Paradise in Stone: Representations of New World Plants and Animals on Spanish Colonial Churches in the Philippines

  • Raquel A. G. Reyes


Trade in the plants and animals of the New World exerted a profound influence on the imaginations of Filipino architects and stonemasons. Eighteenth-century church façades, designed and wrought by Filipino maestros de obras, are distinguished for their elaborate ornamentation and sensuous depictions of the natural world. Scholars have commented on the luxurious and extravagant detailing of the stonework, but have yet to examine the context of commercial exchanges and cultural innovation in which imported trees, fruit, flowers, and animals such as horses were chosen to embellish church walls. Focusing on several examples, notably the baroque, fortress-like church at Miag-ao in Iloilo, the western Visayas, I shall explore the botanical and animal stone imagery as a striking architectural innovation and expressions of local aesthetics, as evidence of local interest in exotic naturalia, and as an ebullient celebration of the flora and fauna that had come to the archipelago from the New World.


Philippines Spanish colonialism Galleon trade Church architecture and façades New World plants and animals Rococo 



I incurred many debts in the research and writing of this chapter. I especially thank Professor Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann at Princeton University, who urged me to look more closely at Philippine churches, and for his insightful comments and many references. I benefited much from Professor Benito Legarda’s intimate knowledge of church architecture in northern Philippines. He generously read my draft chapters and sent extensive comments that were genial and inspiring. Much thanks are also due to David Alvarez Cineira, archivist at the Augustinian seminary, Valladolid, Spain; Arsenio Rafael who welcomed me in Iloilo; and Jim Richardson for his sound advice. Research took me all over the Philippines, looking and photographing churches. I thank members of my family, especially Gaia Tera Vida Reyes, who accompanied me over several summers since 2010.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raquel A. G. Reyes
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of History, School of Oriental and African StudiesUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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