Before going to Bale Dutung in Angeles City, we bus-seated toured around the old houses in Bacolor and Guagua. We also went out to check the two of the oldest churches in Pampanga.
BACOLOR CHURCH, The Half-Buried Church
(An old photo of the church pre-eruption displayed in the mini-museum). Bacolor Church reminded me of Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga, Albay. As written near the church entrance sideways to the bell tower that survived:
San Guillermo Parish Church is named after the town’s patron saint. The church was originally constructed by the Augustinian friars in 1576 – also the town’s founding – with Fr. Diego De Ochoa, OSA, as the town’s first parish priest having been installed as such two years after. In 1880, the church was destroyed by an earthquake only to be rebuilt by Fr. Eugenio Alvarez in 1886. Lahar flowed from the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo which erupted into world notice on June 15, 1991, buried the church at half its 12-meter height prompting of its more than 50,000 town residents to evacuate to safer grounds in resettlement areas.
I was in first year high school when Mount Pinatubo (This is where former President Ramon Magsaysay, a native of Zambales, named his C-47 presidential plane which crashed in 1957. This killed him and 24 others onboard.) erupted. It is recorded as the second largest terrestial eruption of the 20th century and the largest eruption in living memory.
During the tour, I noticed that the used to be clogged with sediments rivers (when I took a short summer vacation in Pampanga years after the eruption) are now aquatic with water lilies on it. Also, there were sighted crops being grown in the half buried houses near the church.
The windows of the church now serve as main doors. You will notice that it has fairly recovered from the eruption, keeping the altar as the most glamorous area.
I noticed locals visiting the church even if there’s no scheduled mass that day. Even a bicycle was parked inside it.
(Used to be windows now ground leveled.) I compared the current state of bell tower with the old photo of the church pre-eruption several times. I’m still mesmerized. The bell tower is like a humble representation of strength of its residents and ancestors in Bacolor, having survived the moods of the dormant stratovolcano.
A considerable portion of the church serves as a mini-museum showcasing old photos and images of saints. Beside it are two houses which you will notice are half-buried, too.
Unlike the other churches which have fancy ceilings, posts and corners, you will instead find in Bacolor Church old photos taken as early as the Spanish era, ruined walls, and images of saints. These I think, are the main source of the church’s beauty. It’s ruined state testifying that the residents of Bacolor kept their faith and stood the test of fortuitousness.
BETIS CHURCH, The Sistine Chapel of the Philippines
Had I known that a gem exists in Betis, I would have definitely made a side trip to this when going to Arayat years ago. I see Betis Church a humble one. It’s simple on the outside, but the magnificence lies within the epidermis.
A wedding ceremony has just concluded as we approached the church entrance. Slowly as you walk towards the altar, you will be amazed with the interior of the church.
This baroque style church was built during the Spanish colonization. This is the Parish Church of Saint James the Great, which is situated in the small town of Betis.
It is of reasonable basis that it is called the Sistine Chapel of the Philippines.
Among the things which consist the interior, this one situated at the ceiling caught my interest the most. You will see the image of different nationalities gathered before Jesus Christ.
You will tirelessly click your camera to capture the beauty of the ceiling, pulpit and every corner of it. Though I am layman when it comes to arts, the effects of the interior is very convincing that I find myself staring at my favorites (or is it all?) many times.
My interest about the painter and sculptor was hugely piqued. This is the most interesting excerpt that I’ve found:
Simon Flores, a local artist, is credited for the original interior painting of Betis church. It is noted in the book Great Churches of the Philippines that Flores’ passion for profuse decoration was inspired by the San Agustin church in Intramuros. However, subsequent retouches over the years have complicated the original character of the paintings.
This is an added reminder to the ingenuity of the Filipinos. Let’s hope that this rare structure will be preserved and will not be devasted by lahar, just like what happened in Bacolor Church.