Those traveling in Quezon know that they are in Sariaya when they see the imposing twin-spired, brick roofed mansion along Maharlika Highway.
Lured by this impressive pre-war castle of Tayabas Provincial Governor Natalio Enriquez, we made an unscheduled stopover in Sariaya the first time we traveled the road on this part of Quezon province.
Curious to see what’s inside one of Sariaya’s pre-war mansions, we made arrangements to join a tour led by Tina Decal of Kulinarya Tagala in 2008. At that time, Tina led us inside the Gala-Rodriguez Mansion.
Four years after that tour with Tina, we’re back in her hometown. This time she introduced us to Eric Dedace, Sariaya’s self-appointed historical researcher and chronicler.
We met Tina and Eric under the massive acacia tree in front of the church of St. Francis of Assisi. While showing us an old picture of the church patio, Eric pointed out that much of the tree’s expansive branches have been torn down by a recent storm. The enormous tree was a good starting point of our walking tour since it has been there for centuries as a mute witness to the town’s history.
The foundation of the town of Sariaya coincides with the building of the first church along the shores of Barangay Castañas in 1599. Like with other towns at that time, the natives organized around the church within the hearing distance of the church bells. However, natural calamities and frequent Moro raids prompted the transfer of the church, farther away from the shore, towards the foot of Mount Banahaw.
In 1703, the church was transferred to Lumang Bayan. It was during this time that the Franciscan friars received a replica of the Sto. Cristo de Burgos from King Philip V. Perhaps it was the constant threats from marauding Moors that prompted the friars to request a replica of the image of the crucified Christ used by El Cid Campeador in the battle against the Moors in the 11th century.
A series of natural calamities destroyed the town of Lumang Bayan. This was then followed by a Moro invasion which burned the town to the ground. Surviving the holocaust was the unscathed image of the Santo Cristo de Burgos.
According to one folk story, the image was said to have been wrapped in white linen and then carried by men in search of a place to build the new church. After resting under a tree, the men found the image to be extremely heavy and cannot be lifted even with the help from other men. Taking as a sign, the town folks built the stone church on the site. Built in 1748, the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi survived the test of time. Behind its intricately carved retablo is the miraculous image referred to as the Ang Mahal na Señor Sto. Cristo de Burgos.
One of the miracles of Sariaya’s beloved icon has to do with the Pacific War. It is said that when American air raid bombers hovered Sariaya, the town was said to be shrouded in clouds. The town folks believed that the Sto. Cristo made the clouds from Mount Banahaw rolled down Sariaya, concealing their town from the American bombers. Surviving the war are Sariaya’s grand houses.
The imposing architecture in Sariaya is attributed to the wealth brought by the coconut boom in the 1900s. At the onset of World War I, the Philippines rank fourth as the world’s supplier of copra. This was because aside from the rise of the soap and margarine production abroad, coconut oil became in demand for its high glycerin content, which is essential ingredient for the manufacturing of explosives!
Owners of coconut plantations in Southern Luzon, including Sariaya have benefited so much from the coconut boom that they afforded to remodel their houses following the architectural trend of the that period. These houses built in the 1930’s Art Deco and Art Nouveau fashion were designed by young and talented architects Juan Arellano, Juan Nakpil, and Andres Luna de San Pedro.
Eric showed us a picture of the old Municipio, which like most government buildings at that time looked like an over-sized bahay-na-bato. That has been replaced in the 1931 with an Art Deco structure designed by Juan Arellano.
The focal point of Sariaya’s Municipio is the central towering projection topped by a receding lantern. Flanking all sides are busts of Grecian women. Decorative enhancements like the zigzag and wave like moldings plastered all throughout the building were the typical Art Deco motif seen worldwide while the banana leaf gives the structure a local flavor.
Fronting the Municipo and the church is the town park with a monument dedicated to Jose Rizal and the Glorita. Unveiled on December 30, 1924, the Jose Rizal Monument shows the national hero with a feather plume.
Although the Rizal statue is similar with what we see throughout the country, the one in the Sariaya town plaza has a tableau of a mother and child. Tina explained that this mother and child sculpture is a representation how much Sariaya values education.
Also built around that same time with the Rizal Monument was the glorita. The elevated structure that looks like a bandstand has eight Grecian maiden dressed in Filipiniana. Each statue holds a torch bringing to mind the Statue of Liberty. The torches used to have customized flame-shaped glass bulbs fitted with electrical wirings.
Similar with how towns were laid out during Colonial times, the rich and influential members of the society built they’re housse around a plaza near the church and town hall. Eric explained that in Sariaya, the landed gentry lived in the vicinity of the church park. They are called the taga gitna. Those who lived farther away from the periphery of the town were called the taga tabi, the ordinary people who own little or no property. Furthermore, the people were divided into the urbane taga bayan and those from the barrios or linang.
Tayabas Provincial Governor Natalio Enriquez built a Beaux Art castle next to the church. Designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, the son of master painter Juan Luna in 1931, the Natalio Enriquez house was a venue of luxurious events in pre-war Sariaya, including the 1938 wedding of Alicia Enriquez to Manuel Gala where Philippine Commonwealth First Lady Aurora Aragon Quezon was principal sponsor.
Aside from being one of the three houses in Sariaya to be declared as a heritage house by the National Historical Commission, the Natalio Enriquez mansion has been opened to visitors. The interior is furnished with American and European decor. Most of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco furniture were also designed by Architect San Pedro.
Occupying an entire block near the church park is the Catalino and Luisa Rodriguez Ancestral House. Don Catalino Rodriguez was Sariaya’s town Presidente (equivalent of mayor during the American occupation period) from 1908-1909.
Historical account claimed that the house served as a venue of important political events, including the victory party in honor of President Manuel Quezon and Don Claro M. Recto.
Compared to the Art Deco Gala-Rodriguez Mansion and the Beaux Arts Natalio Enriquez Castle, this ancestral house maintains a Colonial Bahay-na-bato style with huge colorful stained-glass windows, high celing, art nouveau wall paintings, and intricately-carved lattices on the celing.
Renovated in 1922, carpenters and artisans from Pampanga and Batangas used the best hardwood in constructing this massive bahay na bato.
Good news is that this house has been opened to the public as Villa Sariaya, a lifestyle museum where visitors dress-up in full Filipiniana regalia and experience walking around the spacious living room and grand dining hall, under the florid lattice work, reliving the genteel days when coconut barons ruled Sariaya with aristocratic grace and fervor.