Saturday, July 5, 2014

Captivated by Cebu’s Colonial Churches (Part 5)

Oslob completes my recent tour along southern Cebu’s heritage trail. Mention the name of this place and chances are, people would most likely be thinking about the friendly whale sharks locally known as butanding, which have become the latest sensations in this quiet town south of the island province.

If you’re one of those who think that Oslob is all about those friendly gentle giants, well, think again. The quaint town has more than meets the eye! On a brief sojourn there, I discovered a number of ancient Spanish landmarks that speak so much of the richness and grandeur of the Cebuanos’ heritage.

Legend has it that Oslob got its name from the Visayan word, toslob, which means “to soak or dip”. When a group of Spanish guardia civil came to town in the 1700s, they saw two natives eating boiled bananas while soaking them in vinegar. The strangers then inquired from the locals the name of the place.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church

Thinking they were being asked what they were doing, the Cebuanos replied, toslob, referring to the act of soaking the bananas in vinegar, which made the Spaniards think the town was called “Toslob.” Over time, the “T” was dropped and Oslob came to be the town’s name as a result of the miscommunication.

Swimming with Oslob’s butanding seemed enticing. However, it wasn’t part of my agenda. Truth be  told, the culture vulture in me had a far less mundane intention than that, which is to pay a visit to an old and massive bastion of faith that has stood the test of events and the elements—Our   Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church. 

Done in Neoclassical style, the coral stone church with a yellowish façade was built in 1830 and completed in 1848. Like most of the others I’ve visited in southern Cebu, the church, which faces Bohol Strait, is surrounded by a stone wall. Today, this church complex forms part of what is known as the Oslob Heritage Park. 

From what I’ve gathered, the Oslob Church was destroyed by fire thrice, first in 1942, then in 1955 and most recently, in 2008. Fortunately, efforts to restore the church back to its former glory were completed in 2010. To my dismay, however, it was closed at the time when I came—I failed to see its restored interior!

Standing beside the Oslob Church is its four-storey massive bell tower with a Neoclassical dome, which was built in 1859. The belfry was reportedly five-levels high but the topmost floor was destroyed by a typhoon and was never rebuilt.

Across the church, I saw this stone structure that resembled a chapel—must be an old capilla posa (a processional oratory that’s rarely or never a chapel) or a capilla mortuario (mortuary chapel). Presently, it seemed like it had been converted into a bodega where a number of damaged religious stuff are being kept.

Front view of Cuartel

A stone’s throw away from the church is the town’s heritage park. Here, you can find the remains of an unfinished immense structure that looked like a military facility. Gazing at it, I was suddenly reminded of the ruins of Fort Santiago in Intramuros. I went on the explore the landmark that’s one of Oslob’s attractions.
Simply known as Cuartel, the Spanish word for “barracks”, the abandoned edifice was reportedly intended to serve as a first line of defense for the Spanish naval forces against hostile invaders given the location of Oslob, which was then prone to attacks by Moros coming from the sea. 

A marker at the site mentions that the uncompleted structure was built by a certain El Gran Maestro Don Marcus Sabandal to house the Spanish armies. However, its construction never came to fruition when the Americans arrived in the Philippines in 1899 and became the new rulers of the archipelago.

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While basking in the beauty of my surroundings, I saw the ruins of the so-called baluarte, one of the seven watchtowers erected along the coastline of Oslob in 1788 as part of the fortifications against the Moro raids during those days.

Sinking into one of the benches there, I basked in the serenity of the sea and sky right in front of me. Then, I noticed this small island looming at the distant horizon—Sumilon. The island is said to have this private beach resort that boasts of high-end amenities for tourists. Who knows, I might get there someday. LOL!

Sumilon Island

Soaking up in Oslob’s heritage landmarks, particularly its church, turned out to be a one-of-a-kind last summer hurrah for me. The spiritual sortie I had there as well as in the other churches of southern Cebu have enhanced my knowledge about the history of those towns and enriched my understanding of the depth of the Cebuanos’ faith. 

Having experienced the flush of excitement that came with the pursuit of this heritage trail, I highly recommend the path to enlightenment to all those who want to go on a pilgrimage, a retreat or a soul-searching sojourn at any given time to the churches of Argao, Boljoon, Carcar, Dalaguete and Oslob. 

Add also those houses of worship found in the cities of Talisay and Naga, as well as the towns of Minghanilla, San Fernando, Sibonga, including the shrine in Simala, to the list of spiritual must-sees (which I hope to include in my forthcoming trips to Cebu).

Apart from their spiritual significance, these churches are stimulants to the creative process. So, I also encourage those who want to create their masterpieces—a painting, a poem, a photoplay or a paperback perhaps—to follow this rousing path to spiritual rejuvenation near Cebu City yet removed from the hubbub of metropolitan chaos.  :-D

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

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