2010 World Monuments Watch
The town of Santa Maria lies on a narrow, flat plain between the sea and the central mountain range of Ilocos Sur province on the island of Luzon. In the 16th century, when Spanish Augustianians first settled in the area, Santa Maria was a mere visita, or mission outpost. By the mid-18th century, Santa Maria had become one of the most successful of the Augustinian missions in the Philippines, and construction of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción began in 1765. A stairway of 85 steps leads up a hill from the edge of town to the church, which is perched like a citadel and fortified by a retaining wall of stone. Its elevated setting is unusual for Spanish colonial churches of the period, which were usually sited in plazas. Flanked by two cylindrical columns, the church’s exposed brick façade—once covered in limestone—opens into a nave flooded by natural light. A massive octagonal bell tower, added in 1810, stands nearby. Serious structural damage to the retaining walls has led to partial collapse, and portends further crises. Preservation efforts hope to address the issues of the church structure, and equally importantly wish to engage the local community in the stewardship of this important religious and historic heritage site.