The Ancestral Houses in Old Gapan | Nueva Ecija


During our Visita Iglesia in Bulacan and Pampanga, we also stopped by two churches in Nueva Ecija: St. John Nepomucene in Cabiao and, before returning to Manila, the National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora in Gapan. This brought to 16 the number of churches we visited that day. After observing the preparations for the Maundy Thursday Blessed Sacrament procession, we wandered the streets of Old Gapan.

Mary Khrystelle Luha
The ancestral home of Eula Valdez' great grandparents is this corner house.

Gapan was formerly a town founded by the Augustinians sometime around 1595, thus making it the oldest town in Nueva Ecija.  A row of ancestral houses can be found along Jacinto and Delos Reyes Street, a few steps from the National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora, including the one owned by actress Nida Blanca's parents, Eula Valdez's great-great grandparents, and another old house sold to Jay Taruc's father, Joe.

Known as “Little Vigan,” but don’t call it as such

One of my pet peeves when discussing places in the Philippines is when people compare them to others. We’ve all heard the "New Zealand of the Philippines," "The Taj Mahal of the Philippines," "Little" this and that, and the heritage streets of Old Gapan were not spared from this annoying practice, when people initially branded it as “Little Vigan”.

Mary Khrystelle Luha
The next house belongs to Jay Taruc's late father Joe Taruc

While it is true that the heritage district in Gapan is smaller compared to Vigan and other preserved old quarters such as Hanoi and Hoi An, as it only covers two streets, it should be referred to simply and appropriately as Old Gapan.

Nueva Ecija Travel Guide
The home that originally belongs to Nida Blanca's parents

Stepping out of the Gapan Church compound, the first building to catch your sight is the Silvino Valdez and Barbara Agno residence on the corner of Delos Reyes Street, both of which feature superb woodwork and masonry craftsmanship.

Marky Ramone Go
Call the place by its name "Old Gapan"

Along with the historic homes of well-known families, visitors can also admire a couple of buildings from before and after WWII. One of these is the Presidencia (Municipal Building), which dates back to the early 20th century. The other is a more modern structure, the Southern Nueva Ecija College, which was built after WWII and is easily identifiable by its circular entrances and windows on the ground floor.

Where to go in Nueva Ecija
This post-war building is one of the few newer structures in Old Gapan

The intersecting streets have been transformed into a pedestrian promenade with cobblestones and vintage-style lampposts, however I did see some parked motorcycles and pedicabs along the length of Old Gapan. A few more old houses can be found beyond the stepped cobblestones, but they are surrounded by more modern commercial facilities.

Steff Juan
Old Gapan at nighttime

Taking a leisurely stroll through the Old Gapan Heritage District should only take about 10 minutes, but if you want to stop and admire the ornate details of the historic houses, you may easily spend more than an hour doing so — and believe me, it’s one fun and insightful walking experience, so better take your sweet time.

Gapan Church: National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora

The National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora or otherwise known as Gapan Church and the Three Kings Parish, is Nueva Ecija's oldest and largest church, having been founded originally by the Augustinians in 1589. The church has served as a pilgrimage venue for devotees of two patron saints of Gapan and Nueva Ecija: the Three Kings and the Divina Pastora. On April 26, 1986, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines proclaimed the church a National Shrine while on January 22, 2024, Pope Francis bestowed the title of "Minor Basilica" to the shrine.

Koryn Iledan
National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora

The current appearance of the church, which is Byzantine in style and constructed from solid blocks of bricks and limestone, is a result of the last major restorations that took place from 1856 to 1872.

Anne Gumiran
During Holy Week, churches cover their altars as a symbol of shared atonement.

Inside the church, devotees pay homage to the picture of La Virgen Divina Pastora, which dates back to the 18th century and is believed to have been gifted by the Valmonte family. Specifically, it is believed to have been bequeathed by Doña Juana Valmonte, daughter of Don Bartolome de la Cruz Valmonte, who was the first Gobernadorcillo of Gapan, having served in 1747.

Althea Tuano
Start of the Maundy Thursday procession in Gapan Church

Taking our sweet time walking the streets of Old Gapan and back to the church as the Maundy Thursday procession started to brew, it was already nighttime when we decided to leave for Manila. As we made our way back to the car, I couldn't help but gawk at the beautifully weathered houses of Old Gapan, which were much more picturesque in the brightly illuminated light. I imagined a time long gone and wondered how it feels to live in the olden times inside one of these beautiful houses.