The history of the Catholic church in this island province may have to be rewritten once the ruins of its first Christian church and fortress is found.
In a soon to be published book, The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island, Social and Cultural Anthropologist Dr. Andrés Narros Lluch, contends that the existing chronology of the Catholic Church’s history as currently exhibited in the old church ruins in Catarman is misleading, since it does not match with the Cosas Notables of the Augustinian Recollects manuscripts.
According to the Cosas Notables manuscripts, the Punta Pasil church and fortress was built in 1622, and for almost two centuries was the religious and political center of the island.
In his paper Surfacing the untold stories of Camiguin Island, co-authored with the late Dr. Erlinda Burton and published in Vol. XXXIX of the Xavier University’s Kinaadman Journal, Lluch explains:
According to the Cosas Notables de Catarman of Calisto Gaspar, the first Recollect Fathers started to build the first church, convent, and Cota in 1622, and worked hard to convince the natives to settle down around the church. In their account, the priests were able to convert the very same year six hundred “souls”. It is mentioned that they converted almost the entire population of the Island.
However, if we follow W.H. Scott’s estimations, there may have been around one thousand people living in the island at that time. Therefore, the four hundred remaining may be inhabitants but not converts to the faith following the priest’s words, calling them the remontados.
The building structures (church and convent), which were constructed out of corals and lime, served not only as a religious temple but as a fortress as well to protect the people from the pirates’ raids. The strength, thickness and size of the walls, plus the “loving words” of the priest from the sacred book, built the perceptions among the locals that the new but totalitarian Christian God offered them a good deal of protection.”
However, sometime between 1797 and 1804, the Church and Convent of Punta Pasil was burned down by the remontados unhappy with the tax system introduced by the friars. In the fire, not only the buildings and the relics were lost, but all manuscripts of the Recollect Fathers from 1622.
“It was only in 1806 when Father Juan Martin del Rosario began the building of what is known today the Old Church of Catarman (Guiob). However, current nameplates and booklets of Camiguin history date this to 1622. Therefore, they silence the almost two centuries of history of Punta Pasil,” Lluch emphasized.
Once the ruins of the Punta Pasil church and fortress are located, Lluch believes it would correct the chronology of the Catholic Church’s history in the island.
The Kilaha Foundation, UP Department of Archeology and the Submarine Division of the National Museum have been advocating to the local government of Camiguin the need to explore the area of Punta Pasil in order to find the first Christian Church and fortress from where the island was converted into Christianity, Lluch added.
The Kilaha Foundation was co-founded by Lluch in 2015 to document and support local culture and identity, as well as preserve the fascinating biodiversity of Camiguin.
“We believe it’s important to properly document the landmarks of Camiguin Christian history, especially because the deep Christian beliefs and faith of current Camiguinons,” Lluch stressed. “We hope the publication of the book helps to go beyond and start explorations not only in Punta Pasil, but as well in Guinsiliban and in the highlands of Sagay.”
“Archival findings are the best first building blocks for further archaeological explorations. In this regard, we therefore believe that the first steps has been taken already,” he noted.
The archival research findings have been published in the previously cited paper Surfacing the untold stories of Camiguin Island which details the archival findings and advocate for further archeological explorations under water (in Punta Pasil and Guinsiliban) and inland (in highland Sagay).
Lluch earned his PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED). He has done field work as an aid worker and social researcher in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Central America, South America, East Africa, and Europe for twenty years.
He belonged to the Southeast Asia Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (2011–2012), was guest researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and associate researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the University of the Philippines Manila (2012–2014). He is currently an affiliated researcher at Research Institute of Mindanao Culture (RIMCU) at Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan).
Lluch has previously published the book La comedia de la cooperación internacional: historias etnográficas del desarrollo en la isla de Camiguín (Catarata, 2016) and currently alternates between Spain and Brussels, where he works at ODS as Senior Evaluator.