National Heritage Month Feature : The Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Talisay

Just a few kilometers north of the capital city of Negros Occidental is the historic city of Talisay.  Talisay was originally inhabited by the Negritos, natives who led nomadic lives at the foot of scenic North Negros mountain ranges.  In 1788, families of Malay descent settled in this pristine part of Negros Island and named it Minuluan.

It was here in Minuluan that the sugar industry of Negros began when the enterprising priests led by Father Fernando Cuenca of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, arrived in Negros in 1848.  Father Cuenca was credited with the foundation of the three traditional barangays of Talisay City: Concepcion in the South that he dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, Dos Hermanas in honor of his two sisters left in Spain, and San Fernando in honor of his namesake, both barangays in the north-east.

Clean lines, twin towers topped by cupolas, and a portico distinguish the facade of the San Nicolas De Tolentino Parish Church of Talisay.

Father Cuenca and the Spanish colonizers became guardians of Negros' economic, socio-political, and spiritual lives, with more of the Minuluan population embracing the Catholic faith in the first few years of the arrival of Father Cuenca.  The Sitio of Minuluan was decreed a town on September 10, 1850, with San Nicolas de Tolentino as its patron saint. It was then renamed Talisay after the tree that grew in abundance along the mouth of the Matab-ang River.

Tastefully designed and preserved, the church’s interiors have avoided the catastrophic fate of misguided renovations.

Talisay is deemed a historic community for prior to the turn of the century, it became a significant player in revolt against Spain through the leadership of General Aniceto Lacson. This ingenious general and erstwhile revolutionary of the North teamed up with General Juan Araneta from the South in Bago, to stage the victorious Cinco de Noviembre uprising in 1898 that saw the Spaniards capitulating without bloodshed.

Father Cuenca survived the revolution of 1898 mainly because he was loved by the people and was spared from any violence directed at Spanish priests.  And thus, Father Cuenca was one of the people who laid the foundations that led to the construction of the San Nicolas de Tolentino parish. 

The mahogany coloured altar embellished with gilt carvings houses the church patron, San Nicolas de Tolentino, flanked by San Ezekiel Moreno and San Rafael, and above, the Christ Jesus.

The black and white checkerboard pattern of the floor is a pleasing contrast to the walls of the church and its remarkably well preserved features, a sterling example of heritage preservation.

Though the church building was still to be built to its current form by 1936, Father Cuenca was able to see the foundation laid prior to his demise in 1902. The current structure serves as witness to how the parish evolved in a steadfast manner. The church of San Nicolas de Tolentino reminds us not only of the work of Father Cuenca, but stands as a testament to the unity in faith of the people of Talisay, who saw the church built in three years’ time, from 1933 to 1936. 

One of a pair that flanks the main altar, the intricately detailed wooden retablo, rare nowadays, houses an image of the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus.

Rows of wrought iron chandeliers line the ceiling of the nave and the aisles, separated by a row of Corinthian pilasters and stylized flat arches

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

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