Catholic church: San Dionisio
The small village of Umatac is located in southern Guam along Umatac Bay. The community of Umatac is relatively smaller than others on Guam and made up of a handful of residents, many of whom are related to each other.
Interspersed between old houses that sit along the bay’s shoreline are ruins that have become prominent reminders of the Spanish colonial era in the village. Plaques are placed throughout the village that describe the Spanish era to visitors. Remains of the Spanish times include the former Spanish governor’s residence, the site of the old San Dionisio church and several Spanish forts and a battery.
A bumpy two-lane road runs through the center of the village, and visitors coming down into Umatac from the steep hills in the north will first notice stones placed into a hillside in the shape of the island of Guam, welcoming them to the village. A couple of small stores and the San Dionisio Church, built at its current location in 1939, sit along the road.
The road, with houses built in the first half of the last century, then opens up into a spectacular view of the bay before coming to a small park with a children’s playground built by IT&E in the 1990s. Adjacent to the park is the mayor’s office, right on the beach, with perhaps the best view of any mayor’s office on Guam.
At the center of the bay is an obelisk monument to Ferdinand Magellan’s landing in 1521, bearing the inscription, “Magellan landed here.” The bay is also home to some of the island’s best surfing.
The history of Umatac is among the most rich of all the villages of Guam, especially during the Spanish era. Among other distinctions, Umatac is the home to Fouha Bay in which a rock called “Fouha” Rock sits. The ancient Chamorros believed this rock to be the resting place of a goddess called Fu’una who, with her brother Puntan, is credited with creating the world and people. The rock is also called Creation Point.
The pre-contact Chamorros made a pilgrimage to the rock every year to pay homage to Fu’una and to have their rice blessed to be used to cure people according to Spanish accounts. Umatac is perhaps most famous for being the site, by long oral tradition among the Chamorros, Ferdinand Magellan first landed on Guam. Although other theories about Magellan’s landing site have arisen, the residents of Umatac still proudly celebrate Discovery Day every March 21st with a re-enactment of the 1521 landing.
The next landing by Europeans on Guam, that of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, forty-four years later in 1565, was indisputably at Umatac. Legazpi anchored at Umatac Bay for thirteen days and formally claimed Guam for Spain, and during his stay, a Catholic mass was celebrated in a large cruciform canoe house by the bay.
By the time of Legazpi’s visit, Umatac was already a Chamorro coastal settlement that included a large communal house raised on latte stones, so spacious it could accommodate 200 people along with large canoes, as described by the Europeans. There were also other low houses in which the Chamorros cooked and roasted food.
Umatac was the chief port for the Spanish during the early galleon days, when it was visited annually by a galleon from Aculpulco, usually in May or June. In late 1680, a Spanish settlement was established at Umatac for the first time to serve the galleons, along with a supply ship that stopped on Guam from Cavite in the Philippines, usually in August or September. The supply ship brought necessities such as soap, flour, tools, metal, animals and seeds. The galleon also brought supplies, but mainly Spanish money of Mexican silver to pay soldiers and mission personnel.
These visits were so important that the Spanish governor transferred his residence from Hagåtña to Umatac when the ships were expected. Governor Damian de Esplana built the governor’s palacio, or palace, surrounded by a presidio compound in Umatac in 1690. After the supplies were unloaded from the ships, they were transported by boat from Umatac around Orote Point to Hagåtña since no road existed between the two towns.