The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Porteria (Our Lady of the Gate) is the crowning glory of religious architecture in the province of Albay. Nestled majestically on top of a hill above the bustling town, the Daraga Church has stood for centuries as a testament to the unwavering faith and resilience of the Bicolano.
A historical landmark
The Daraga Church was built by Franciscan missionaries in 1773 when the present town of Daraga was just a barrio of the older town of Cagsawa. The catastrophic eruption of Mayon Volcano on February 1, 1814 destroyed Cagsawa, Budiao and three other towns and killed almost 2,000 people. Today, only the belfry of the old Cagsawa church remains as a mute testimony to Mayon’s treacherous wrath. The survivors of the 1814 eruption chose to relocate to Daraga. This was then approved by the Governor-General on October 4, 1814 and implemented on November 7, 1814.
In 1815, a government of the town of Daraga was formally organized with Venando Espiritu Salomon as its first appointed captain. Since then, Daraga has grown to become a center of trade and commerce in the province of Albay. In fact, well-known German scientist and traveler Fedor Jagor visited Daraga in 1870 and described it as ‘a well-to-do town of twenty thousand inhabitants at the foot of the Mayon, a league and a half from Legaspi’. Read a more detailed account of the history of Daraga here.
An architectural gem
The design of the Daraga Church can be described as a blend of architectural styles: Renaissance Gothic and Mexican baroque. The result: an indigenous baroque style that distinguishes it from other colonial churches in the Philippines. The facade was carefully carved from volcanic stones. Distinct features of the Daraga Church facade include four spiral columns with medallions at the center of each column bearing images of the four Evangelists.
The richly decorated facade also features images of the Our Lady of the Gate, the Franciscan Saints, the coat of arms of the Franciscan order and many more. The belfry has an octagonal base with images of the twelve Apostles engraved on the sides of the six angles. All of these were hewn from volcanic stone. Read more about the rich art of the Daraga Church here.
The Daraga Church is a cultural and architectural treasure that is a priceless part of Albayano heritage. Today, the church is one of the most visited destinations in the province of Albay. The church is easily accessible from the city of Legazpi.
Restoration and preservation of Daraga church
The centuries-old church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum by virtue of the declaration signed by National Museum Director, Corazon S. Alvina last October 29, 2007. A historical marker was unveiled on October 16, 2007. The church underwent restoration work in 2009-2010 to preserve its facade which is deteriorating because of age.
Exposure to the elements for more than 230 years has eroded the architectural details of the facade made from blocks of volcanic rock. A lime coating was applied which is meant to save the church for future generations although it obliterated the famous ‘old world’ look temporarily. The protective coat will enhance and protect the structure and in a year’s time the church facade will return to its original look.
From Legazpi City: Ride a jeep marked ‘Daraga-Legazpi’. Alight at the Daraga Municipal Hall. A staircase at the right of the Municipal Hall will take you to the church.