The stone church of San Gregorio Magno in Albay dates back to 1840. The parish as such, however, was established in 1616 by Franciscan missionaries in the seaside village of Sawangan, later called Albaybay, and then shortened to Albay.
The violent eruption of Mayon Volcano in 1814 wreaked havoc on the emerging town and completely destroyed the church. The fear of another eruption and the continuing threat of Moro raids caused the authorities to move the town-site inward to the southwest, first to Macalaya, then to Taysan, and finally to the plain of Taytay, now called Albay Nuevo orBagumbayan. The old town by the seashore, Albay Viejo, then became simply a visita of the cabecera Albay Nuevo. It was given its own patron – St. Raphael the Archangel, and won its status as an independent parish and was given the name Legazpi only in 1856.
From a bamboo and nipa structure, the church of Albay Nuevo was converted into a magnificent church of stone under the auspices of Governor Jose M. de Peñaranda and the parish priest at the time, Fr. Andres Yegros, a 49 year-old Spanish European.
The invading American forces in 1900 put to the torch the whole town of Legazpi, saving only the stone church and convent of Albay which they used as their quarters. Spared again by the conquering Japanese forces during the Second World War, the church building was nevertheless extensively damaged by the American bombers during the Liberation in 1945.
Msgr. MaximoEscandor, pastor of the parish from 1929 to 1954, began the reconstruction of the church after the war. At the altar area of the church then was an imposing four pillared wooden structure with three large niches for the sacred images. At the center was the image of San Gregorio Magno; to the right was that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the left, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Attached to this structure, on the last level of a series of steps was the altar of sacrifice. The mass at that time was offered by the priest with his back turned to the silent congregation, according to the Tridentine rite.
The church was raised to the rank of a cathedral when the new Diocese of Legazpi was separated from Nueva Caceres and erected canonically as such on October 20, 1951. The word cathedral is from the Greek “cathedra” meaning seat. In this church is to be found the chair of the bishop, the symbol of episcopal authority in the diocese.
Shortly after the installation of the first bishop, Most Reverend FlavianoB.Ariola, the destructive typhoon Trix blew off the roof of the church on October 5, 1952. Another phase of church repair had to be done thereafter.
During the term of Msgr. Jose T. Sanchez as pastor (1954-1968), the reconstruction work of the cathedral continued. The altar was remodeled to accommodate the liturgical changes degreed by Vatican II. The four-pillared wooden structure enshrining the three sacred images was knocked down to make way for a concrete concave high wall to serve as background for the pedestal of the image of St. Gregory the Great. The other images were removed from the central view and installed at the side alters.
After 1965, the end of the Second Vatican Council, the mass began to be celebrated in Bicol or English with the priest facing people. A wooden table of the Eucharist, a lectern for the proclamation of the word and a chair for the presiding minister became the main furniture in the presbytery area aside from the episcopal seat.
During the term of Msgr. Juan Cleofe (1968-1970, 1974-1981) among other improvements made on the church building was the elevation of the ceiling at the transept and cupola to improve the natural illumination. Fr. Crispin Bernarte, parish administrator 1981 to 1983, had the larger-than-life crucifix installed at the central niche of the altar, in place of the image of St. Gregory. This was to abide by the latest liturgical exhortation to give centrality to the Lordship of Christ in the liturgy.
Bishop LuciloQuiambao who was cathedral pastor from 1982 to 1993 had to have the church roof repaired again after the devastating typhoon. Sisang caused untold damage in 1987. He also had the church windows enlarged for better ventilation. To the northern flank of the presbytery he annexed the chapel for the perpetual Eucharistic adoration. The images of NuestraSeñora de Salvacion and San Lorenzo Ruiz were given their own prominent niches.
The Present Situation
The current renovation work on the Albay Cathedral began in January 1997 and culminates with the inauguration on the eve of St. Gregory’s feast, September 2, 1997. Phase one of the project includes the replacement and refinishing of nave ceiling. But the focus is on the presbytery, the area where the presbyters stay during the liturgy. The flooring and the walls have been refinished with marble slabs. It also meant replacement of the ceiling and roofing with new materials. The apse, which is the place where the presiding prelates are seated with a fitting backdrop, has been notably remodeled.
The remodeling consisted of aligning the architectural design with the Greco-Roman lines of the original structure of the building.At the center niche an image of the Risen Lord, with the cross behind him, is enshrined to give due prominence to the Paschal Mystery: the death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Flanking the Risen Lord’s image are two stained glass panels.
To the stage right, the theme is the institutional principle in the Church, represented by the icon of the Blessed Trinity, the papal emblem, the diocesan seal and the incumbent bishop’s coat of arms, and the figures of the diocesan patroness and patron.
To the left is the charismatic principle in the Church, represented by the dove standing for the Holy Spirit, inspiring an open Bible as the Word of God, bestowing the seven sacraments on the basic Christian community assembled, with a background on urban and rural scenes. Nourished by the Word and the Sacraments, the disciples of the Lord renew the face of the earth with the gifts and fruits of the Spirit.
A fixed alter table made of cement, granite, and marble tiles, with Last Supper depicted in stained glass as its front panel, plus a fixed ambo or lectern as the table of the Word, decorated with a stained glass interpretation of the parable of the sower, meet the required liturgicalfurnishing. New lights, chandeliers and a more efficient sound system have also been installed to enhance the atmosphere of the celebration of God’s people at worship. At the main door a stained glass work depicting Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life bids goodbye to the churchgoers on the way home.