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The biggest and oldest church in Nueva Ecija is that of the Parish of the Three Kings in Gapan City.

Built in the 1800's by Augustinian friars with Gapanense forced labor, the brick church has withstood natural and man-made calamities including the 1896 Philippine Revolution, World War II and the Great 1990 Earthquake.

The Gapan church is a pilgrimage site for two miraculous patron saints -- the Three Kings whose feast day continues to be celebrated ever January 6, and the  Divina Pastora every May 1.The Gapan church has been declared the National Shrine of the Divina Pastora.

The church facade...

...topped by a belfry with four huge bells heard as far as a few kilometers away.

The bells continue to summon the faithful to Mass. The parishioners have mastered the
century-old language of the bells -- marking the important hours of each day,
as they peal at 6:00 AM (time to wake up), 10:00 AM (time for merienda and to prepare lunch), 12:00 noon (Angelus and lunchtime), 2:00 PM (siesta time), 4:00 PM (time for afternoon merienda and to prepare dinner), 6:00 PM (Angelus and dinner) and 8:00 PM (bedtime); announcing the death of a parishioner -- high pitched if the deceased is female,
low-pitched if male; marking special Church occasions; and warning Gapanenses
of emergencies like fires.

Embossed on the bells are the
dates of their casting -- this one in 1890.

Standing as sentries in their individual niches on both sides of the main doorway
are the images of the patron saints of the two barangays that
make up the Gapan poblacion: San Lorenzo (left) and San Vicente.

The Papal insignia is displayed atop the main church doorway.

At the left of the main doorway is the baptistry -- unused now.

The church interior was renovated in the 1980's. The painted stucco coating
of the walls was stripped to show the bricks underneath.

Every Gapanense child at one time or another stared up in awe
at the mural painted on the church cupola's ceiling...

... a tribute to Holy Trinity.

The antique main altar which was dangerously deteriorating
had to be torn down in the 1970's to give way to a concrete-and-marble creation whose
center of attraction is the second biggest crucifix in the Philippines.

The original side altars have been kept intact for the most part.
At the left altar is enshrined a Spanish-era miraculous Marian image...

... the Divina Pastora, the object of pilgrimages.

The right altar contains an antique Epiphany tableau...

... showing the Three Kings after whom the Gapan parish was named.

Another view of the church interior...

... as the afternoon sunlight streams through the huge side windows and doorways.

The choir loft.

The convento beside the church has been used by
the Divina Pastora College since it was founded in the late 1950's.

The church patio is now occupied by new buildings of the parish college...

... and the parish center.

The left side of the church yard where the rectory once stood
had been cleared to give way to a garden...

... leading to a shrine to the Divina Pastora at the back of the left side altar...

...and a place for pilgrims to light candle offerings.

The parish priest now lives in the antique house formerly owned by
the Garcia family located in front of the church, which was
bought by the parish and converted into a rectory.

Inside the church patio may be seen century-old acacia trees.

At the parish office, church records of baptisms, marriages
and deaths dating back a couple of centuries are kept in an antique aparador.

A convergence of high technology and antiquity
computer keyboard and old church records...

... patiently written in flowing script.

Digital photos and text by Ramon R. Valmonte