THE BACLAYON CHURCH: A 400 year old exquisite oeuvre and legacy of the Baclaynons
|May 6, 2012||Posted by the color scheme under Religion, Travel|
(this is a major term paper that I submitted to my Communications teacher last semester)
A tour or vacation in Bohol would never be complete without a visit to the second oldest in the country and the most preserved Jesuit built stone church in the region, Baclayon Church. What really is it that makes the church so special that even people in foreign countries make a lot of effort and fortune just to get an hour or so-glimpse of the church that’s been a witness of colonialism and nationalistic outburst and its majestic and artistic interior? What makes it dear to the hearts of the local inhabitants of Baclayon? What important role does it play in our country’s history? Read on and find out.
BACLAYON CHURCH: THE HISTORY
The Spanish regime in the 16th century was the start of the colonization and at the same time, Christianization of the Philippines. The kingdom of Spain was determined to make colonies in the south to procure goods and supplies to provide for their land’s needs and to add to their country’s glory, fame and prestige. They used Catholicism as a tool in order to colonize countries without the natives knowing it and to mask their true motives, ergo, making the taking over of lands easier. Of course, it is a common fact that the Philippines is one of the countries that was colonized by the kingdom of Spain and the Spanish rule began to penetrate the entire archipelago as early as 1521.
In accordance to that, the earliest recorded settlement of the Spanish Jesuit missionaries, also known as the doctrineros, in the town of Baclayon was in 1595 (although there are some articles that claim that it was in the year 1596). They are Fr. Gabriel Sanchez and Fr. Juan de Torres. According to Rita Pendoy, a church tour guide, the present church was first made out of hardwood and founded it in the glorious day of November 17, 1596 for it was the common material in the locality and it was the structure followed by the other Spanish Jesuit missionaries in the archipelago.
The Spanish encomienderos also contributed to the Christianization of the town of Baclayon. They were the ones who erected the church chapel, located just beside the church, in 1595. It is said it was due to their efforts that the said chapel was built. But of course, it was the buwis or tax paid by the people that made the building possible.
Due to Muslim Moro resistance, the Jesuits were forced to move their head office and retreat to the town of Loboc, in fear of death threats and assassinations. As soon as the coercion of the Moro Marauders died down, the Jesuit priests returned to the town of Baclayon to erect the Baclayon Parish in 1717. The year 1727 was the dated year of the construction of the present stone church. The church belfry, which is located at the right side of theust main entrance of the church and is also one of the main features of the church, was completed in the year 1777.
Just like how the Spanish infrastructures in the Philippines were built, the erection of the church utilized the polo y servicio or forced labor. Hundreds of men spent sweat and blood j to finish the present majestic stone church that the town of Baclayon is now proud of. Some of them were tortured and tormented if they were caught slopping during the working hours. Some even lost their lives in the process.
After the era of the Jesuits ended in 1768, the Augustinian priests took over the town and added new improvements to the church. They mostly focused on the interior of the church and to the adding of religious artifacts.
During the American rule in the 1900’s, the church of Baclayon became “silent” for a while. There was not much of information about what the American rulers improved in the church. According Mrs. Pendoy, the people of Baclayon already took over the church and the parish after the end of the Spanish colonization on the year 1898.
But during the brutality of the Japanese power starting from 1942, the town of Baclayon suffered as well as the church. Bombs rained the town that sent some of the Baclayon infrastructures into ruins, including the church belfry. The church also gone through some damages including shattered windows and destroyed artifacts which altered its overall appearance.
THE CHURCH’S INTERIOR
The framework and the foundation of the church were made from coral stones, banded into blocks by lime, sand and egg whites, which kept it strong and robust through the decades. The once pearly white coral stone blocks are now covered with algae and moss. As how KC Santos, who wrote an article about the Baclayon church on the loQal.com website, put it, “Even though it was spared from total destruction, the church isn’t spared from forces of nature. The successive typhoons have made it impossible for caretakers to protect its walls from moss patches; coral stone walls are susceptible to breaking when exposed to mists.” Despite the moss and the algae, the church still retained its marvellous façade.
The floor work of the church is also a sight to behold. It was made from the materials called baldoza or bricktile, azulejos or gilded tiles made from Mexico and matsuka, which were installed in 1877 and replaced the original wooden floor board made from molave and badjong which were installed in 1852. It stretches several meters from the main entrance towards the immaculately beautiful altar.
Now, adorning the altar are three large ritablos or what the tour guides call as altar screen, which were made from molave hardwood and exhibits neo-classical art. These ritablos hold the santos and are the main attraction of the church altar. Circular, flower and vine designs in golden color were carved in between the spaces to add to the intricate touch of these ritablos. Another artifact that can be found in the altar is the tabernaculo or the tabernacle, which is made from carved wood, gilded with gold leaves. It is where the Blessed Sacrament is kept.
The next feature that adds to the accent of the church’s interior is the pulpito or pulpit, which is an elevated platform to the church’s wall were the celebrant priest could give preach or sermon. It was made from molave wood, with the flooring made from azulejos The tornavoz or the canopy above in the shape of the crown of the Blessed Virgin, acts as the sounding board or tester that radiates and amplifies the voice of the preacher. This was used by the priests then before the invention of microphones and sound boxes. Just like the ritablos, the pulpito is also intricately carved with circular patterns and flower and vine designs.
The santos or also known as holy figures representing the saints, accent and add grandeur to the ritablos. Made from molave hardwood, these holy figures are still sturdy even if a lot of years have already passed them by. The faces and the hands of these figures shine in the sunlight mainly because they were made from the finest ivories. The body parts of the santos alone already cost a fortune. For obvious reasons, not only antique dealers are after these figures, but also the burglars. According to Mrs. Pendoy, numerous thefts inside the church were already reported during the earlier years after the age of the colonizers. Adding to the high value of these holy figures are the dresses, made from gold threads and the jewelries, made form pure gold and diamonds, which adorn their bodies. The santos in the center ritablo are the following: St. Joseph, the figure of the Divine Trinity, Archangel Gabriel, Archangel Michael, St. Anne, St. Joaquin and at the centremost part, the town’s patron, the Immaculate Concepcion.
Other bonus features of the church include the frescoes in the ceiling, just above the altar and the stained glass windows.
The frescoes exhibit the Last Supper, shared by Jesus and His disciples, the cherubs, the Holy Family and the Divine Trinity. These holy pictures, according to Mrs. Pendoy, are symbols of the Evangelization of the people. There has been a plan to restore the painted ceiling in 1995 but it was stopped due to the question raised by a villager about the process of the restoration. It has been said that instead of restoring the ceiling, the people behind the restoration program were renovating it. That’s why, until now, the ceiling’s paintjob is not finished.
The stained glass windows, however, were already not the original ones due to the bombing of the Japanese and other calamities went through by the town. But still, the stained glass windows were meant to glorify the Spanish power. This fact is evident in the colors of the glass- red, yellow, green and blue. The stained glass also added to the solemnity of the church’s interior, according to the tourist guides.
THE BACLAYON MUSEUM
The famous Baclayon museum was also built during the Spanish regime together with the construction of the church.
The Baclayon Church became more famous because of the museum which houses the ancient artifacts placed originally inside the church. In fact, the visit to Baclayon will not be complete without a trip to the church’s museum.
Inside are numerous archives dating from the 1700’s to the 1900’s but they have been restricted to public viewing mainly because of their fragility. The museum is also the place where old tabernacles, priest altar chairs, mass paraphernalia, some of the ancient priests’ clothes, the original copy of the Misa Baclayana or the song book sung during the mass in ancient times, the original santos, the coronas or the crowns adorning the heads of the santos and other antiques that the church possesses. It is also the route towards the tribuna or the balcony looking into the church altar where incomienderos and Spanish royal bloods sit during mass.
Again, due to the high number of burglary, taking pictures of the museum artifacts is greatly not allowed.
WHAT’S NEW IN BACLAYON?
Numerous projects have been made by the previous administrations but the three recent projects made for the church are the restoration of the pipe organ, the construction of the new convent and the repainting of the church ceiling.
The pipe organ which was dated back into the year 1824 is the third oldest pipe organ in the country after those in Las Piñas and San Agustin. It was decided to be restored in the year 2008 during the term of Msgr. Matias M. Nunag III. It was once again played in the 7th day of December of the same year. It is currently located at the choir loft, which is above the church’s main entrance.
The construction of the new convent started during the early months of the year 2010 under the term of Fr. Efren Bongay and was finally blessed during the 7th day of December, 2010. The original convent was located in the museum but Fr. Bongay decided to build a separate convent for the priests assigned in the town. The new convent is now located at the back of the church, near the Sampaguita Pastries and the Osang’s Home-made Broas-makers of the finest broas and tortas in town.
Another project of Fr. Bongay is the planned repainting of the unfinished ceiling. Hopefully, it will be finished next year, in God’s will and grace.
The Baclayon church really holds special features that couldn’t even be summated in the words “majestic” and “amazing”. It has become a witness of how Baclayanons fought and endured the pain of the colonizers and at the same time savored the sweet taste of their hardwork and labor. Not only did this church serve as a memento of a large chunk of our history, but it also gave thousands of people livelihoods and businesses, which helped a lot not only to the town’s economy but also nationwide.
And the best thing that our forefathers left us and bestowed upon us is a 400 year legacy of dedication, love, perseverance and courage. And this legacy is sitting at the heart of the town of Baclayon, sitting quietly and continues to watch over the Baclayanons in every second of each day.
The Baclayon Church, our church, is really more than the sum of all its parts. I tell you, it is really something more.