Monday, June 10, 2013

Bedazzled by Bohol’s Beautiful Churches (Part 2)

St. Augustine's Church in Panglao

Spain’s might as a superpower and conqueror may have long faded into oblivion but the landmarks and monuments she had put in place in many parts of the world have endured, very much like Christianity which she had deeply ingrained in the hearts, minds and souls of peoples whose nations she had conquered. In the Philippines, the churches, shrines and other religious landmarks that were erected during her reign have become part and parcel of our country’s historical and cultural heritage. 

Facade of Loboc Church
Carved into each landmark is a thousand and one tales of courage, triumphs, aspirations, frustrations, doubts and sacrifices of our ancestors. That is why this history buff and adventure junkie always makes it a point to gravitate towards these houses of prayer, not only to worship God or go on a pilgrimage, but also bask in the beauty of these treasure-troves of architectural and artistic rarities—all living testaments of a faith that has stood the test of time.

In Bohol, the Spanish Crown’s long years of control are indelibly etched in every brick,  wood and steel that make up the sacred sanctums found in nearly all of the province’s forty-seven municipalities. Going on a pilgrimage of sorts to these churches has long been an obsession and I feel so blessed that such has slowly turned into reality over the last decade, with me shuttling to and fro the island for at least four times. Here then is the second installment of my two-part blog on God’s heritage houses in Bohol:  
Most Holy Trinity Church in Loay

Loay Church. Built by the Augustinian Recollects in 1822, Loay’s cruciform church, with its Neoclassical façade, sits on top of a hill near the mouth of the Loboc River, facing the Bohol Sea. Within the sprawling grounds of this sacred sanctuary is the convent that was added in 1838. Like its counterpart in the neighboring town of Loboc, the house of God in Loay has a belfry which stands apart from the main building. The three-storey octagonal tower is said to have been erected in 1865.

After visiting the nearby ancestral house of the Clarins (which has been converted into a museum), I headed towards this house of prayer named after the Most Holy Trinity. A flight of stairs found at the rear of the church connects it to the rest of the community below. Straight from the museum, I went up the church through this concrete stairway. 

The church’s white structure, which looked resplendent even in antiquity, has two facades: the older is decorated with low relief while the newer one was reinforced in concrete and completed during the last century. With bated breath, I entered, walking towards the altar and retablo. 

Colonnaded and domed in Neoclassical fashion, the magnificent retablo contains a graphical representation of the Holy Trinity, with God the Father seated on the right, God the Son on the left, and God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove above them. Wow, it was a marvel quite unlike any of the other churches I’ve seen so far in Bohol!

Looking up, I found what I wanted to see. Like most of the sacred sanctums in Bohol, the church’s ceiling is decorated with trompe l'oeil of biblical scenes where the two-dimensional painting is made to look like three-dimensional. I surmised it was another handiwork of prolific church painter Ray Francia. Above the main entrance is a choir loft and adjacent to it is a grandiose pipe organ that was added in 1841, which, according to one parishioner I asked, still plays great music. Loay’s old church is simply awesome inside and out!

St. Peter the Apostle Church in Loboc

Loboc Church. Before embarking on a cruise along Loboc River, which count among cleanest and greenest rivers in the country, I first paid a visit to one of the town’s most prominent landmarks: the Church of St. Peter the Apostle. Originally built by the Jesuits in 1602, this Baroque-styled house of the Lord, dubbed as Bohol’s second oldest church, stands near the town plaza and the river which has been made famous by those flotilla of floating restaurants where tourists can dine while basking in the beauty and serenity of the winding river’s verdant surroundings.
The original structure of the Loboc Church, however, was reportedly reduced to ashes, prompting the construction of another one in 1638 near the same site. This time, it was made of stronger materials. 

When the Jesuits were expelled from the country in 1768, the Augustinian Recollects took over and completed the unfinished structure, adding a porticoed façade with an imposing frontage, a free-standing belfry that’s across the street from the church, a mortuary chapel, the heavy buttresses and a unique three-storey convent seamlessly integrated into the Jesuit-initiated edifice, which now houses the Museo de Loboc.

The architectural and cultural treasures found in this exquisite church are simply stunning—a relief of St. Ignatius in polychrome stucco hidden behind the Neoclassical main altar; an awe-inspiring retablo and two Baroque side altars; an elegant-looking pulpit on the right side facing the main altar; ceilings adorned with spectacular frescoes dating back to the 1920s, which were done by Ray Francia (again!) and his partner, to name a few.

St. Vincent Ferrer Church in Maribojoc

Maribojoc Church. From Balilihan, my guide took me to another awe-inspiring house of God found in the town of Maribojoc. I’ve been to this coastal town once to visit its renowned tourist landmark, the Punta Cruz Watchtower, many years ago. But it was my first time to explore its church named in honor of the town’s patron, St. Vincent Ferrer. Completed in 1816 after nearly two decades of work, the Baroque-styled coral stone church features a simple façade embellished with thin pilasters and niches with the icons of saints, including a bas-relief of the patron saint.

Entering the cruciform church, I was dazzled to see three Neo-Gothic retablos with delicately carved traceries and finials of gilded hardwood adorning the sanctuary.  Its main altar has an image of the Blessed Trinity and bas-reliefs of the life of Mary Magdalene. Its ceiling is made of metal and painted with liturgical motifs (by Ray Francia, I guess). Unlike other churches, the convent is located behind the church rather than at its side. 

From the looks of it, the Maribojoc Church is one of Bohol’s best-preserved churches, having been spared from the havoc wrought by the last two world wars and many natural calamities that have hit the island. Much as I wanted to linger to take snaps of its interior, I had to go earlier than planned since a funeral service was about to begin when I came in. I later took this as a sign that a revisit should be done at some future time.

St. Augustine's Church in Panglao

Panglao Church. Right after exploring Hinagdanan Cave in Panglao Island, my guide and I proceeded southwest to visit another awe-inspiring house of prayer. Named in honor of the town’s patron saint, St. Augustine, the church is snugly nestled on a vast plain facing a sprawling plaza with its back turned away from the seashore. Panglao Church, as it is often called, is a must-see for anyone visiting Bohol. Built in 1894 but completed in the 1920s, it replaced an older Jesuit-built church that was reduced to ashes in the mid-1880s.  
I’ve already seen this sacred sanctum of the Augustinian Recollects during my second visit to Panglao, but it felt like it was my first time maybe because I had a faint recollection of what it looked like then since I went there at night.  Before going in, I took numerous shots of its façade as well as the plaza near it. Soon, an overcast sky hovered over the church so I decided to momentarily call off the shoot.

Cruciform in shape, St. Augustine Church’s grand façade boasts of a portico with three arches and fancy Corinthian capitals. Inside, the massive stone house of prayer dazzles visitors with its three richly carved retablos. The main retablo features the icon of the town’s patron, occupying the upper center niche. Over the main altar is a hexagonal dome whose ceiling is painted with an impressive mural of the Blessed Trinity surrounded by eight divisions of angels.

Just above the nave is a stunning mural of the Seven Sacraments painted on the ceiling all the way to the choir loft at the main entrance of the church, which, at first glance, reminded me of the Baroque churches in Europe that I’ve seen in pictures. The church’s original marble flooring also looked spectacular.  
A few steps away from the church, facing the waters of Bohol Sea, is a five-storey, octagonal watchtower said to have been built around the 1850s. Covered with a pitched roof made of what seemed like tiles, it is reportedly the tallest of its kind in the country. Numerous cracks, however, have started to mar the surface of the lofty structure. I’m afraid that any strong quake hitting the island could send this landmark crumbling down to pieces. The watchtower indeed currently needs to be restored immediately if only for its historical and cultural heritage.

St. Joseph the Worker Cathedral

Tagbilaran Church. Not to be missed when you’re Bohol is the church found just across the town plaza and the provincial capitol in Tagbilaran City which I’ve visited on many occasions. Better known as St. Joseph the Worker’s Cathedral, this house of the Lord was named in honor of the patron saint of laborers. The present-day structure of the Tagbilaran Cathedral replaced a smaller church built by the Jesuits which was razed to the ground by a fire in 1798. The reconstruction was said to have taken place between 1839 to 1855.

Crossing the street from the plaza, I headed towards the cathedral one late afternoon during my latest escapade in the island. As always, I found myself in awe of this church founded by the Jesuits and later administered by the Augustinian Recollects. 

A historical marker outside spells out the various renovations that the Tagbilaran Cathedral went through between the 1880s to 1890s.  Both its exterior and interior have been greatly renovated, with the façade given a neo-Romanesque look. Its lateral walls have also been opened to accommodate the growing number of Tagbilaran’s devoted parishioners through the years. Apparently, side altars from an older church were saved because the two remaining in the church are of vintage 18th century Baroque. The central altar, embellished with symbols from the Old Testament, appeared to be of vintage 19th century Neoclassical art.

Well-known here and abroad, Bohol continues to lure free spirits who go there to find the three “R’s”—rest, recreation and redemption—in the numerous must-sees that the island province offers. Every now and then, throngs of the bored, the bothered and the burnt-out seek these three in the beaches of Panglao, the Chocolate Hills of Carmen, the green river of Loboc and everywhere else that’s part of the whole package that is distinctively Bohol.  

But to this pent-up city slicker, self-confessed culture vulture and adventure junkie, there’s no better cure to ennui and exhaustion than hitting every road that leads to this enchanting island’s beautiful heritage churches. Eating the bread of bohemianism and drinking the wine of wantonness inside the sacred confines of God’s houses, I believe, are panaceas to the tired body, the troubled mind and the tortured soul. For these, I’d be coming back to Bohol to visit the other churches I haven’t seen. And I’ll keep on doing it as long as my arms, hands, legs and feet can take me there. :D

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