Exploring Guam’s first Catholic church

Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica
Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica

Exploring Guam’s first Catholic church

by Anne Jing Ping Wen
Stripes Guam

A popular monument to Guam, Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica is a symbol of the impact of the Spanish culture on the Pacific island.

Under the leadership of Padres San Vitores, Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica became the first Catholic church built on Guam. The familiar landmark, constructed in 1669, is a popular tourist attraction along the Hagatna Heritage Walk and borders the Plaza de Espana and Guam Museum.

The current structure was rebuilt after being destroyed in World War II. The predecessor of the church was a chapel constructed of rough logs and nipa thatch, and the chapel served as the administrative center of Guam. Today, the church stands across the Guam Legislature building.

Although the Chamorros initially rejected the Catholic religion, the people of Guam eventually acclimated to Spanish culture and converted to Christianity. Chief Quipuha became the first adult to be baptized, and centuries later, the basilica remains a popular Sunday mass tradition where rituals involving birth, transition from adolescent to adulthood, and marriages are performed.

The most famous feature of the church is the statue of Santa Maria del Kamalen, also known as the Patroness of the Diocese of Hagatna. In the 1600s, a fisher found the statue floating off Cocos Island and dedicated the statue to the chapel.

The cathedral-basilica symbolizes the first Roman Catholic mission in the Mariana Islands, and if you’re a tourist, new military arrival, or just Guam culture, stop by this popular monument to understand the local culture.

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