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History of Catholicism in the Bicol Region

11 November 2006

Fray Alonso Gimenez, OSA, was the first missionary who introduced Christianity in the Bicol Region in 1569, reacing the islands of Masbate, Ticao, Burias, and the town of Camalig in Albay where storehouses of grain abounced, hence the term Tierra de Camarines . The expedition was headed by Captain Enrique de Guzman. Following the route of the De Guzman expedition, Captail Andres Ibarra pushed farther inland to the settlements along Lake Bato and Bua (now the towns of Bato and Nabua) in 1570. In 1573, Fray Diego de Espinar, OSA, and Captain Juan Salcedo, came down from the north and went through Paracale and San Miguel Bay to Libon, Albay. Captain Pedro de Chaves founded a township along the Bicol River for Spanish nationals and named it Ciudad de Caceres, after Caceres in Spain, the birthplace of Governor-General Francisco de Sande.

Fray Pablo de Jesus and Fray Bartolome Ruiz, the first Franciscan missionaries, established the first four parishes in the regions of Naga, Quipayo, Nabua and Bula. And in 1594 Tierra de Camarines was officially and permanently assigned to the Franciscan missionaries until the end of the Spanish regime by virtue of a decree issued by Philip II.

On August 14, 1595, Pope Clement VII created the Diocese of Caceres by virtue of a papal bull. The diocese extended over the provinces of Camarines and Albay, the islands of Masbate, Ticao, Burias, Catanduances and Samar, and the province of Tayabas, Luis Maldonado, OFM, was the first appointed bishop.

The construction of the conciliar seminary was started in 1783, but it was in 1797 that the canonical erection of the Seminario Conciliar de Caceres took place under Domingo Collates, OP. In 1816 the ecclesiastical buildings (cathedral, bishop’s house and seminary) were transferred to their present site, and in 1843 the inauguration and blessing of the new Cathedral was celebrated.

With the creation of the Diocese of Lipa in 1910, Caceres became a purely Bicol diocese composed of the six provinces of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate and Sorsogon. And on June 29, 1951, Caceres was elevated to an archdiocese by Pope Pius XII through a papal bull. Its suffragan dioceses today are Legazpi and Sorsogon. The first archbishop was Most Reverend Pedro Santos, D.D.

Research Notes

1. Considering the religious fervor of Bicolanos, Catholic Churches are important sources of information, especially in the absence of civil registration documents. It is important to study where the churches are and when they were built to assess the best source of information.

2. In the case of Del Gallego whose civil records were destroyed in a fire before WWII, it has been established that the nearest town with a Catholic Church would be Nueva Caceres (or Naga). It is likely that the town folk go to the St. John the Evangelist Parish for baptism, marriages and other sacraments.

3. CBCP. “Archdiocese of Caceres“. Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines On-Line. Date accessed:  10 December 2005.

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