LAGUNA | Paete Church and Its Treasures

Paete Church

An old adage goes "third time's the charm". It was true with my visits to Paete Church. In January we stopped in Paete en route to Pila Church for my car's blessing and Sta. Cruz for kesong puti hunting. Then there was a quick weekend drive straight to the town sometime in May. I wasn't able to get inside the church on both occasions because COVID restrictions allow entering the church only when Holy Mass is being held.

My third sojourn was when I brought the family to Liliw on an Eid'l Adha holiday for some tsinelas shopping and an off-season visita iglesia in the towns along this side of Laguna when coming from Rizal province. I initially planned to start with the church of Lumban, which I had not yet visited even once, but I took another shot at the preceding Paete town because inside its eighteenth century church, there are cultural treasures worth visiting. Luck was in my favor that day.

Paete Church's historical marker

Paete Church

Paete Church stands across the municipal building in downtown (like most Spanish era churches do) backdropped by the lush Sierra Madre mountains of the suburbs. The Baroque-style church is relatively small but impressive inside and out.

No doubt that the retablo and all the sculptures of saints within the church are top-notch. After all, Paete becomes the busiest town when Holy Week approaches as devout Catholics from different places visit the town either to purchase or to have their precious, usually life-size poon (religious images) refurbished for the solemn occasion. Even Noli Me Tangere mentions Paete, implying that the town has been in the industry of carving religious figures since Rizal's time.

Church nave

Paete is well-known for wood carving that the town got its name from paet, the Tagalog word for chisel, but its artisans are not confined on woodworks alone. The church façade made from adobe stone has exquisite carvings, the most prominent of which is the one above the arched doorway depicting Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor Slayer)—the medieval Spanish figure of the town's patron saint, James the Great—slashing non-Christian enemies with his sword while his horse tramples the fallen. The church's side portal also possess intricately carved columns and embellishments.

Carved image of St. James the Great on the church façade
Santiago Matamoros
Bell tower and side entrance of the Church
Bell tower and side entrance of the church

Paintings Inside Paete Church

It was a cloudy morning when we arrived at the church patio. Church doors were closed but the staff in charge of collecting parking fees (yes, it's not free) informed us that it's about to open even if the next Mass would take place later in the afternoon. I would finally see what's inside.

Four huge paintings adorn the walls of Paete Church—three are at the main entrance and the oldest among the four is at the right side closer to the altar. In 2015, these centuries-old artworks made it to the list of National Cultural Treasures and was officially given the name Sacred Art of the Parish Church of Santiago Apostol (four paintings in situ).

Little is known about the oldest painting, Juicio Final (Last Judgment). Some sources say that it was painted around 1720 and is now too faded for further study. I wasn't able to take a photo of this since it is hung near the altar and I hesitated to roam in the sight of other visitors silently kneeled down on the pews nearby.

Langit, Lupa at Impyerno by Jose Dans
Jose Dans' Langit, Lupa at Impyerno
San Cristobal paintings of Paete Church
Two San Cristobal paintings at the left side of the main entrance

The two towering paintings on wooden planks at the main entrance are attributed to Jose Dans, a nineteenth century painter born in this town of excellent carvers. On the right side as you enter is the elaborate Langit, Lupa at Impyerno (Heaven, Earth and Hell) that depicts God with all the saints in heaven, the humanity represented by Adam, Eve and the infamous fruit from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", and the tortures of hell. The painting has lavish details that hundreds of pages of catechism fit into this one large work of art.

What fascinates me are the two San Cristobal (St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers) paintings placed side by side on the left of the church entrance. These two have a compelling story. Some years ago when Dans' St. Christopher, the one painted in wood, was brought down for restoration, the other St. Christopher, the one painted directly on the church's stone wall, was uncovered! The fresco that literally came to light is older; ascribed to an unknown artist in the eighteenth century, it has a different character and lighter color palette than Dans' work.

St. Christopher painting by an unknown artistDamages to St. Christopher mural
The San Cristobal mural discovered when the other San Cristobal painting is brought down
Jose Dans' St. Christopher painting Damages to Dans' St. Christopher painting
Jose Dans' San Cristobal (oil on wood planks)

Paete Church's paintings have a fascinating history and the artistry poured into them is exceptional. However, it seems that centuries of natural elements have darkened Juicio Final especially the bottom, the part close to the viewer. An alarming amount of wood from Dans' St. Christopher have already rotted away removing some essential details. A dos por dos (2x2 wood) even embraces the painting apparently to keep it from falling apart. The St. Christopher mural on the other hand may have a better state being hidden for many decades, but some surface paint have also peeled off. These weathered treasures are in dire need of conservation!

How to Go to Paete Church

Address: Juan Tinawin St., Brgy. Nueve (9) Ibaba del Norte, Paete, Laguna
Drive: (using Waze app)
Commute: Take a bus bound for Sta. Cruz, Laguna at the terminals in Alabang, Cubao or Buendia. Also, buses are available along EDSA. In Sta. Cruz, take a jeep with Paete or Siniloan signboards.

- Landline: (049) 557 0114

  • Ocampo, Ambeth R. (2015). Demonyo tables: History in artifacts (Looking back 9). ANVIL Publishing Inc.
  • Vila, Alixandra Caole. (2015, December 25). National Museum bares 2015 list of cultural treasures, properties. The Philippine Star.
  • Rizal, José. & Locsin, Raul L. & Lacson-Locsin, Ma. Soledad. (1997). Noli me tangere. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press

About the Author

DJ Rivera is an I.T. professional, entrepreneur, blogger and travel writer based in Manila and Rizal. After he left his corporate job of 10 years, he focused his time managing his small businesses and teaching I.T. part-time at a university in his hometown. He also contributes travel-related write-ups for several publications and websites and narrates his experiences traveling around the Philippines in his own blog, He loves chasing hidden waterfalls and rummaging through the history, arts and culture of the places he's been to. Click here to know more.

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