Secrets of Convento Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, circa 1898

As the Philippine Revolutionary Government took control of various towns, local functionaries undertook inventories of possessions of Spaniards including those of the various religious congregations. In the town of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, an August 31, 1898 inventory of the Augustinian convent of Narvacan totaled 1004 pieces of “muebles y efectos” worth an estimated 711 pesos. What secrets lie hidden in this inventory of Augustinian holdings in a convent far north?

A review of the inventory showed that the Augustinian convent as being well-furnished. The Augustinian monks convent entertained their guests by sitting them in the very popular, and usually imported, Vienna furniture. The convent had 24 pieces of “sillas de vienna” worth 50 pesos together with 2 pcs of “sofa de vienna” worth 8 pesos, 4 pcs of “mesedora de vienna” or rocking chair worth 10 pesos , and 4 pcs. “sillones de vienna” worth 8 pesos. All in all, the convent had 44 pcs of Vienna furniture worth 76 pesos. As an added comfort to the convent guests, there were also 4 pieces of “almohandones” (or cushions) worth 80 pesos.

Image: First page of the Inventory of the Properties of the Augustinian Convent of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, 1898.

As a further show of hospitality to the guests of the convent, a piano, worth 60 pesos, can be played while waiting for refreshments or dinner. Talking about dining, the convent had 2 pcs of “mesa redondas de madera” or round dining tables, and 1 pc. of “mesa komedor de ocho piezas” worth 12 pesos, and 3 pcs. of “komedor de marmol” worth 50 pesos. Of course, for the smokers of Ilocano tobacco, the convent provided an ash tray (“bandeja de tabaco”) worth 20 pesos. For those who were thirsty, there were no problems running out of glasses as the convent had 100 pcs. of “baso de luz” worth 4 pesos. Chocolate drink lovers have no fear, there was one “batidor de chocolate,” worth 20 pesos, available in the convent. For the alcohol drinker, the convent had two jars for basi “tinajas basias” worth a whopping 60 pesos.  However, let us not forget the main course, cooking for the hungry monks and guests was done using 3 “sartenes” (pans) worth 60 pesos, one (1) “parilla” (grill) worth 20 pesos, one (1) “kuchara de cosina” worth 10 pesos,  and one (1) oven “fogon de hierra” worth 16 pesos.

To be sure that everyone kept time and did not over-extend the hospitality of the monks, the convent had two table clocks (“relojes de mesa”) worth 10 pesos and 1 counterbalanced clock (“relojes de contrapesa”) worth 15 pesos. Finally, for those guests that can’t be turned away even at midnight, the convent had 11 cots (“katres”) worth 50 pesos and 10 mosquito nets (“mosquiteros” worth 4 pesos) to keep the blood-suckers away. Wait a minute, there was one (1) cot without a mosquito net. Must have been reserved for the unwelcomed guest.

The Narvacan convent must have required a lot of house repairs as evidenced by twenty pcs. of “martillos” or hammers, worth 2.50 pesos, 40 pcs. of “palas” worth 8 pesos, and 75 pcs. of “segur” or axes worth 15 pesos.

Who are we to say that the Augustinians of Narvacan were not a scholarly lot? Thanks to the very meticulous and diligent auditor who inventoried the library collection of the convent, we can picture the convent’s collection of books and periodicals. After all, you need to place something in the 3 pcs of “estances de libros” and need to use the “pedestal de libros” found in the convent.

The library’s collection boasted of 114 titles of which those with multiple copies included 37 pcs of “Historia Universal,” 24 pcs of “Revista Popular,” 23 pcs of “La Cruz,” 14 pcs. of “Misiones Katolico,” 10 pcs of “Brebiarium Romanum,” 10 pcs. of “Sermones de Gonzales,” 10 pcs. of “Ano Cristiana,” 10 pcs of “Historia Iglesia,” and 8 pcs. of “Legislacion Ultramarina” (so, even the monks kept abreast of the laws and regulations).  Matters of real estate in the Philippines interested the monks as well with one (1) copy of “Guia del Comprador de terrenos realongos y baldios” (corrected title, “Guía del comprador de terrenos baldios y realengos de Filipinas : ó sea compilación general de las reales cédulas, leyes, ordenanzas … por Miguel Rodríguez Bérriz, 1886).

Image:  Five (5) copies of “Altar y Trono” were found in the Narvacan Convent.

The usual suspects of Augustinian works included 8 pcs of “La Cuidad de Dios,” (Revista Augustiniana), 7 pcs. “Mistica Cuidad de Dios,” 7 pcs. of “Revista Agustinana,” (could be same as La Cuidad de Dios), 3 pcs. of “Breviarium Agustinianum,” 3 pcs. of “Berti” or Ecclesiasticae historiae breuiarium,” 2 pcs. “Confesione de San Agustin,” 3 pcs of  “Beato Alonso de Orosco” and 1 pc of “La Historia de San Agustin.” However, the Augustianian’s reading included works from other congregations (5 copies of “Colecion de Platicas Dominicales”), and other non-Augustinian saints like “Santa Teresa de Jesus” ( 5 copies) and “San Alfonso Maria de Ligorio” (2 copies).

Image: Sample of Books of the Narvacan Convent.

The Augustinian monks seemed concerned as well with the history of earthquakes in the Philippines (1 copy of “Los Terremotos en Filipinas”) and the British occupation of Manila where the Augustinian convent of Intramuros was looted (1 copy of “Contestacion Draper”).  The monks studied the various conflicts in Spain (1 copy of “Historia del levantamiento, guerra y revolución de España”) although one wonders why the convent had 3 pcs of “Vida Militar y Politica de Cabrera,” or the biography of a Carlist General, Ramon Cabrera, who later on submitted to the throne of King Alfonso XII (online copy available at One copy of “Toledo Pintoresca”by Jose Amador de los Rios, 1845”) regarding the city and monuments of Toledo, Spain, can be found in the library as well (see online copy at

Image: Toledo Pintoresca, by Jose Amador de los Rios, 1854 (Source: Biblioteca de Castilla-La Mancha Cuesta de Carlos V).

We are not sure what happened to the books of the Narvacan convent. If anyone kept the books up to present, then some of these titles could be worth a fortune. As an example, the Narvacan convent had 3 copies of “Thomassino vetus et nova” or more correctly, had the 3 volumes of Vetus Et Nova Ecclesiae Disciplina (1773) written by Ludovico Thomassino. This book will sell for as low as US$323.00 or about PHP14,000 or as high as U$1,400 or PHP60,200  in today’s antiquarian bookshop.

Image: Thomassino’s “Vetus et Nova” (1773) Source: Eastleach Books, at

Finally, the convent revealed  one (1) piece of an expensive “baul” worth 50 pesos and one (1) piece of a “caja de hierra” worth 40 pesos.    One wonders what the monks kept inside these two precious containers.  Anyway, except for the books (who would be interested in buying books after all?), most of the items were auctioned with notations on the documents on the actual price paid. Interestingly, the “caja de hierra” seemed to have been given as a “regalo” to the Presidente.

Image: Signature (Jacinto Cordero) Authenticating Inventory of Narvacan Convent.

Source: Revolucion Filipina, 1898-1899, SDS 1964, National Archives of the Philippines. Note: Spellings of the inventoried items were used as originally spelled.

Additional Reference:

Agustinos: Provincia del Santisimo Nobre de Jesus de Filipinas (

Note: Narvacan was formerly spelled as Narbacan. Reported with a population of 16,500 around 1898 (Military Note on the Philippines, p. 121).


~ by Martin Gaerlan on December 22, 2011.

One Response to “Secrets of Convento Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, circa 1898”

  1. maraming salamat sa pamamahagi ng kasaysayan ng aking Ili [town]. mabuhay!

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