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:

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