Saturday, June 28, 2014

Captivated by Cebu’s Colonial Churches (Part 3)

From Boljoon, I moved on to the next leg of my heritage tour: historic Carcar. Exploring the newly-created city, I was surprised to learn that Carcar has its own share of centuries-old landmarks attesting to its historical, political and cultural significance in the province. 
Founded in 1599, the seaside settlement was once called Sialo during pre-Hispanic times. When the colonizers came, Sialo was renamed to Valladolid. As it progressed, the town became the object of many Moro raids, forcing the villagers to relocate to another place called Kabkad.

Later on, this new settlement came to be known as Carcar, after a small town in the province of Navarra in Spain. Today, the village of Valladolid, where the city traces its humble beginnings, has become one of Carcar’s hubs for its shoe-making industry.

Carcar Legislative Hall
Before going there, I used to think of the city as just the home of two of my favorite Cebuano delicacies—chicharon (pork crackling) and ampao (sweetened puffed rice)! Little did I know that Carcar also boasts of many colonial edifices that have earned for it the title, “Heritage City of Cebu.”

Carcar Museum
These old structures—ancestral houses, government buildings, schools, churches, plazas, among others, dating back to the Spanish and American eras—are scattered in many parts of Cebu, but there are cities and towns like Carcar which have more than their fair share.

Mercado Mansion
So far, over a dozen ancestral homes are found in the heritage city, particularly along Sta. Catalina Street. Four of them have already been recognized by the National Historical Commission (NHC) as historical landmarks: Balay na Tisa, Ang Dakong Balay, the Silva House and the Mercado Mansion.

Sculpture of Leon Kilat

Carcar City Hall
Of the four, I was able to catch a glimpse of the Mercado Mansion, once the abode of one of the town’s former mayors, Don Mariano Mercado. The stately home has been declared a heritage house by the National Historical Institute in 2010. 

Going around the city, I noticed this life-size monument of a man riding astride a horse—Pantaleon “Leon Kilat” Villegas, a Cebuano revolutionary leader during the Philippine Revolution against Spain who was killed in Carcar in 1898.

Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria

For me, however, Carcar’s most iconic structure is its house of worship. Rising prominently on top of a hill overlooking the city, the beautiful Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria is raved about in many of the blogs I’ve read mainly because of its eclectic architectural design.

Facade of the church
Brimming with excitement, I headed towards the church, said to be the second oldest in the entire province. It also counts among the many notable period structures in Carcar that reinforce its reputation as one of the most beautiful heritage cities in the country. 

True to colonial tradition when Church and State were deemed as one, the house of worship stands next to the public plaza and the municipal hall. Beside it is a white two-storey structure that used to be the dispensary, which now houses the city’s museum. 

Seal of Augustinian Order
Seen in pictures, the church’s facade looks ravishing. Seeing it up close and personal, however, is simply awesome! Here’s a fine structure that boasts of several architectural elements splendidly put together—Roman buttresses and arch, Baroque pediment and Moorish-looking twin belfries.

At first glance, the church, probably the only one in Cebu with touches of Muslim architecture, called to mind some European churches I’ve seen in pictures, particularly the Greek Orthodox cathedrals in Eastern Europe and the churches inside the Kremlin in Moscow. 

Niched icon of the Sto. Niño de Cebu
Its three-tiered whitewashed facade was done in Greco-Roman tradition. Two huge and thick buttresses flank a massive recessed arch resembling the iwan of a mosque, which frames the main portal, where most of the simple artworks are concentrated—floral bas-reliefs, a medallion and a niched icon of the Sto. Niño de Cebu. 

Baroque pediment
Topping the decorations at the recessed arch is an elaborate seal of the Augustinian Order. 

At the pediment, a round window is surrounded with bas-reliefs of three cherubs and a carved wreath. Flanking this pediment are the most distinctive features of St. Catherine Church—the twin bell towers topped by onion-shaped domes that reminded me of the minarets in the Middle East. 

Surrounding the church is a fence of coral stone and wrought iron. Standing on top of the fence’s pedestals are huge statues of the eleven apostles of Christ that seem to beckon the faithful to enter this house of prayer. The traitor, Judas Iscariot, I believe, was kept elsewhere. LOL! 

Once inside, this three-nave church, which was built by the Augustinians between 1860 to 1875, will definitely dazzle visitors. I was immediately drawn to its impressive woodwork, particularly the artesonado or coffered ceiling which resembles the one I saw inside the Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption in Panglao Island in Bohol.

I wanted to linger in the church and take some snaps of its interior but a wedding was about to begin so I had to limit my exploration along the sidelines. Talk about perfect timing! Geez, it only meant one thing for me: I need to stage a comeback. 

Looking around, one of the first things I noticed were the two columns adorning the interior which featured the statues of angels holding lampposts, all leading towards the sanctuary. Then, I shifted my gaze towards the main retablo which, I heard, was done in Neoclassical fashion. 
To my dismay, it was nowhere in sight! Instead, a huge white drape covered that part of the church. OMG! What happened to the main retablo? From some of the parishioners, I gathered that it was severely damaged, along with the left belfry, during the 2013 earthquake! 

Whew, what a loss, I thought. Good thing, the whole structure didn’t give in. Otherwise, it would be a big blow to Carcar’s bid to be a hub of history, culture and arts in the province. Most of all, without its church, the city would be losing its soul and perhaps, its salvation.

On my way out, I recalled a line from one of Emily Dickinson’s poems.  Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of the world. Ah, the things here on earth are indeed fleeting. Nothing lasts forever. Even those designed with the holiest of intentions.
At present, officials are raising funds to rehabilitate the main retablo and other damaged portions of the church. Donations from those who want to help are most welcome so that restoration work could proceed, a process which, I supposed, would be a daunting one. But as long as the people of Carcar have a will, they’ll find a way. :-D

(to be continued)

In coming up with this anthology on Cebu’s heritage churches, I’ve referred to the following:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Captivated by Cebu’s Colonial Churches (Part 2)

About an hour away from Argao is the quaint town of Boljoon (pronounced “bul-ho-on”), which struck me at first sight as one of Cebu’s picturesque coastal towns often depicted in postcards. Founded in 1598, Boljoon  lies on a coastal plain that's  bordered by lush forests and limestone hills that provide an uninterrupted view of Bohol Strait.

Dubbed by its drumbeaters as the “Heritage Frontier of Cebu”, the idyllic town has several impressive landmarks worth exploring if you have the luxury of time. For me, however, a heritage walk around the awe-inspiring Boljoon Church would suffice.
The Rock of Ili in Boljoon
When I first saw it a few months ago on a bus en route to Negros Oriental, the plain-looking old church with a triangular pediment bedecked with sparse reliefs standing prominently beside the national highway hardly impressed me.

Maybe I should skip this one, I initially thought while finalizing the list of heritage churches that would form part of my impromptu visita iglesia. Good thing, I didn’t. Appearances often are deceiving, so goes the cliché. This, I discovered to be true in the case of the Boljoon Church.   

Named in honor of the town’s patroness, the Church of the Patronage of Our Lady (Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria), I discovered later, is the only one in the whole province that’s been recognized as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2000!

A year earlier, the National Historical Institute had also identified the church as a National Historical Landmark. To fully appreciate why the country’s history and culture experts have bestowed such honors to the Patrocinio de Maria Church, you have to explore its vast sacred grounds.

Built by the Augustinians in 1783, the church is one of the oldest surviving coral stone edifices in Cebu. Despite its age, it has managed to survive a slew of Moro raids, typhoons, floods, and earthquakes. The existing structure, however, isn’t the original one; it’s said to have been destroyed by hostile Moro invaders. 

Twin cornice stone moldings divide the church’s façade into three, with the pediment bearing a carved symbol of the Augustinians. The second level is adorned with shallow pilasters with floral motifs and arch windows flanking a niche containing a statue of the town’s patroness. Underneath the icon is the Spanish coat-of-arms.

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At the lowest level are two reliefs flanking the semi-circular portal. On the right is St. John of Sahagun with his right hand carrying a chalice while on the left is St. Nicholas of Tolentine holding a piece of bread and a palm. If I’m not mistaken, these symbolize Christ’s flesh and blood.

It was, however, the bas-reliefs of a pelican feeding her own flesh to her young, which I saw at the bases of the pilasters on my way to the church’s interior that really caught my fancy as they bear profound symbolisms of the Christian faith.
An early Christian legend has it that in times of famine or drought, the mother pelican would peck her own breast and feed her young with her flesh and blood to keep them alive—even if such a selfless act would actually mean her own death!

Looking at those reliefs carved on the church’s walls, anyone can easily see why it has been used as a decorative motif in the Boljoon Church and in many other houses of worship, I guess. In those images, the pelican which sacrificed itself is a metaphor for Christ who gave his own life for humanity’s sake.

Inside the church, a treasure-trove of delightful architectural surprises await visitors: a long nave whose grandness is matched by a painted ceiling with artwork stretching along its entire length; an exquisite wooden pulpit with carvings and three Rococo-Baroque niched retablos housing icons of venerated saints.  

Interior of the Boljoon Church

Stretching from the choir loft all the way to the main retablo, the beautiful paintings on the ceiling stunned me. Said to have been done by one of the town’s local artists, Miguel Villareal (not Canuto Avila nor Ray Francia as I had earlier thought), the paintings reminded me of the ones I saw in the churches of Argao, Carcar and Dalaguete.

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The main and two side retablos appeared to have been restored with a sprinkling of gold dust. Some portions of the structures, however, have not been covered by the dusting. Despite this, the old world charms of the church’s interior haven’t diminished a bit since the technique was painstakingly done with consistency.

Viewing the church from the sanctuary, I noticed the choir loft with intricately carved traceries on the railings. A pipe organ that’s said to be second oldest in the country hangs on one corner of the church near the choir loft.  

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Facing Bohol Strait, the massive church stands proudly like a sentinel on the lookout for intruders. It may be a house of worship but it was built for defense—a fortress designed to protect the people against the persistent Moro invasions of yore.  

Structured like the quintessential “fortress Baroque” church, Patrocinio de Maria was so designed for a purpose—to help quell the spate of pernicious Moro slave raids that plagued many of Cebu’s coastal towns, including Boljoon, during the 1820s. One just has to look at the archway leading to the church to get an idea that it’s ever ready to wage a war to protect itself and its parishioners. No less than a sculptor of the warrior angel himself—St. Michael the Archangel—guards its entrance archway! 

Annoyed by the frequent invasions, Fray Julian Bermejo, better known as "El Capitan Parroco", the intrepid warrior priest of Boljoon, successfully convinced his fellow priests and the parishioners to build a chain of fortifications that included bulwarks, fences and watchtowers, in the coastal towns of the province.

Icon of St. Michael
Known as baluarte in Spanish, the bulwarks had watchtowers (lantawan to the locals) doubling as belfries equipped not only with bells but also canons and tall poles on which flags where hoisted to serve as early warning to the townspeople of any forthcoming Moro attack, as in the case of Boljoon. 
Boljoon also has a rectory that’s probably the oldest and biggest remaining residential building from Spanish colonial times. Located beside the church, the two-story structure, which was completed in 1847, used to accommodate the top members of the clergy who regularly came to town  in those days. 

Original marble tiles on the floor
Formerly a bodega, the rectory's ground floor has been converted into a museum showcasing the town's ecclesiastical and liturgical treasures. Leading up to the second floor is a grand staircase with ornately carved posts. The second floor currently houses the town’s parish priest and his aides.

The rectory's grand staircase
Recently, the rectory survived the killer quake last October 2013 that struck Bohol, Cebu and other nearby places, destroying many old structures. I noticed, however, that huge orange tarpaulins have been placed on its roof, which is made of clay roof tiles. Maybe they’re covering the damaged parts of the roof, I surmised.

Indeed, paying a visit to the Boljoon Church will make any true-blue Pinoy proud of his heritage. And it won’t come as a surprise to me if the Patrocinio de Maria Church would be among those that will make it to the next batch of the country’s Baroque churches to be included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.