Siquijor Sightseeing: St. Isidore Labradore Parish Church and Convent in Lazi
Just looking at the two ancient national treasures that are St. Isidore Labradore Church and Convent in the town of Lazi lends a very distinct feeling of traveling back to an era when the Province of Siquijor was a concrete picture of age old traditions and rural tranquility. And perhaps it still is, until this day. Crime is said to be rare if not unheard of in most rural areas.
From San Juan, the town of Lazi, home to the famous parish church and convent, is a good fifteen kilometers drive. It is in this southern tip of Siquijor Island that the commanding parish church and convent buildings stand ground amidst stately acacia trees. Known as the biggest convent in the whole of Asia, conceptualization and construction of the St. Isidore Labradore Convent began in 1857 by Augustinian Recollects and was completed by Filipino artisans in the year 1884. In the 1970’s, both the church and the convent were declared National Historical Shrines.
Upon entering the church’s massive doors, an old musty smell greets your nostrils, reminding you at once of its long ago grandeur. Wide narra planks lead up to a loft and still upward to the equally old belfry with its antique bells. The altar backdrop and other interior details are by no means ordinary. Hand carved depictions of the Station of the Cross accenting every window, a lofty and intricate ceiling vault and two, wood floors with herringbone pattern, period pulpits all contribute to a strikingly holy old world charm atmosphere.
The convent, on the other hand, is an imposing U shaped two story structure whose size is approximately 50 x 50 meters – a size considered to be colossal in that period of time. This building was used by friars for among other things, a place of rest and recreation. It is a typical Bahay na Bato (stone house), one with a ground floor made of a thick stone layer and the second level, of hardwood studs and panels. Construction for the convent began in 1887 and finished in 1891.
Work on the church and convent is attributed to Fray Toribio Sanchez who took the initiative of building the new convento in 1887 by merely using coral blocks and available wood. It was reported that before the construction of the St. Isidore Church and Convent, there was already an existing church and convent but of poor and deteriorating conditions. Still other projects begun by the friars were the Casa Real, Escuela, some bridges and agricultural irrigation systems.