Explore Cagayan at Christmas


Simbang Gabi Cagayan – 9 Days Exploring Old Churches in Cagayan

Simbang Gabi in Cagayan’s Old Churches

As Christmas approaches and we countdown the nine days to Christmas Day it has become a tradition and a challenge to wake up at 3am and attend Mass for nine days running.
Here is what could be an enjoyable way of doing this and having a short holiday at the same time. Cagayan Province has some of the oldest churches in the Philippines, so why not take time to explore the Province and also its heritage and make a Simbang Gabi Cagayan at the same time.

Simbáng Gabi – A Short History

Simbáng Gabi (Filipino for “Night Mass”) is a devotional nine-day series of Masses practiced by Roman Catholics and Aglipayansin the Philippines in anticipation of Christmas and to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Simbáng Gabi Masses in the Philippines are held daily from December 16–24 and occur at different times ranging from as early as 03:00 to 05:00 PHT. On the last day of the Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, the service is instead called Misa de Gallo (Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass”).

The Simbang Gabi originated in the early days of Spanish rule over the Philippines as a practical compromise for farmers, who began work before sunrise to avoid the noonday heat out in the fields. It began in 1669. Priests began to say Mass in the early mornings instead of the evening novenas more common in the rest of the Hispanic world. This cherished Christmas custom eventually became a distinct feature of Philippine culture and became a symbol of sharing.

The Philippines is an agricultural country known for its rice, coconut and sugarcane plantations. Many tenant farmers (also known as sacadascampesinos, and casamacs) toiled all day with one break during noon when the heat would be at its peak. Losing an hour due to the unbearable temperatures, farmers worked hard and budgeted their time out of fear of the local encargado, who administered land for the Spanish feudal lord or encomendero/hacendero.

In between the planting and harvest seasons is a lull in the corvée forced on natives. Those who were old enough to provide manual labor were gathered under the tributo system where men would have to work for free for the Spanish colonial government’s building projects. The women also had their share of work tending to their vegetable gardens (tumana) and as household staff for the elite.

When the Christmas season would begin, it was customary to hold novenas in the evenings, but the priests saw that the people would attend despite the day’s fatigue. As a compromise, the clergy began to say Masses in the early morning while it was still dark before people went out to work the land. Wikipedia

Now let’s get out for our own Simbang Gabi Cagayan

iguig church SIMBANG GABI Cagayan

Simbang Gabi Cagayan – St.James the Apostle Church, Iguig

St. James the Apostle Church and its convent were built by Fr. Pedro de San Pedro in 1765 and were completed twenty-two years later in 1787. The church, like St. Philomene Church, is a brick church that stands on a hilltop offering a magnificent view of the Cagayan River and the town of Iguig.

The church has its very own three flying buttresses made of bricks at its back which no other church in the Philippines has. The obelisk in front of the church is another unique feature of the church.

At the back of the church is the Calvary Hills which hold the fourteen Stations of the Cross – a Pilgrims’ favorite especially during Visita Iglesias. These Stations of the Cross were started to be built in 1865 and were completely re-done in 1905.

Alongside this church, Fr. de San Pedro also made a well that was said to have provided water to the locals during the 18th century and a brick staircase that used to lead to the Cagayan River banks. Cagayan Tourism Office



Alcala Church SIMBANG GABI Cagayan

Simbang Gabi Cagayan – St.Philomene Church, Alcala

The widest church in Cagayan Valley

St. Philomene Church was built by Fr. Casimiro Gonzales when he became the Vicar or Bishop Deputy of the town of Alcala in 1881. Fr. Gonzales was said to have put up a steam-energized machine for the making of bricks for the construction of the church. He also initiated the making of kilns used to make lime and bricks.

Fr. Gonzales was later transferred to become ecclesiastical judge of Vigan and was then succeeded by Fr. Pedro Perez who followed the architectural design of his predecessor and left the church almost finished. The church, according to a compilation of the Cagayan Museum and Historical Research Center, took years and years to be finished.

The church is regarded as the widest church in Cagayan Valley measuring at 67 meters long, 24 meters wide and 12 ½ meters high. Historian Fr. Julian Malumbres said that the church was the biggest and best shaped church in Cagayan Valley during the Spanish times.

Bishop Gregorio Aglipay was declared Ecclesiastical Governor of Cagayan here in St. Philomene Church before he established the Philippine Independent Church. The church is also believed to have served as the base of revolutionary leader Daniel Tirona during the revolt against the Spanish in 1898. 



Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Piat SIMBANG GABI Cagayan

Simbang Gabi Cagayan – Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat

The Pilgrimage Center of the North

Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat, according to a compilation by the Cagayan Museum and Historical Research Center, was constructed around 1730s and was first called Ermita of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The church houses the miraculous 400-year-old black image of the Virgin Mary which was brought to the Philippines from Macau in 1604. The image was first venerated in Lal-lo until it was brought to Piat during the feast of St. Stephen on December 26, 1623. The image was then enshrined in a small sanctuary and was under the care of Doña Ines Magui’abbun who became the first camarera (caretaker of Our Lady).

It was in the first 30 years of the 18th century that a simple ermita in Piat was built by Fr. Diego Pinero. Further improvements were made to the ermita by Fr. Isidro Rodriguez who added a portico made of wood with galvanized iron for roofing and Fr. Santiago Capdevilla who built a gothic altar made of silver and dressed the image with silk and gold.

The image is said to have given birth to Christianity in the province and on June 2, 1999, the ermita became the first Basilica Minore in the region as recognized by Rome.



Simbang Gabi Cagayan – St.Peters Metropolitan Cathedral, Tuguegarao

The largest church in Cagayan

St. Peter’s Metropolitan Cathedral’s construction began in 1761 through the initiative of Fr. Antonio Lobato a century after the acceptance of Tuguegarao into the Dominicans’ Ecclesiastical Administration on May 9, 1604.

The construction was finished in 1767 and since then, the church has become Cagayan’s biggest center of faith. By 1910, upon the creation of Pope Pius X, it was made the seat of the Diocese and later in 1975, the Seat of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao.

During the World War II, the church suffered major damages and was renovated right after. Its bell tower and bells were repaired by the church’s followers and the Knights of Colombus.

Some part of the bombed old ruins can still be seen today – dedicated to St. Peter’s name by the Lord as the “Rock on those whose foundation the Lord will build his Church” (Matthew 16:18). 



lallo church cagayan valley SIMBANG GABI Cagayan

Simbang Gabi Cagayan – Sto. Domingo de Guzman, Lal-lo

Lallo (or Lalloc, Lal-lo) was the original seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia, erected in 1595 but was moved to present day Vigan in 1758 because of the distance as well as the constant threat of the Cagayan River which is just a stones throw from the front of the church. Today, the quaint old church of Sto. Domingo de Guzman is the only remaining edifice, out of three after the transfer. Much of the interior has been altered but the atrial cross infront of the church and incased in glass is said to be original.

In 1595, Pope Clement VIII created the Diocese of Nueva Segovia and in 1596, the Dominicans accepted it as an ecclesiastical mission. Nueva Segovia had three churches: the cathedral that was under the secular clergy, and the parishes of Bagumbayan and Tocolona under the supervision of the Dominicans. But because of its distance from Manila and the constant threat of the Cagayan River’s rampaging waters, the Diocese of Nueva Segovia was transferred to Vigan in Ilocos Sur province in 1758. The diocese’s name went along with the transfer to Vigan and to avoid confusion, Bishop Miguel Garcia requested that Nueva Segovia and its suburbs renamed back to Lal-lo. The seat of the Diocese of Nueva Segovia remains in Vigan till today where is now elevated as the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia – Wikipedia




Saint Hyacinth of Poland Church , Calamaniugan SIMBANG GABI Cagayan

Simbang Gabi Cagayan – San Jacinto de Polonia Church, Camalaniugan

San Jacinto de Polonia church is a modern structure but the main attraction here is the Sancta Maria Bell, “ The oldest Catholic bell in the Philippines and South East Asia”
The Sancta Maria Bell forged in 1595 hangs alongside three other bells, San Jacinto 1792, Nuestra Senora de Nieva Y Santa Barbara 1822, and Santiago Apostol 1879.

No one is sure how the Sancta Maria Bell ended up in the town. There is a record of it being an attraction at the 33rd International Eucharist Congress in Manila in 1937.



Simbáng Gabi St. Peter the Martyr Church, Pamplona, Cagayan

Simbang Gabi Cagayan – Saint Peter the Martyr Church, Pamplona

Originally called “Church of Masi” after the name of the town center of the then twin town of Abulucan and Masi, its construction started in 1614 under the direction of Fr. Miguel Martin de San Jacinto and was finished in 1617.

Although no exact date was mentioned in history books as to when its construction was completed, it joins St. Raymond de Peñafort Church – which was established on the same year – in Rizal as one of the oldest standing churches in Cagayan.

The church was damaged in 1721 by earthquakes and was subsequently repaired by Fr. Jose Caño. It succumbed to being a ruin in the 1970s when it was continuously ravaged as time passed by – leaving only its walls and facades.

It was in 1982 that a parish group was formed to solicit community support and funds for its restoration.

Its cornerstone was laid on July 6, 1990. It was rededicated on April 29, 1993 by Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan when the parish celebrated its pastoral feast in honor of St. Peter the Martyr and St. John Nepumoceno.

The church is believed to have withstood the test of time because of the solid rock, 1-2 kilometer in diameter, where it rests on.



Malaueg church, Rizal, Philippines

Simbang Gabi Cagayan – Saint Raymond of Peñafort Parish Church, Malaueg


The San Raimundo de Peñafort Parish Church (Spanish: Iglesia Parroquial de San Raimundo de Peñafort), commonly referred to as the Malaueg Church or Rizal Church, is an early 17th-century Baroque church located at Brgy. Poblacion, Rizal, Cagayan, Philippines.
The parish church, with Saint Raymond of Peñafort as its titular patron, is under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tuguegarao. The church structure has been declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2001.

A marker, bearing a brief history of the church, was installed on the church’s facade by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

The Dominican priests officially established Malaueg in 1607 and laid the foundations of the present church in November 26, 1617.

The church, made mostly of fired bricks, is unique among other Spanish-era churches established by the Dominicans in the Cagayan valley region due to its smaller size and novel design. The church’s brickwork has been described as “of free use” and that it exudes an earthy feel.

Attention on the façade is focused on the main arched portal which is framed by a plastered white wall capped with a small triangular pediment. The main doorway is flanked with saints’ niches. At the upper level of the façade are rectangular windows set in recessed triangular pedimented frames.

A relief of a cross serves as ornamentation to the triangular pediment capping the entire façade. The three-level bell tower stands on the left of the façade. It features a conical roof and finials jutting out of the corners of each level. – Wikipedia



St.Lorenzo Ruiz Church, Aparri SIMBANG GABI Cagayan

Simbang Gabi Cagayan – St.Lorenzo Ruiz Church, Aparri

Our last stop on this Cayagan Simbang Gabi

This is not a Spanish red brick church but a modern structure built in 2006 inside the Lyceum of Aparri, one of the best religious schools in the country ,so I am told.

The school is also home to the Ecclesiastical Museum. The museum showcases the history of Catholicism in the Province.

Artifacts include religious statues and images, vestments, and other religious literature and items. There’s also a broken old bell but I couldn’t read its inscription (it needs to be cleaned very carefully)



How to get to Cagayan

By Bus – Victory Liner takes 12 hours to Tuguegarao from its Kamias terminal on East Avenue, Kamias, Quezon City.

More information and bookings check Victoryliner.com

By Air  –  PAL and Cebu Pacific have daily flights to Tuguegarao. Flight duration is 1 hr 10 minutes.

In need of some last minute accommodation? Give Agoda.com a try,I often use it and find it great to organise my travels.

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simbang gabi cagayan churches

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