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The San Nicolas de Tolentino Cathedral: A Brief Historical Glimpse of Tandag as a Parish

Every place has its beginning and story to tell. The Philippines, as one of the colonies of  Spain for three hundred and thirty three years surely have been influenced by the culture and traditions of the Spaniards with emphasis on religion.As many have said, the Filipinos were conquered not only on its land ,also with their religious beliefs.

Spaniards swept the majority of the indigenous people to convert to Christianity and one of the results was the  creation of churches and cathedrals in the entire archipelago. Mindanao was not spared from this as missionaries were sent to the most isolated communities. I can consider these missionaries as the true travelers and explorers of their time as they revealed hidden communities and somehow injected a viral component, baptizing most of them, which changed their lives forever.

Century old narra trees around the plaza of Tandag
Tandag City was a very isolated community in the eastern side of Mindanao, part of Surigao Peninsula. I have first visited Tandag City in 2011 and I was shocked to believe it is a city with its current physical structures. Unlike any other cities in the Philippines, it doesn't have malls, movie houses and even parks. It is a typical provincial type of city where life is very simple.

I always visit Tandag ever since I was relocated to San Miguel as this is the nearest "civilized" and commercialized place where you can buy your basic needs. I have not heard anything about Tandag and it is sad to know that the place is very much silent. I have not heard also of good places to visit in the area other that the long coastline facing the Pacific Ocean and a small islet nearby.

I tried to wander around on a boring weekend and stumbled on its Cathedral with its patron saint, Nicolas de Tolentino, same as with Surigao City's Cathedral. The church stands old and somehow the foundations are already weak with cracks on its wall. The building is falling apart.

Talking to an old devotee of the church, Manang Ezekiela Plaza, 88,  the church started as a "kamalig" made of nipa leaves on the very location where it was standing. She remembered that people used to walk on muddy or dusty roads to attend the sunday mass that was in Latin before. There were only a few hundred parishioners back then.

The Cathedral is led by its parish rector, Rev. Msgr. isidro H. Irizari,PC, JG with wits parish vicar Rev. Fr. Roniel B. Dueñas, DCT. I have known through Fr. Dueñas that the cathedral will be transferred to a new location and the old church will be demolished due to its poor condition. I just feel pity for the old structure as it witnessed a lot of undocumented events of the new city. It has been a part of the old town and lives of the people of Tandag. I also feel happy that they have exerted a lot of effort to construct a new building as the new cathedral of Tandag located in the national highway. 

Here is the facts about the establishment of the Cathedral an excerpt from the record of the Tandag Cathedral

In 1622, eight Augustinian Recollect Missionaries reached Tandag, having been entrusted a year before, on 01 March 1621, by the Bishop of Cebu the evangelization of Butuan, Sampongan, and the territory of Caraga covering the areas of  Tandag, Bislig, Cantilan and small Islands of Siargao.  Two of these missionaries settled in Tandag, where a military detachment was put up since 1609, and which for one century and a half served as base for the missions and the seat for the superior.  Fray Miguel de Santa Maria became the first parish priest of Tandag.  Among others, the Augustinian Recollects were responsible for the construction of convents and focused on living out their monastic duties.

On May 19, 1864, the Recollects relinquished their parishes to the Jesuits to whom the Mindanao mission was exclusively given by royal decree on September 19, 1861.  The Jesuits brought in new ideas, new methods, and very generous economic assistance from the government not known before to the archipelago.  The Jesuits traveled repeatedly throughout the territory bringing together the scattered inhabitants into bigger settlements and founding new missions.

Until the beginning of January 1899, the religious life went on calmly.  When the brothers Simon and Wenceslao Gonzales arrived in Surigao with the orders from Aguinaldo to lead the revolution in the province, they took hold of power; went around the towns imposing their authority; arrested the missionaries; and took for themselves the ecclesiastical properties.  However, at the end of the revolution, all were set free and   fortunately, the new leaders gave the religious full freedom of movement.

In 1902, a group of Benedictines took charge of the actual provinces of Surigao del Sur and Norte.   With the new missionaries, the reorganization of the Christian life in the province began until 1908.   On December 12, 1908, the Sacred Heart Fathers (MSC) arrived in Surigao and Fr. Anron van den Boggard became the Parish Priest of Tandag. Among the important steps of the Sacred Heart Fathers (MSC) were to foster vocations, laying foundations of the present Catholic Schools and the construction of Church buildings in the province, including Tandag Cathedral.

The present Tandag Cathedral under the supervision of Rev. Msgr. Isidro Irizari was originally constructed in 1950’s.  This was expanded in 1980’s by adding extensions to both sides and improvements of the altar portion.  Additional extensions again both sides were added in 1990’s.

Tandag as a Diocese

On 16 June 1978, Pope Paul VI through the Papal Bull Quo Plenius created the Diocese of Tandag which corresponded to the provincial territory of Surigao del Sur.  This used to belong to the Diocese of Surigao since 1939, and to the dioceses of Cebu(1595-1910), Zamboanga (1910-1933) and Cagayan de Oro (1933-1939).

Appointed by Pope John Paul I on Sept. 6, 1978, Bishop Ireneo Amantillo, CSsR, D.D., was installed as First Bishop of Tandag on Nov. 7, 1978.  At present, the diocese is under the episcopacy of former Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)-President Bishop Nereo P. Odchimar, D.D., J.C.D.  who was appointed by Pope John Paul II on October 18, 2001 and installed on December 11, 2001, respectively.

The diocese comprises the entire civil province of Surigao del Sur whose capital is Tandag. The province occupies about half of the eastern coastline of Mindanao facing the Pacific Ocean, just a few miles from the Philippine Deep, one of the deepest ocean depths in the world.

The two Surigao provinces, which were just one province before, are situated on the northeastern portion of Mindanao Island and is part of the Mindanao region known as Region XI. A political subdivision in 1960 gave to Surigao del Sur the bigger portion.

Its titular patron is San Nicolas de Tolentino, whose feast is celebrated September 10. The diocese is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro.

In line with the recommendation of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) and by the decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the diocese has committed herself to the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities or Gagmay Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK).

With an information drive going on at present on the decrees of PCP II, coupled with a clarification of the vision-mission statements of the various apostolates at work in the area, the diocese is now pre-occupied with the formation, and later the implementation, of the National Pastoral Plan.


  1. Worth to read bro;) nakks educational pa ah;) i agree very silent ang Tandag considering na city

  2. This church really have a lot of history on its name, and from the looks of the those pictures they really took care of ir and retains the beauty of the church

  3. This church deserves a place in our history judging by its own history which you have provided through this post.

  4. A lot of history that place have. that is in the northern most part

  5. To read about the historical account of the Tandag cathedral is what I love about blog-hopping. I will never know about this serene place if I did not see it here. It's like taking a mini tour of Tandag. It is sad though that they have to demolish the old structure. If it did came from a kamalig then I guess it has suffered hundred years of damage but I wonder why is the NHCP not doing anything to keep this cathedral. Wasn't that also the case for the St. Augustine Church in Manila? Although I am no expert on protocols for restorations here in the Philippines, I just wish they can preserve it in its original place.

  6. thanks ms. noria.. we could only wish for the better and the locals could realize the importance of such structure.

  7. An isolated place with hidden gem that somehow mirrors our faith and religion.

  8. That is one cool place! I must enlist this in the places I want to go before I die. =)

  9. This place is pretty obscure; I travel a bit domestically and I've never heard of it. Seeing the size of its hometown church, it must have been quite the town back in its day.

  10. I hope the church will be renovated to avoid future accidents. In my opinion, Tandag should not be improved because if this will happen, pollution will come and this is not healthy for the environment.