National Heritage Month Feature : San Isidro Labrador Parish in Binalbagan

The roots of Christianity on the island of Negros began in this town we know today as Binalbagan. Unknown to many, Binalbagan is actually the first of two settlements in Negros Occidental.  Based on records, it is the oldest town in the whole of Negros Island.

The facade of the San Isidro Labrador Church in Binalbagan is symmetrically designed with twin towers and a broken pediment at the center

The inception of Christianity in Negros took place when Binalbagan became a town on May 15, 1572.  Being the first settlement in Negros, the history of Catholicism in Binalbagan is the most colorful, the island having been placed under different religious orders through the centuries.  The upheaval in establishing a mission in Binalbagan was a combination of many factors.  Among them, the difficulty to educate the natives and the attacks brought about by marauding pirates from the sea.  

In the early part of 1575, three years after the founding of Binalbagan, the Augustinians became the overseers of the first parish in Negros with Fr. Jeronimo Marin, O.S.A., a priest reassigned from Cebu, as the prior and first parish priest of Binalbagan.  The objective was to intensify the evangelization of the locals of this island.  The town was to be a hub for missionary work in Ilog, Tecguaguan, and Bago.  That year, Fr. Francisco Manrique was assigned alongside Fr. Marin to establish an Augustinian convent. However, neither stayed long as Father Marin was reassigned in the middle of 1575, and Father Manrique followed three years later.

A trio of saints adorn the nave walls

A striking image of Our Lady is set in a wood finished altar

Eight years later, in 1585, the Augustinians tried again to reach the natives with the message of the cross; Fr. Francisco Bustos was assigned to Ilog to found a new convent under Nuestra Senora de la Encarnacion, but he left for Oton in Panay the same year for the same reasons of having a difficult time reaching the natives, and so the Ilog convent was abandoned in 1586.

A merry mix of colors, patterns and shapes is found in the church interiors

In 1600, the convent was turned over to the secular priest who did the overseeing until Recollects came in 1622 and ran the convent until 1638. The Jesuits took over the administration of the church in Binalbagan until 1720.

Distinctive russet coloured trusses frame the altar

The Recollects came back from 1850 until 1896 when the Filipinos rose in revolt. The Spanish colonization of Binalbagan did not leave much in terms of massive stone works that the Spaniards were famous for in the Philippines.

Ironically, despite being the first town in Negros Island, the present church known today as San Isidro Labrador was constructed in 1935.

Two angels flank the altar with St Joseph, the Blessed Virgin and at the center, the patron saint of the city, San Isidro Labrador

With all these events, it is worthy to note that Binalbagan has been the most enduring witness to the establishment of the Catholic faith in Negros Island.  The church of San Isidro Labrador is a poignant testament to the Christian servant motto of “the first being last, and the last being first”.



Photos by Ronnie Baldonado
Video by Grilled Cheese Studios
Text by Lloyd Tronco

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