While the province of Bohol houses one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, I didn’t expect that there will be too many churches (and even chapels) that are worth the visit. I recall one of my random conversations with a local who lives in Balicasag Island that Boholanos, regardless of their status quo, feel that they are very blessed because of their flourishing faith. Hence, they are protected from typhoons (although I think that it’s a combination of faith + mountains that shield them) and other untoward events. And it follows that there are Bible verses marked on all the tricycles in Bohol. However, we have managed to squeeze in to our schedule a visit only to a couple of immaculate and classic churches.
- DAUIS CHURCH (Church of Our Lady of the Assumption)
My visit to Dauis Church was memorable because it was the first church in Bohol I’ve stepped in. Since my good friend’s wedding was solemnized there, all the more that it will be painted in my memory.
Dauis Church is wrapped by humility. It is very straightforward on the outside, but the interior is full of character. Its architecture is a combination of Byzantine and Romanesque influences. The painting on the ceiling was done by Ray Francia in 1916. I’ve tried searching for pre-renovation photos (1970) to compare; however, I found none (yet). But whatever extent of improvements have been made, I think that its current state is remarkable because it retained its immaculate yet old look feel. I’ve seen churches which became totally different and modernized after the renovation that will make you wish for a time machine so that they might reconsider to maintain a large amount of details of the old architecture.
At the altar is an image of Virgin of the Assumption, its patron saint. There’s an interesting legend which has been passed on from one generation to the other. Its patron saint is said to possess miraculous powers. When the town was invaded by pirates, the people of Dauis locked themselves into the church. However, they soon ran out of provisions and water. Then a miracle occurred: a well appeared at the foot of the altar. This same well is still the main source of water for the people living close to the church, and, although the well is only a few meters from the sea, the water is absolutely fresh. The water is said to have healing powers.
Since we visited there for the wedding and immediately proceeded to the venue of the reception after the ceremony, I didn’t get to inspect the miraculous well which is situated at the foot of the altar (covered by a trapdoor) and the bottles of miracle water made available after tending a donation. The water, until now, is believed to have healing power.
That one Saturday in December of last year was really momentous as I, our friends and colleagues from my previous job witnessed the celebration of marriage of this beautiful couple. They sent pink balloons up there to enjoin the father of the bride who is now in heaven.
BACLAYON CHURCH (Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception)
Alright, I’d go a little showbiz. I learned about Baclayon Church and the town itself when the actor Cesar Montano proposed to (now his wife) Sunshine Cruz. (However, he was unsuccessful in his attempt to be the governor of Bohol in the most recent election). This church became more popular as it was fronting the pier – lighthouse where the proposal happened.
As you go inside, you will feel that the church is really charmingly old. How’s that for something Jesuit-built in the 15th century? However, it became a parish only in 17th century. The altar has a remarkable display of retablos.
What’s equally interesting are the materials used in the construction of the church: coral stones taken from the sea which were cut into squares block and piled, bamboo to move and lift the stones in position, and white of a million eggs to cement everything together, with a total of 200 native laborers (what a team!).
I liked that each piece inside the church speaks the tests of time and faith of the Boholanos. It entails a huge amount of hardwork to preserve all these.
We also learned, but didn’t get to see, about the dungeon which is believed to have served as the punishment area for the natives who were non-compliant with the rules of the Roman Catholic church. If that was the time of the first Spanish mission in the region, you can surmise the initial resistance of people to changes.
Outside the church, there is the shop that offers religious souvenirs and other items, including these colorful candles. And as they say, try to light a candle to accompany the prayers. (Just as the incense sticks are used by Buddhists and other believers.) Interestingly, the color coding follows the concept of votive candles. That is, when someone prays something in particular, either for himself or on behalf of someone else.
There is an old kumbento (convent) in which the second level has been converted into a museum. This is where we spent more time. They charge P25 for each visitor, which I think is very reasonable when you think of the maintenance and the things that you’ll see inside.
While non-flash photography is allowed in some museums, they strictly implement a no photo taking policy in Baclayon’s. This photo of the santos (images of saints) were taken before we went up to the museum. If you are not used to stepping in to very old houses, you will probably get a little shock of the occasional creeking of the wooden floors as you walk (aka tip toe). You will be unmindful of that, anyway, as you get to see the several artifacts and hundreds year-old religious relics. The most unforgettable pieces for me were the books with carabao skin covers, lyrics sheets written in Latin, and ivory statues. With these gems in the museum, it is understandable that they prohibit the photo taking to avoid further theft. It was recounted that a stolen image of St. Blaise, the patron saint for ailments of the throat, was returned by a buyer who hailed from Metro Manila two years later. If you were the antique buyer, will you do the same?
I think that Baclayon church itself is already a museum. However, I suggest that you visit the museum for a wider appreciation of the history and the legacy of its founders and everyone else who were involved. Just a warning though, there is a dress code in the church and in the museum. I don’t know how strict they are in implementing this because no one interfered with my entry although I was wearing shorts (apparently, we dropped by there the same day we visited the Chocolate Hills and the freaky cute tarsiers). However, I noticed that the other visitors were handed a scarf/cloth to cover themselves.
If you will visit Bohol and you are fond of old churches, try to allot ample time to see the (at least) 32 beautiful Catholic churches which have their own charm.