Fortification and church of San Ignacio in Palapag was the center of Jesuit activity in northern Samar. The early church may have been built before 1649 and repaired after 1650. Probably a reconstruction of the church was done in the 18th century. The Jesuits to whom work in Palapag is attributed are Fr. Otazo; SJ, Ignacio Alzina, SJ.
Fortification surrounds the church complex and has with a complementary watchtower, called “Centinela de Palapag” (Palapag Sentinel) about a five minute drive from the center of town.
Palapag’s location inland indicates that the fortified church complex was built no so much as a defense from seaborne raiders but as a defense from other hostile groups who as the Jesuits reported were initially resistant to conversion and evangelization. The Father’s search for security was most likely confirmed when the Sumoroy revolt erupted in 1649.
This does not mean that Palapag was immune to slave raids. Historical records show that the town had suffered attacks.
Today the journey to Palapag is by road and pumpboat. From Catarman, a well-paved highway leads to Rauis from whence one hires a pumpboat for a short trip to the island of Lauang or for a longer trip to Palapag, upstream. It takes a good 45 minutes to reach Palapag and it advisable to visit it during high tide to avoid having to walk through mud as boats find it hard to dock beside the riverbank at low tide.
Palapag was the site of a residentia or central headquarters of the Jesuit mission in northern Samar or Ibabao. In this inland town in northern Samar coast was the second residence founded by the Jesuits, where the religious superior lived and where the members of a community returned after visiting and ministering to different places. The residentia was also the place for the periodic meetings and spiritual retreats of the priests.
In 1597, When the Jesuits began evangelizing the area, they encountered a bellicose people, not too ready and open for conversion. They were unlike the people of the western coast. In fact, these people who called their land Ibabao, that is, the land above, looked down on the other islanders as lacking in courage.
A number of outstanding missionaries worked and died in Palapag. On 1 Jan. 1617, Fr. Gabriel Sánchez (co-founder of the Bohol mission with Juan de Torres) died and on 12 Dec. 1626 Fr. Manuel Martínez died.
A church is attributed to the work of Fr. Otazo, SJ but details of it are sketchy. Certainly, before 1649, the Jesuits had built a church complex consisting of church, residence and fortification. That year (1649) Palapag was the scene of the Sumoroy revolt, one of the sporadic revolts that would erupt during colonial times. The revolt began when Agustin Sumoroy, the castellan of Palapag, killed Miguel Ponce SJ, rector of Palapag, because Ponce had denounced his practice of concubinage. The subsequent attack and sack of the church complex signaled a revolt that spread throughout Samar, the neighboring island of Mindanao and the Bicol peninsula.
Historians interpret Sumoroy’s violent response to Fr. Ponce’s denunciation, as a trigger for a festering discontent in the Visayas, which was caused by Gov. Fajardo’s unpopular conscription of Visayan labor for the Cavite shipyard. By long standing tradition and practice, Visayans were exempt from building galleons at Cavite because the Visayans supplied the crew that manned the galleons and the vessels of the Spanish navy that patrolled the archipelago. This breach in practice coupled with the distance to Cavite from their hometowns and islands spurred many to join Sumoroy. The Visayans were disappointed at the Jesuits’ inability to have the governor’s decree rescinded and this triggered the violence on the priest.
After Palapag, the rebels, led by Sumoroy, attacked Bobon, Barugo, Catarman, and Catubig, leaving their churches burnt. Sumoroy and the rebels set up their bastion at La Mesa de Palapag, a 378 meter mountain identified today as Mt. Boboyaon, which straddles the boundaries of Palapag, Catubig and Mapanas. Several attempts to capture Sumoroy and his men were fruitless, until the following year 1650, when driven by troops from Zamboanga and surrounded in his mountain lair north of Palapag, Sumoroy, while escaping was killed by his own men who then sought clemency from their pursuers who had outnumbered them.
It seems that by 1650, Palapag had repaired parts of the church complex as it is reported that the convento of stone and wood also served as a fortress. Further on, Ignacio Alzina (1668) reports that he had begun rebuilding the church of Palapag in masonry. Alzina, famous author of Historia de las islas e indios Visayas, spent much time in Palapag where he was assigned as rector or mission superior. Alzina is also known to have compiled a multi-lingual dictionary of the Visayan languages. (We infer that most of Alcina’s history and literary work were written in Palapag.)
Alzina’s writing confirms other reports that the Palapag church was fortified and that this was destroyed during the 1649-50 revolt, but he adds that the fort was rebuilt immediately after the revolt. But, whether the present ruins around Palapag church trace to the 17th century is uncertain.
Writing in 1754, Jose Delgado (Historia sacro-profana, 1754: 239-40) records as a matter of fact the existence of a “muralla y baluarte” in Palapag. However, he notes its degraded condition: “Palapag in Eastern Samar has an old wall with its bulwarks and blockhouse. It has a few iron cannons.”
The precise year when the ruined Jesuit church at Palapag was completed is unknown. Certainly the Jesuits left a stone church, for Huerta wrote, “The church, under the advocacy of Our Lady’s Assumption, has a solid fabric, and was built by the Jesuits. They too built the parochial house.” Redondo (1886) describes the church as having a thatch roof.
In 1769, slave raiders attacked Palapag during which many died. The church may have been damaged by the attack.
In 1843, the Franciscans who took charge of the parish, after the Jesuit expulsion in 1768, repaired the church and convento; then in 1846 they refurbished the altar.
The old church was badly damaged by a typhoon and never rebuilt. Part of the fortification and some bastions remain. (See FHL AR00263 for a photograph of the Palapag fort)
The core of the fortification is the solidly-built Jesuit church, now a ruin. It stands parallel to a new parish church built in the 1980s. By then, the Jesuit church had lost its roof, ceiling, and other appurtenances in a typhoon. The damage was so extensive the parish decided it was not worth the cost of rebuilding, especially since the town’s fortune had waned substantially. The old convento was built perpendicular to the Jesuit church to form a typical L-plan. Greatly degraded, that convento was torn down and a new one built (See Repetti for a photograph of the church and adjoining convento).
The ruined Jesuit church is cruciform, its façade flat and articulated with engaged Doric pillars. It has a central door whose capstone bears the Society’s colophon. There is an inscription on the door jamb difficult to decipher. This may have been a memorial stone to commemorate the date of construction and reads, “Mes de [ ] 8, siendo Cap.n Dn Pedro de Alcan [ ] Ao.” It has entrances at the transept crossing. No bell tower, though probably there was one but now long gone.
Remnants of a fort exist especially to the rear of the church and to the left of the façade (facing it) where the foundation of a circular bastion or tower exists. The fortification’s perimeter can still be traced but with some difficulty. The interior of the fort perimeter is crowded with vegetation, the outer sides of the curtain wall and the existing bastions are covered by dwellings built beside it. The wall appears to have extended to the cemented plaza in front of the church. A portion of curtain wall and a quadrilateral bastion, although much degraded still stand. A complementary bastion and wall can be inferred from the traces left on the ground.