Samar

Revisiting Tinago Ruins, Samar Island’s oldest pilgrimage site

Lance Lim
Revisiting Tinago Ruins, Samar Island’s oldest pilgrimage site
Could Tinago possibly make a comeback in modern times?

For a time, Tinago Ruins in Samar was one of the most visited panaaran or pilgrimage sites in the country, drawing pilgrims from all provinces.

Jhonil Sy-Bajado, a historian from Samar State University, said Tinago – which is now known as Dapdap – has long been considered as pilgrim land mainly due to miraculous events attributed to its patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. It is also considered one of the oldest pilgrimage sites in the country. 

“There were priests in the 1700s reporting to the Pope, saying that many people from Manila and nearby provinces like Leyte go to Dapdap to do pilgrimage because they consider the image of St. Francis miraculous,” Sy-Bajado told Rappler. 

ST. FRANCIS. The ‘miraculous’ image of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo by Lance Lim.

These days, however, the people in Samar and neighboring provinces go instead to the St. Francis of Assisi Church in Tarangnan and the Shrine of St. Anthony of Padua in Barangay Sulangan, Guiuan to offer their prayers and intentions. 

Could Tinago possibly make a comeback in modern times?

The history of Tinago 

The ancient village of Tinago used to be the cabecera or capital of Samar, and was considered the cradle of Christianity in Samar after three Jesuit missionaries set foot there in the late 1500s.

Tinago was called as such due to its geographical location, which was literally tago or hidden, mostly surrounded by a thick forest of mangroves. The original settlement can be found behind the 18th-century church ruins – aka Tinago Ruins – that sit atop a hill. Tinago then changed its name to Dapdap, though it is unclear when this happened.

In the 1800s, Dapdap operated as an independent town under Bangahon (present-day Gandara). Back then, however, there were efforts to transfer the cabecera or capital from Dapdap to present-day Tarangnan town proper due to a wave of cholera, which hit different parts of Samar at the time. King Alfonso I of Spain eventually approved the petition to move the new poblacion in April 1884. 

After Tarangnan was officially made into a cabecera, the image of St. Francis of Assisi ended up getting transferred to the new capital despite protests from Dapdap’s locals.

Based on existing historical documents Sy-Bajado had encountered, Tinago Church was built as an attempt to go against the priest who wanted to transfer the image of St. Francis of Assisi. The rich families of Dadap contributed money to build the church, but it wasn’t finished due to lack of funds. By then, the cabecera had already been transferred to Tarangnan.

The current parish of Dapdap houses the oldest bell in Samar (which used to be located in the belfry of Tinago Church), one of the oldest bells in the Philippines. It was cast in 1753 and was dedicated to St. Francis Borgia, a Spanish Jesuit canonized in 1670. Sometime around the 1990s, the two smaller bells were lost. The bells in Tinago are considered older than the historical Balangiga bells of Eastern Samar. 

ANCIENT. The oldest bell in Samar. Courtesy of Tarangnan LGU.
Efforts to revive tourism in Tinago Ruins

In 1996, the late governor Jose “Peping” Roño led efforts to bring back the old glory of Tinago during the quadricentennial celebration of Christianity in Samar. 

Nay Baying, one of the oldest townsfolk in Dapdap who served as village chief in the ’90s, described how Tinago Ruins looked before the late governor made efforts to turn the place into a historical site:

Han una magsighot pa ito. Han barangay kapitana na ako, ginpahadsan ito namon nga mga barangay officials. Usa ka bulan nga namon nga ginhadsan nga mga barangay officials,” she said. 

(Back then, it was a grassland. When I became the barangay captain of Dapdap, I, together with other barangay officials, worked together in preparation for the installation of the historical marker. It took us a month to clear the place of tall grass.)

Tarangnan Mayor Arnel Tan said the Provincial Government of Samar has since made efforts to introduce Tinago Ruins through the Ibabao Trail. Falls located in the towns of Gandara and San Jorge are also part of the said trail.  

“That’s one of the biggest projects of the province in the first district since the second district has already established its local tourism. We have ongoing meetings and plannings on what other attractions to build there,” Tan told Rappler in a phone interview. 

“We have always wanted to develop the area even before. But the problem is we don’t have any technical support as only historians are knowledgeable of the process.”

CROSS. A crucifix at Tinago Ruins. Photo by Lance Lim.

Sy-Bajado noted that turning Tinago Ruins into a pilgrimage site once again could also generate jobs for the locals, as they could produce rosaries, novenas, and candles. He said it could also boost economic activity through tourists who want to stay overnight, eat, and explore beaches around the area. 

But the historian and anthropologist said it is important to do an inter-dialogue with other sectors – including the church – should there be plans to modernize the structure, as it is important to maintain its integrity as a cultural site. 

Although roads have improved, it is still not easy to reach Dapdap by land especially if you are coming from the town of Pagsanghan. 

“It has always been difficult to reach Dapdap by land. It was only recently when the roads were finished that we found ease going there,” he said. 

Up to this day, there are still unfinished roads that make it hard to reach Dapdap, although there are different ways to get there. 

The easiest way is to ride a motorboat which takes about 20 minutes from Tarangnan town proper and costs around P500 for a round trip. The boat can carry three people. But if you go there with a larger group of around eight persons, you can rent a motorboat which costs around P1,200. – Rappler.com

Lance Lim is a Visayas-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship