“The Man Behind the Mosaic in Tigbauan Church”

Written by Mary Antoinette Dy Ybañez, B.S. in Biology IV.

The church was first built in 1575 from the ecomienda given to Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa and a visita of  Oton on March 03, 1575 (My Philippine Life, 2016). It is made of coral stones and “igal”. The church now is called the Parish of St. John of Sahagun. The church still stood even after a number of disasters for its existence of more than a hundred of years but there was one earthquake that did a little destruction of the church in 1948 and also the Second World War did damage the church. Lady Caycay was the earthquake that changed the original structure and interior design of the church and which leaves only the façade, the bell tower and a section of the convent (Orquinaza, 2014). The late parish priest Rev. Fr. Eleuterio Rojo Carton helped in rebuilding the church and its interior design. The parish priest was assigned in the church in the year 1994. According to the church’s devotee, Father Carton was the art director and the art connoisseur for reconstructing and rebuilding the interior design of the church. The interior design was damaged greatly but it was a eureka to the church because it gave a way to have now an extraordinary interior design of a church which looks like a painting but actually it is a mosaic made up of colorful coral stone mosaic.

The mosaic found inside the church was made by actually two artists. These are Edwin Tunogbanua and Celestino Soriano. Tunogbanua was first artist of the church but there was conflict in the church that stopped him from continuing being the church’s artist. He made partially the dome mosaic behind the altar and the Stations of the Cross found on both sides of the interior of the church. After  Tunogbanua left, that was the time that the parish priest noticed a new artist, that is Soriano. The coral stone mosaic artist, Soriano made all the mosaics on both the left and right wing near the altar and polished the dome mosaic behind the altar.

The locals in Tigbauan cannot have contact with the first artist but as they have mentioned the second artist is still living around the area. The second mosaic artist which is Celestino Soriano, 66 years old living in Brgy. 1 in Tigbauan with a wife and 8 children. He is originally from Bacolor, Pampanga which is the catch basin of “lahar” because all the lahar from Mt. Pinatubo was collected there. He still has his Tagalog accent even if he has been living here in Iloilo for more than 2 decades. He went here in Iloilo when he is still 24 years old as a construction worker and lives for 14 years in Seafdec which was first situated in Brgy. 1, Tigbauan.

Soriano had no experience of art class, workshops or conventions when he was still young but he still turn out to be an amazing artist. He joined several competitions like an on the spot painting in an art competition in Seafdec and placed 2nd in 1980’s. He won 1st place in Catechistic Group anniversary contest and also won the art contest held in Jaro, Church in Iloilo. His painting is still held inside the Jaro church. He had the privilege in many exhibits in Iloilo because of his extraordinary paintings and artwork. He had an exhibit in Museo de Iloilo together with Hubon Madya-as, which is a group of artist in 1980’s. An exhibit hosted by Seafdec which he had an entry and was held in Sarabia Manor also in 1980s. He had another exhibit in CPU(Central Philippine University) in Iloilo City also in the same year of his other exhibits. He wants to share his learnings and knowledge about his field and about art so Soriano and his friend artists held an Art Class in the 1980’s in the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo City. He was sort of popular in those years that his artwork became the front cover of Modern Teacher Magazine in Manila. A professor in the University of the East was the one who recommended his artwork to the magazine.

Soriano’s mosaic paintings weren’t actually his field. He was just coincidentally discovered by Father Carton in 1990’s. Father Carton first noticed that he was serving the church through the church’s choir. After that, Father Carton asked him to help him out with the church’s maintenance and the renovation of the church. He had a painting sold before to a local which is the head of Jesus Christ. Father Carton was actually the person who influenced Soriano to do his mosaic and he was the one inspiration of Soriano. As mentioned, he was asked out by Father Carton to help him out with the church’s maintenance and renovation. He wasn’t just the church’s mosaic artist, he was also the church’s carpenter, upholster and the furniture maker. He made few of the church’s pews and carved the designs on its aisle. He worked up the pew kneelers upholstery and also the altar of the church. The Altar of the church has a cross base in which on each side there was a mural carving in connection with the church and the bible. Mr. Soriano was the maker of the altar and pews being used now in the church.

The artwork of Edwin Tunogbanua is the dome mosaic behind the altar. The dome is the three stages of the church. The bottom of the church which is the first stage means the church militant or combatant, the second is the purgatory which is the cleansing period and the last stage is the heavenly church or the church triumphant with the Gods. Part of his artwork also is the 3 mosaics above the door of the church. The first mosaic is the giving of the key of Jesus Christ to St. Peter, The second is the offering of the Holy Eucharist to Jesus Christ and lastly on the third level is the Sto. Nino. The church is famous of the mosaic of the Stations of the Cross on both sides of the interior of the church. But according to Soriano, the mosaic of Tunogbanua lacks orientation in which he means that it lacks the time when it happened like if its early in the morning, afternoon or either during the night. Also Soriano said that the way Tunogbanua arranged the stone corals is way different from his way and that it lacks the arrangement of the minute parts of the mosaics. The size of the cross is not also consistent throughout all the Stations of the Cross.

On the other hand, the artwork of Celestino Soriano or Tay Tino is much more that what Tunogbanua have made. He made 22 mosaic paintings and part of the dome mosaic while Tunogbanua made 17 mosaics and part of the dome mosaic. To the part of the mosaic painting, Soriano discussed how he made the mosaics and what he used. The needed materials in making the mosaic are coral stones, not limestones, and “igal” stones which are yellowish in color.  The coral stones are the ones used in making a tablet. He said that the stones he used in making the mosaics are from the parts of the church which was damaged so he recycled it into making a mosaic. According to him, you need to cut the coral stones into squares which are 1 or 1 ¼ inch in length and width using a cutting machine for stones. The thickness of these cubes is around ¾ or 1 inch. After cutting into squares, you need a cardboard box to for your base. In this cardboard box, you will draw here your subject or your scenery you like in the case of  Soriano, the miracles of Christ. You need to know the proportions, the orientation, the need scenery, knowledge of salvation of mankind and you have to be ready when you make a mosaic according to Soriano. From the drawing on the cardboard box, you will attach the cut coral stones on the cardboard box using an Elmer’s glue depending on the form of your subject then you need to dry it. After drying, add cement in between the coral stones and let it dry again. Then, flip it on the other side where there is no cardboard box and attach it to the wall using cement. You have to wet the cardboard and slowly remove it from the corals stones; also by wetting it you will remove the glue from the coral stones. In coloring now the mosaic, Soriano used local enamel paint for the base color and the top coat will be an oil paint so that it will not easily fade. You need to put at least 2 layers of top coat of oil paint. He uses Grumbacher Oil Paint which is manufactured in America. His mosaic have orientation and the way he arranged the coral stones is very organized and even the very conspicuous part like the nails  are emphasized in the mosaic.

The first mosaic Soriano made is the Our Lady of Guadalupe which is located on the bottom left wing when you are facing the altar. Father Carton noticed that the work of Soriano was extraordinary that is why he told Tay Tino make more mosaics. On the left wing, the mosaics found are  The Annunciation(above Our Lady of Guadalupe), The Holy Eucharist(on the left of Our Lady of Guadalupe), The Holy Family(above The Holy Eucharist),Our Lady of Miraculous Medal(on  the left of The Holy Eucharist), The Wedding at Cana(above the Our Lady of Miraculous Medal), The Washing of the Feet of Jesus Christ(on the left of The Wedding at Cana),Walking of Jesus Christ on the Water( on the left of Washing of the Feet of Jesus Christ), The Transfiguration(on the left of Walking of Jesus Christ on the Water) and lastly on the left wing is The Praying  of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane(facing the Annunciation). On the right wing, the mosaics found are the Our Lady of Fatima( bottom on the right of the altar), Assumption of Mary( above Our Lady of Fatima), The Holy Intrument of the Bible( on the right of Assumption of Mary) in which it is not finished that’s why there is a statue placed there and Mr. Soriano placed his granddaughter(wearing a uniform on the bottom left) there because he saw his granddaughter the time he was making that mosaic, The Day of the Pentecost( above the Holy Intrument of the Bible), Our Lady of Lourdes( on the right of Holy Intrument of the Bible), The Ascension of Jesus Christ(above Our Lady of Lourdes), The Crucifixion of Peter(on the right of The Ascension of Jesus Christ) in which Peter was crucified inverted unlike Jesus Christ, The Doubting Thomas( on the right of The Crucifixion of Peter), The Two Disciples going to Emmaus( on the right of The Doubting Thomas) and lastly on the right wing is The Resurrection of Jesus Christ( facing the Assumption of Mary).  He also made the mosaics found behind the altar which is on the sides of the dome. These are The Creation ( the left side of the dome mosaic), he depicts the mosaic as that the color green part is the paradise and Adam and Eve left the place because of the sin made and The Last Judgement (on the right side of the dome mosaic).  As mentioned earlier that Soriano was not only an artist of the mosaics but also help out other works in the church. In connection with this, the altar has mural carvings on each side of the base cross which was made by Soriano.

There were priests and lay ministers that question the work of Soriano if it was really following of what is said in the bible. These artworks are the Our Lady of Lourdes and The Two Disciples going to Emmaus. He somehow tend to defend it the end because he is the artist of this artwork and he has been a member of the Neo-Cathechumenal Way for such a long time.  There are a lot of things found on the internet about the mosaic in Tigbauan church but no single source or article have mentioned their names according to her daughter. Her daughter who works in a review center was kind of disappointed knowing that her father was never recognized in the sites and articles found on the internet because she knows that her father is the artist of those mosaics.

Mr. Soriano has to be recognized by the church and also the entire Panay because his artwork is world-class level of art. It requires such expertise and amazing knowledge and handwork in making one. According to him it looks easy to make because it is a mosaic but it just stops there, “it just looks easy” since it is a different kind of mosaic and it takes a lot of hard work and patience in every subject you make in a mosaic. He now stopped making one because the materials needed are very expensive like the oil paint. The churches were thinking to repaint the mosaics inside the church but they do not know the artist. I hope this article will help them in contacting the artist to repaint the mosaics because it is now fading because the rain water leaks inside and also if they have already have contact with the artist, I do hope they will provide proper funding because it is something their town can be proud of and can brag it to the world.


The author, Mary Antoinette Dy Ybanez, with artist, Celestino Soriano.

“If you are inclined with Art, you can easily make a Mosaic”

-Celestino Soriano, Coral Stone Mosaic Artist

                                                                                          Brgy 1., Tigbauan, Iloilo


I would like to acknowledge the help of   Mr. Atanasio Onlayao or Tay Tasio which is now 78 years old and has been the Mayor Sacristan and served  the church for almost 14years.  Without him, I wouldn’t able to know who were the artists of the mosaics and find Mr. Soriano and have an interview with him.

Literature Cited:

My Philippine Life  (2016). Tigbauan Church – San Juan Sahagun Parish. Retrieved on

November 17, 2016 from http://myphilippinelife.com/tigbauan-church/


Orquinaza, N. R. (2014). Tigbauan Church: A Churrigueresque Church. Retrieved on November

17, 2016 from http://www.iloilo.net.ph/tigbauan-church-churrigueresque-church/

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