churches in the Philippines

Fire engulfs 17th-century Isabela church during renovation

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Fire engulfs 17th-century Isabela church during renovation

RAVAGED. Fire hits the historic Saint Ferdinand Parish Church in Ilagan City, Isabela, April 22, 2024.

Diocese of Ilagan via Radio Veritas

‘The fire ravaged everything,’ says Father Ric-Zeus Angobang of the historic Saint Ferdinand Parish Church in Ilagan City, Isabela

MANILA, Philippines – Fire engulfed a 17th-century parish in Isabela while its ceiling was being renovated on Monday morning, April 22, in yet another tragedy to strike a heritage church in this former Spanish colony. 

Fire broke out at Saint Ferdinand Parish Church in IIagan City, Isabela, at around 11:30 am on Monday and was extinguished after an hour, according to the news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). 

“The fire ravaged everything,” said parish priest Father Ric-Zeus Angobang in an interview quoted by CBCP News.

Saint Ferdinand Parish Church was the first cathedral, the first seat of the bishop, of the Diocese of Ilagan when it was established in 1970. The current center of the diocese is the Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel in Gamu, Isabela.

The parish priest said the fire happened “while workers were installing steel trusses on the church’s ceiling,” reported CBCP News. He said they were working to install ceiling fans inside the parish building, their first major project since he became parish priest in August 2023.

“Nobody wants this [to happen], but we can surrender to God’s mercy and rise from these ashes, and work together to rebuild it,” Angobang said.

Saint Ferdinand Parish Church is the latest historical church building to be destroyed in the Philippines, a Spanish colony where Catholicism was the state religion for 300 years. 

In June 2023, fire destroyed the convent of Saint Joseph Cathedral in Romblon, a cultural heritage site, while its restoration was still being planned. In July 2022, the centuries-old Vigan Cathedral almost split into half when a magnitude 7 earthquake jolted Luzon.

For many of these heritage churches, insufficient funds and lack of technical skills have impeded restoration efforts through the years. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email