Guiuan (old name Guiguan) owes its foundation as a pueblo to Jesuit missionaries who first came to Guiuan in 1595 to evangelize the inhabitants in a systematic way (Huerta, 1865).
Guiuan (also spelled as Guiguan) was founded by the Jesuits in 1595. It was handed over to the Augustinians upon instructions from the Spanish colonial government due to the Jesuits Suppression in 1768. It was then transferred to the Franciscans in 1795 but due to lack of priests, Father Miguel Pérez, the first Franciscan priest of Guiuan was only assigned in 1804. The original church of Guiuan was made of wood and destroyed by fire.
The present stone church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception and was built by the early Jesuits and was renovated by adding a transept and baptistery during the term of Father Manuel Valverde and Pedro Monasterio in 1844. A bell tower on the top fort was built in 1854. Another convent was built by Father Arsenio Figueroa in 1872. The church was refurbished in 1935 and the sanctuary was renovated in 1987. On November 8, 2013, the church along with other buildings and structures in Guiuan was severely damaged due to Typhoon Haiyan. While the roof was destroyed and the facade was damaged, the church's stone walls remain unscathed, as do the floors and the crypts.
Guiuan Church before (left) and after (right) Typhoon Haiyan.
Historical and cultural declarations
The National Museum of the Philippines named Guiuan Church a National Cultural Treasure in 2001. As a nominee for the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Philippines, it is grouped with Maragondon Church, Baclayon Church and Loboc Church for the Jesuit Churches of the Philippines and with Boljoon Church, Loboc Church, Tumauini Church and Lazi Church for the Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Extension) nomination. However, due to its total destruction, it was then removed to the roster of nominated sites.
Guiuan Church is nestled inside a fort. It is well known for its extensive shell ornamentation in its interiors. Studies revealed that at least eight types of seashells were used. Before its destruction, it still has two elaborately carved doors out of the original three doors. The main door on the entrance has exquisite carvings of the Twelve Apostles while a side door has carved representations of angels. Former First Lady Imelda Marcos was interested in purchasing the church's door for ₱1,000,000 using government funds siphoned by her husband, Ferdinand Marcos.
Due to Typhoon Haiyan, all of its original retablo, roof (dated 1700s), and other church relics were damaged. Only the stone walls and bell tower remained standing. Restoration of the church is on-going under the supervision of the National Museum of the Philippines. Funds for the reconstruction of the church amounting to $300,000 was given by the Embassy of the United States in the Philippines.