old, the townspeople called their island “Abac.” They spoke a distinct language, not the Waray of Samar or the Cebuano of western Leyte, or the Bicol of the Bondoc peninsula, but a language whose closest relation is found in the islands south of Zamboanga. The people call their language “Abacnon.”  It is probable that the inhabitants of Capul descended from migrants from the south who used the island as base of operation for slaving raids, or as oral tradition in the island suggests a refuge from those fleeing an abusive sultan in Mindnaao.

The Jesuits may have reached the island in 1610. This is the earliest date when we have evidence that the Jesuits were working in Capul. In 1616, A church was built, probably a provisional one of wood and thatch.  Capul at one time was considered an important house so that had as its visita Calbayog on Samar’s western coast.  Although its population was never very large (884 souls says Huerta in 1844) Capul maintained its strategic importance so that when the Jesuits left Samar, the Franciscans were assigned to the island as soon as they had the personnel. In October of the same year Capul the Franciscans assigned Joaquín Martínez OFM as the first pastor.

The Jesuits built a fortified church in honor of San Ignacio de Loyola in this island. By 1768, when the Jesuits left, the fortress or parts of it had been standing. We infer this from the report that Fr. Esandi, the last Jesuit priest of Capul, was killed on its ramparts by slave raiders. He never read the order of expulsion because when word reached Capul, Esandi was already dead.

In 1781, Fray Mariano Valero, OFM, repaired the church and built a bell tower. A tribunal of stone and a school of primera enseñanza were built by the Franciscans. In 1898, The Franciscans opened a lateral gate along the fort’s walls, and embellished this with the Franciscan emblem.

On 18 November 1869, Capul was created a parish in conformity to the episcopal decree of 12 September 1864. There were subsequent repairs on the church, for the townspeople still remember an altar in the neo-Gothic style. In 1947, the neo-Gothic altar was apparently destroyed when a typhoon hit the church.

In c. 1987, The church suffered destruction when a strong typhoon ripped the roof, ceiling, and part of the convento. The church was subsequently repaired but is pretty much an empty shell, save for a very new altar and renovated sanctuary.

In 1988, The baptistery to the gospel side of the nave, the sacristy behind the sanctuary and the convento’s second floor above it, needed repairs. The old choir loft was removed during the repair of the single-naved church.

The church of Capul is dedicated to St. Ignatius Loyola and is surrounded by a square fort with bulwarks of dissimilar designs. Both Jesuit sources and Huerta claim that the stone church traces back to the Jesuits but its date of completion is unknown. So too is the date of the fortress.

The Capul façade is Spartan, its only articulation are engaged pilasters and a split pediment around the central door.  Since the church façade forms part of the defensive wall, artistic decorations may have been deemed unnecessary and so were omitted.  Much of the fortification, including the bastions remain.  On the northeast bastion an iron cannon is still mounted.  From this bastion has a clear view of Samar.  Near the church complex is a small chapel, probably a mortuary chapel. 

On a hill near the Capul fort is a triangular watchtower. The year of its construction and its builder is uncertain. It could be coeval with the fortified church and if it is the tower complements the fortified church. 



1 Response to “Capul Fortification • Capul Island, Samar”

  1. 1 Dante Ferry
    June 10, 2008 at 2:07 am

    What a nice piece of Philippine history! I have heard of other pieces of information about SAMAR and CAPUL. SAMAR as coming from “Samal” and “Abac” coming from the name of a Sama (Sulu ethnic group) chieftain who was on his way to slave raids in Samar but decided to stay!

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