Churches revisited

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    Sermons in stone. Searing the heart, stirring the soul.

    Rocks of ages. Sanctuaries and refuges, by the gates of hell ever shall be unprevailed
    Citadels of the Faith. Inspiring, uplifting life here and now. Presaging the hereafter – eternal glory in the kingdom of the Builder.

    So we wrote Of Churches on March 21 last year as the sole accompanying text to our photo exhibit Visita Iglesia: Edifices of the Kapampangan Faith Revisited at the SM City Clark.

    Of course, I am but the least in that three-man exhibit with Peter Alagos having long established his name as a lensman of note, be it in portraits, landscapes, glamour and news photography; and the eagle-eyed Deng Pangilinan who was to photography bred.

    While we wanted – as should be – our photographs to speak for themselves, we were swamped with questions about the churches exhibited. No less than Gov. Lilia G. Pineda pointed the need for some accompanying information about the churches, if only to lend a deeper appreciation of the images.

    This year, the SM Group asked us to even expand the exhibit – carrying the same title – with more photographs and take it on a Metro Manila run to expose our city cousins to the “beautiful churches” of Pampanga and perhaps generate enough enthusiasm to warrant their own visita iglesia.

    Thus last Sunday, February 24 we opened the exhibit at the SM Mall of Asia where it will be for a week.

    SM Southmall will follow and then SM City North EDSA on weekly runs. Until finally the exhibit will come home to SM City Pampanga, opening on March 18.

    As splashing the photographs here would not do justice to the magnificence of the churches, I just have to act the tourist guide here and go over some of the churches  – there are 16 churches and four chapels in all at the exhibit – in brief, with information culled from the web.    

    STA. RITA DE CASCIA, Sta. Rita. The present church was built by Fr. Francisco Royo in 1839 and completed by Fr. Juan Merino in 1868. These two priests also opened the road linking Sta. Rita with Porac and Guagua.

    A major attraction of the church are its five heritage bells all made by the famous foundry of H. Sunico y Hos Jaboneros: the Señora de la Cornea  installed at the belfry in 1869; Dolorosa bell in 1878; and the bells of Virgen de Lourdes, San Jose and Santa Rita—all installed on May 20, 1911.

    The bells were taken down for repairs in 2010 by Royal Bells Philippines and were restored after 47 days.

    They were described as “the most beautiful sounding bell of its vintage and style that we have ever rehabilitated.”

    The parish is the site where the Holy Relic – ex carne – of Saint Rita de Cascia is enshrined. Antique church artefacts are on display at a small museum in the convent. 

    ST. PETER THE APOSTLE, Apalit. The present neo-classic church was constructed in 1876-1883 by Mariano Santos of Guagua under the direction of Fr. Antonio Redondo. This took the place of the church built in 1854-1860 but destroyed by a strong earthquake in 1863, and an even earlier church – the town’s first – constructed from 1641 to 1645.

    The two rectangular bell towers with pagoda roofs were completed under the guidance of Rev. Toribio Fanjul in 1896.

    On the ceiling are trompe l’oeil murals said to be done by an Italian free-lance painter named Cesare Alberoni or a pupil who is a native of Apalit. The cupola is painted with a folksy rendition of the Apocalypse.  At the center of the retablo is the seated ivory image of St. Peter said to have come from Spain.    

    SANTIAGO DE GALLICIA, Betis. Started in 1660 by Fr. Fernando Pinto and completed in 1770 by Fr. Jose de la Cruz, repaired continually throughout the 1800s, the unadorned exterior makes a total contradiction to its interiors that evoke immediate comparisons with the Sistine Chapel.

    Biblical events and figures in vibrant colors make the ceiling mural originally painted by Simon Flores (1839-1904) and the dome and walls done by local artists led by brothers Martin and Severino Gozum Pangilinan.

    The ornately carved main retablo with images of saints in their respective niches, 19th century sculpture, a baptistery straight out of the Renaissance – all contributing to the church’s declaration as a National Treasure by the National Museum and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

    The church has also wide wooden planks for its floor making it truly one of its kind.

    ST. AUGUSTINE, Lubao.  The oldest established parish in Pampanga. Initially built in 1572 in Barrio Sta. Catalina, the church was moved to its present site due to floodings. It was constructed in 1614-1630 by Augustinian priest and architect Fr. Antonio Herrera out of locally made bricks and sand mixed in egg albumin.

    The Philippine Revolution saw the church occupied by revolutionaries in 1898 and used as a hospital in 1899 by the American forces. In 1942 it was destroyed by Japanese shelling. Major rehabilitation was undertaken in 1949-1952 under the direction of Fr. Melencio Garcia, and periodic repair since.

    A focal point of interest is the retablo with a host of Augustinian saints. Enshrined in the church are relics of St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica. 

    STA. MONICA, Minalin.  Located on a burul (the town’s highest ground) where it was moved – hence minalis, corrupted to minalin – after floodings, the church completed in the mid- 1700’s has not been spared from invasive river silt.

    The peeled finishing has revealed the original red brick walls, giving the church up to its twin hexagonal bell towers its unique old-rose touches. The magnificence of its façade recurs in its retablo of Augustinian saints with an antique painting of La Consolation at the top.

    At the church patio are four capillas posas (small outdoor chapels) which distinguished the church “as the only church in the Philippines where such integral elements are to be found in their historic state.”

    Escudos – of elements attached to St. Augustine – adorn the outside walls where decorated columns and arches reflect influences of Asian culture.

    There are ancient mural paintings in the adjoining convent, one of which is a primitive-looking map with details of trees, ducks, crows, a boat, a hunter and a crocodile.

    The church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum in 2011 and holds the relics of St. Augustine and St. Monica.

    SAN GUILLERMO, Bacolor.  Constructed by Augustinian friars in 1576 in the town that, at the time of the British invasion of Manila, served as the capital of the Philippines (1762 to 1765). The church was restored by Fr. Manuel Diaz in 1897 with a central nave and well lighted transcept as main features. Baroque and rococo are the main influence in its retablos and pulpit heavily gilded with gold leaf.

    The lahar rampages in the wake of the Mount Pinatubo eruptions of 1991 half-buried the church.

    Churchgoers now enter through the choirloft windows, and are greeted inside by beautifully restored retablos dug up from several feet of lahar. The citizens of Bacolor take pride in their rich heritage which is why they painstakingly excavated the ornately carved wooden main and side altars which are now back to their pristine condition.

    SAN LUIS GONZAGA, San Luis. Generally believed to have been completed in the late 18th century, the church was only one of two in the whole Pampanga built by Filipino secular priests. It was restored in 1883 by Fr. Isidro Bernardo to what has remained to the present.

    Unique for its three-tower façade, arguably the only one of its kind in the Philippines, the church has a dark interior setting a sense of antiquity and mystery heightened by the strong scent of bat urine.

    The church site used to be called Cabagsac – for cabag (fruit bat) and bagsak (fall) – where bats roost. A fishnet is installed high above the altar precisely to catch thousands of bats that are roosting inside the church.

    THERE. Just a sampling of what is in store at the exhibit.

    Come see the magnificence of Pampanga’s legacy churches. Marvel at these expressions of the Kapampangan Faith.

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