Most churches in Albay face the bay as stipulated in the Laws of the Indies or the Ordinanzas de 1573. Examples are the churches of Tiwi, Malilipot, Sto. Domingo, Daraga, and Albay Cathedral.
Not so this St. Raphael the Archangel Church, even if it is located near the shorelines of Legazpi City.
Instead, the structure’s main entrance opens into the banks of the now reclaimed Tibu River. The church building’s orientation could be attributed to the flourishing trade and social activities near the river, which used to run along one of the City’s main thoroughfares, Quezon Avenue.
Safety and ease of access were probably also considered when the church was built. The edifice, together with the town plaza, was built far enough to avoid the marshland, poisonous creatures from the swamp, and smell of the river water and air, but near enough to facilitate ingress and egress as boats and rafts were common modes of transport.
Cabecera de Albay
This place was once known as Sawangan, and it was here that a wooden chapel placed under the patronage of San Gregorio Magno was built by Fray Francisco de Sta. Ana, OFM, in 1616.
Owing to Sawangan’s fast growth, it was separated from Cagsawa, of which it was once a visita, and turned into a separate political and ecclesiastical unit.
In 1636, a church made of stone and bricks was constructed under the leadership of Fray Martin del Espiritu Santo, OFM. The place grew, eventually becoming the Cabecera of the Partido de Ibalon, the former name of Albay Province, in 1649.
The cabecera used to be the town of Sorsogon because of Sorsogon Bay, which connects to Ticao Pass and the Bagatao naval shipyard where the Spaniards built their galleons. It was in Bagatao where the largest and best galleon in the islands, the Nuestra Señora del Buen Soccoro, was built.
Since Sorsogon was very vulnerable to Moro attacks, the government designated Albay town as the new cabecera as it also closed down the shipyards in Bikol in the 1700s.
Albay enjoyed great prosperity until the February 1, 1814 eruption of Mayon Volcano laid it to ruins with half of its population decimated.
The survivors relocated to Macalaya but would later return to two separate places in the lowland. A great number would return to Sawangan while the rest settled in Taytay and took with them St. Gregory the Great as their patron saint.
Those who went back to Sawangan had to start anew, begin as a barrio, build a new chapel and find a new patron, St. Raphael the Archangel.
In 1834, they erected a stone church upon the charity of Pedro Romero. They called their place Pueblo Viejo or Binanwaan.
In 1856, Vice Governor Paterno Real issued a decree renaming the town as Legazpi in honor
of the adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first Governor General of the Philippines. On October 23, 1856, Legazpi was inaugurated as an independent town.
On May 18,1872, a Royal Cedula was issued declaring the Legazpi port open to world trade. In 1892, under the Becerra Law, Legazpi was merged with Albay Nuevo and Daraga to become the Ayuntamiento de Albay. It was the first time it became a city.
The city’s territorial make-up would change several times until on June 12,1959, by virtue of Republic Act 2234, it was proclaimed a chartered city with Daraga excluded from its territory.
The St. Raphael the Archangel Church withstood natural calamities, piratical attacks, and the incursions of Dutch naval forces, which were as cruel as the marauders from Mindanao, but did not escape World War II which left it pulverized and all parish records destroyed.