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Cebu

Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church

To the people living in the settlement of Boljoon in the 19th century, this church of the Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio served a dual purpose: that of worship and, at the same time, refuge.

The settlement’s location along a wide bay made it a prime target for Moro raids in the early 17th up to the 19th century, and a particularly vicious attack in 1782 reduced the town to ashes, its houses and church burned, and a big number of the population taken captive.

In the absence of clear written records, it is probable the current Boljoon Church was rebuilt on the ruins of its burnt-down predecessor a year after that disastrous raid, Paul Gerschwiler wrote in his book “Bolhoon: A Cultural Sketch.”

It may be that Fr. Ambrosio Otero, the parish priest, used the remaining foundations and charred walls by having them cleaned and repaired and replaced the parts destroyed by the fire, he added.

What’s clear is this edifice of stone in Boljoon, the only church in Cebu honored with the distinctions of being a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute in 1999 as well as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum in 2001, was considered finished during the term of warrior priest Fr. Julian Bermejo in 1841, according to the Cebu Archdiocese book “Balaanong Bahandi.”

When Fr. Bermejo started supervising the parish in October 1802 and hearing stories about the vicious attacks, he saw the need for a proper defense against the Moros.

Fortress church

He directed the construction of a quadrangle fort complete with bulwarks that enclosed the important settlement structures and turned the church into a fortress where people could seek refuge during the Moro raids, said Ronald Villanueva, the town’s heritage and tourism officer.

Gerschwiler, in his book, cited that the church’s high walls were fashioned from thick coral stone slabs stacked on top of the other and glued together by local mortar, and reinforced with 26 massive buttresses.

In Fr. Bermejo’s time, daylight entered the church through rows of very high windows on the side walls. The semi-circular windows underneath were cut out much later.

Villanueva said this allowed the people of Boljoon to find refuge within the church where the Moros could not get to them.

He added that 90 percent of the edifice is originally of the 19th century construction, and it is the only one in the country with an almost intact enclosure.

Although the pipe organ doesn’t work anymore, it has been preserved and is displayed at the original choir loft.

Style elements

Although the church has been tagged as Baroque-Rococo, it is not really of a particular style but a blend of different influences – medieval, classic, baroque, Moorish, and other elements modified by local and Chinese motifs, explained Gerschwiler.

He contends that the rebuilt church was completed in 1829, after which Fr. Bermejo modified it by constructing a crucero (transept) that considerably enlarged the floor area.

The surface of the transept walls is noticeably finer than that of the side walls, and this difference can be seen as well in a comparison of the original buttresses and the cover stones of the side portals, he notes, adding this shows the 1783 reconstruction of the church had most likely involved the reuse of the previous church walls.

Gerschwiler said the facade of the Boljoon Church, rather austere when compared to the lavishly decorated San Miguel Arcangel Church in Argao, may seem to be a mystery since the structures are only a few kilometers apart and built at around the same time.

This, according to him, is proof that the walls were of the previous structure set ablaze during the Moro raid in the late 18th century.

He said the Boljoon Church is one of five built by the Augustinians with a unique facade pattern: “two horizontal levels topped by a pediment, divided vertically into three segments by pilasters, which results in a total of nice facade panels.”

Ornamentation

Carvings and artwork that can be found on the church facade include:

  • A niche in the center panel of the second level that carries the statue of the Patrocinio de Maria, patroness of Boljoon. This niche has a trefoil arch and is framed by decorative carvings.
  • The intricately carved pilasters flanking the niche decorated with floral and fruit motifs.
  • Other pilasters on the facade repeating the carvings of flowers and hanging fruits with the biblical snake at the bottom.
  • The Augustinian symbol carved on the topmost part of the pediment; Spanish coat-of-arms beneath the niche.
  • The bas reliefs on the side segments of the facade’s first level: at right is San Juan de Sagun with his left arm crossed over the chest and the right arm holding a chalice while on the left is San Nicolas de Tolentino with bread on his left hand and a palm on the right.

Interior

Entrance to the church is through a semi-circular portal with a massive wooden double door.

Gerschwiler said the main nave plus the transept measures 65 meters long, 12 meters wide, and 12 meters high. On the buttresses by the side walls are the 14 stations of the passion of Christ.

The centerpiece of the interior is the retablo in the main altar which is made up of nine niches. It has five niches on the first level, three on the second, and one on the third.

Flanked by symmetric columns crowned by Corinthian capitals, the niches used to hold nine wooden statues of different saints but all except three were looted and sold. The three left are the images of Santo Tomas Villanueva, San Agustin de Hippo, and San Nicolas de Tolentino, and these are now displayed at the Boljoon Parish Museum.

Painted ceilings were quite the rage in the 1920s, and in Boljoon the parish priest commissioned not the well-known artists but a local one by the name of Mariano Villareal.

A replica of the original image of Boljoon patroness Patrocinio de la Nuestra Señora or Patrocinio de la Santisima Virgen is displayed inside a glass case at a side annex of the church.

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Cebu

San Miguel Arcangel Parish

Like other similar Augustinian structures built in the late 18th century in the archipelago, this church of Argao is an edifice of impressive dimensions.

This structure set in stone – called the San Miguel Arcangel Church – is 72 meters long, 16 meters wide, and 10 meters high.

With its vaulted wooden ceiling that covers a simple nave and a transept that gives it a cruciform shape, it is typical of other Spanish colonial churches in the Philippines.

Paul Gerschwiler, in his historical outline of Argao, described the construction as massive, with its “12 strong supporting buttresses reinforcing the walls and enhancing stability.”

The completion of this present-day church can be traced back to 1788, said the book Balaanong Bahandi, citing Archdiocesan records.

Although another historian, Pedro Galende, attributed the current structure to Fr. Mateo Perez, who served as parish priest for 33 straight years from 1803 to 1806, the date “1738” engraved above the arch of the church’s side door indicates it may have been completed during Fr. Francisco Espina’s time from 1782 to 1798, the book added.

An undated photo of San Miguel Arcangel Parish Church. (From Ernesto Chua’s Collection)

Argao was one of eight vicarages established in 1599 and, while it became a town or mission pueblo as early as 1608, it was only set up as a parish over a hundred years later or in 1733, said the Balaanong Bahandi, adding the reason for this oversight was never adequately explained.

Distinguishing features

Originally, the San Miguel Arcangel Church had the typical Spanish clay tiles for its roof but this collapsed during the typhoon of November 25-26, 1876, wrote Gerschwiler, citing Argao native Msgr. Pablo Alcarez as saying the tiles were replaced with galvanized iron in 1924 due to fear of earthquakes.

The church facade is a horizontal rectangle topped by a triangular pediment and divided into nine panels, a style that can be found only in five of over 160 documented Augustinian churches and all of them built along the southeastern coast of Cebu, according to Gerschwiler.

What distinguishes the San Miguel Arcangel Church, he added, is the high artistic quality and symbolism of its masonry, although Augustinian records had failed to identify many of the master carver-artists behind the structure’s artistic ornamentation.

He noted that an example of such one-of-a-kind feature is the four pairs of half columns that run up to the pediment and divide the facade into three panels.

“On the first level the paired columns stand on rectangular pedestals. The two outer pedestals depict lions sitting on their hind legs, holding a ball in each of their paws; a very typical Chinese motif,” wrote Gerschwiler in his historical outline.

The two pedestals flanking the main door each depict a bird, with its head down and wings spread out protectively, nursing three of its young that cling to their mother’s breast, he added in his description.

Rich ornamentation

Rich and elaborate ornamentation can be seen in the way the double cornices that horizontally divide the facade create an entablature when it intersects with Corinthian capitals richly decorated with floral motifs; atlante-angel carvings carry the paired half-columns running up to the pediment; a stylized peacock sits atop an orb; sequence of carvings of angels, fruits of the ivy, and a little snake run down the columns.

“In a cascade of motifs, the artist carved his message…(he) thought this particular message to be so important and essential that he repeated it with slight variations on all half-columns of the first level, no less than eight times,” Gerschwiler said.

Four of the nine panels in the front face are particularly prominent, including the central panel of the pediment where St. Michael the Archangel, armed with spear and shield, and flanked by two angels – one carrying his standard as light bearer and the other holding the Tuba Christi of the Last Judgement – is depicted.

Its massive front and side doors made of vertically joined hardwood planks are integrated with smaller semicircular doors and decorated evenly with bronze rosettes embedded on the wood.

The church, according to the Balaanong Bahandi, has been the recipient of Baroque and semi-Rococo embellishments like its wooden pulpit and its pipe organ in the choir loft reportedly brought in from Mexico.

A wooden retablo of majestic proportions dominates the altar section but this has unfortunately been unnecessarily gilded, including even the centuries-old life-size estofado statues of saints enthroned in its niches, added the book.

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Cebu

Leon Kilat Monument

His life was shrouded in mystery, this native of Bacong, Negros Oriental for whom this shrine was built.

People who knew him or of him talked about how his handkerchief could transform into a magic carpet, allowing him to suddenly appear from out of nowhere and disappear just as fast.

Pantaleon Villegas, in fact, got his nom de guerre “Leon Kilat” (for being lightning fast) from this alleged ability to breach the constraints of regular transport during his time.

He was rumored to carry amulets that made him invincible to bullets, a power useful in his role as the leader of the revolutionary forces of the Katipunan fighting the Spaniards in Cebu.

Shelves of artifacts dedicated to his life and death displayed at the Museo Sugbo include his mythical possessions, things that gave him abilities beyond those possessed by the ordinary man.

MONUMENT. A photo of the Leon Kilat Monument dated 1980. (Used with permission from the USC Cebuano Studies Center)

Unquestionable bravery

Beyond the myth, one thing was fact: his bravery was unquestionable.

Journalist Emil Justimbaste wrote in his book “Leon Kilat: The Story of Cebu’s 1898 Revolution” that Villegas, born on July 27, 1873, was sent to Cebu to lead the local Katipunan and carried a letter of appointment signed by General Emilio Aguinaldo.

Thirty years after the revolution, one of the first few recruits of the Katipunan in Cebu – Andres Abellana – recalled seeing with his own eyes how Villegas would advance towards his opponents even as bullets whizzed by.

He was rarely hit or unhurt if the bullet does get to him, according to Abellana, a former capitan of the San Nicolas District of old Cebu.

Tres de Abril battle

Villegas, depicted in this monument as astride a horse, staged what is said to be the most successful revolt against the Spaniards in Cebu on April 3, 1898.

Tres de Abril has been immortalized in the Cebu City street named after that triumphant battle.

Villegas initiated more attacks when Spanish forces started arresting local rebels but suffered setbacks a few days after the Tres de Abril incident.

Villegas and other revolutionaries arrived in Carcar on the 7th to make their last stand in the town.

Leon Kilat death

He was feted by the most powerful set of the town principalia but for the purpose of persuading him to move his resistance elsewhere.

Kilat refused, setting in motion plans that would lead to his death just a few hours from that night of the celebration.

He was assassinated in Carcar by the same people who wined and dined him, people who either feared Spanish reprisal if they did not themselves stop Kilat or simply sided with Spain or both.

Justimbaste’s book cited it was Fr. Francisco Blanco who suggested to kapitan Florencio Noel that Carcar could avoid retaliation from the Spaniards by killing Villegas. Blanco was then teaching Latin at the Colegio-Seminario de San Carlos.

Revolutionary government

Carcar was mostly a peaceful town free from the spirit of the revolution that plagued many provinces in Luzon as well as some places in the Visayas including Cebu.

Leon Kilat’s assassination on April 8, 1898 changed all this. Within a year after his ignominious death, Carcar joined the uprising and a Municipal Government under the revolutionary leadership of Don Florencio M. Noel was established.

He assumed the leadership of the new revolutionary government on January 15, 1899 through an election held among local leaders. It was short-lived though as American occupation forces had taken control of Carcar by July 2, 1899.

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Cebu

St. Catherine of Alexandria Church

One of the very first things people notice about the Santa Catalina de Alejandria Parish Church is the life-size statues of the 13 apostles perched on the columns of the structure’s fenced patio.

Another is of a similar sculpture of the fourteenth apostle, the betrayer Judas Iscariot, standing apart on a pillar near the rectory.

Construction of the present-day Carcar Church started in 1860 under the supervision of then parish priest Fr. Antonio Manglano, according to Balaanong Bahandi, a book on the heritage churches of the Cebu Archdiocese.

It was only in 1875, though, that the structure was completed under Fr. Manuel Fernandez Rubio, who was also credited with building the church rectory of stone and wood, the book said.

A relief of a different church, this one with a single belfry, carved on the door of the sacristy and a bell dated 1810 suggest another stone structure had stood on the site of the current one in the early 19th century, said the Balaanong Bahandi.

This undated archival photo shows a funeral cortege leaving the St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Carcar. (Photo provided by Carcar City Government)

Fr. Felipe Redondo, in his book Breve Reseña published in 1886, described the present-day church as made of mamposteria or cut stone, with three naves and roofed with tiles, and two bell towers incorporated in the facade.

The Carcar Church has a rectangular floor plan with a main nave and two side aisles. Its facade is divided into segments by cornices, and the pediment flanked by the topmost part of two bell towers.

A cross decorates the apex of the pediment and the two belfries.

Although some writers have described the Carcar Church bell towers as being capped by onion-shaped domes, their base is square instead of circular and the arch flat instead of full like those of the Roman Orthodox churches.

Balaanong Bahandi said the church’s architecture bears Graeco-Roman influences.

A massive recessed arch that occupies almost two-thirds of the facade’s height frames the main doors.

St. Catherine’s Church is well-preserved. Its retablo has been restored to bring back the original look of the old church.

The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Parish was originally established as the convent of the La Visitacion de la Nuestra Señora on June 21, 1599, wrote another church historian, Fr. Pedro Galende, in his book Philippine Church Facades. This was in the coastal village of Sialo or Siaro, known today as Inayagan in Barangay Villadolid.

Frequent Moro raids prompted the transfer of the settlement to what is now the city center, known then as Mowag or Kabkad after the name of a fern which used to grow abundantly in the area, he said.

Patron Saint: St. Catherine of Alexandria
Feast Day: November 25

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Cebu

Archdiocesan Museum of Cebu

If walls could speak, the story of the growth of Catholic faith in Cebu would be told in the Archdiocesan Museum of Cebu. The museum was opened in 2006 to serve as an instrument for Christian evangelization through its exhibits and events. Built in the mid-1800s, the structure is a fine example of an arquitectura mestiza made of coral stone blocks, timber and clay roof tiles. This is the only ecclesiastical museum in the country that is completely housed in a Spanish-era rectory restored for use as a museum. It was formerly used as a convent for priests of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral until the 1980s.

Every year, hundreds of visitors, including foreign tourists, come to view its collection of artifacts to learn about the religious heritage of Cebu. Students and history buffs can also join guided tours or attend lectures on special topics.

The museum houses seven galleries, an archive room, a museum shop and a lecture/audio-visual room. The exhibits include a collection of “santos” and sacred images from different parishes of Cebu, liturgical vestments, sacred vessels, ecclesiastical records, cantorals, retablos, to name a few, no longer in regular use.

The place is also a venue for book launches and art exhibits. Stage plays, musical performances and cultural and religious events are hosted in a garden courtyard. Upstairs one can find most of the exhibits, including a sample of a priest’s room and memorabilia of the well-loved Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. The museum was his brainchild.

A striking impression is made upon entering the Msgr. Virgilio Yap Memorial Chapel on the first floor. Its main feature is a silver–plated tabernacle with front panels and antique altar pieces from Carmen town in north Cebu. In the same room, pilgrims are able to venerate first-class Relics of Saints that form part of the wide collection of the late Julio Cardinal Rosales, the first cardinal of Cebu.

The museum is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. The museum offers a rich experience for students, families, and other Catholic faithful who want to know more about the mission and life of the church from the Spanish era till today. The museum is owned by the Archdiocese of Cebu and managed by the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.

It was inaugurated on Nov. 26, 2006 as the “Cathedral Museum of Cebu”. In 2015 it was renamed the “Archdiocesan Museum of Cebu” and organized as a non-stock, non-profit foundation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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Cebu

Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

Before you now stands a strong and regal church, with its squat form and thick walls and trefoil-shaped pediment decorated with carvings of phoenixes, leaves and flowers, clamshell medallion, and images of two saints.

The Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, as it is called, is a fitting ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu.

Undated archival photo of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. (Photo from the University of San Carlos Cebuano Studies Center)
Undated archival photo of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. (Photo from the University of San Carlos Cebuano Studies Center)

It didn’t always look this way, though.

For years, it was in various states of disrepair, historian Resil B. Mojares wrote in his book “Casa Gorordo in Cebu, Urban Residence in a Philippine Province.”

The church, dedicated to early Christian martyr St. Vitalis,was established as the seat of the Bishop when Cebu became one of the suffragan dioceses of or dioceses overseen by the Archdiocese of Manila on August 14, 1595 and, like others built during the period, started out as a structure of wood and nipa, according to the “Balaanong Bahandi, a book on the Sacred Treasures of the Archdiocese of Cebu.”

Church in ruins

In 1665, when Fray Juan Lopez took over, and up to 1741, there was still no decent church, only a tabique barn covered with palm leaves, said Mojares, adding that one was substantially finished in 1786 but by 1829 it was in ruins.

A renovation in 1865 was not completed and plans to build another by Bishop Martin Garcia Alcocer, Cebu’s last Spanish bishop, were overtaken by the 1898 revolution.

According to the Balaanong Bahandi, a stone church was successfully completed during the latter part of first Cebuano Bishop Juan Bautista Gorordo’s term from 1862 to 1934.

This structure was renovated by Gorordo’s successor, Archbishop Gabriel Reyes, and consecrated in 1940 but it was destroyed by American bombings during World War II and all that remained of it was the facade.

It was not clear what year he saw the Cathedral but Felipe Redondo, in a book published in 1886, described the church as having thick and strong walls made of mamposteria (rubblework) of three yards in thickness with a cross vault measuring 75.91 meters.

He said the roofing was made of clay tiles and there was a spacious sacristy where paintings of the Bishops of the Diocese were kept, a wide ante-sacristy with a room on the upper portion for religious vessels, and a 28 meters-high, three-level belfry made of mamposteria and decorated with a clock.

New Cathedral

When Cebu Archbishop emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal was appointed parish priest of the Cathedral in 1981, it was already the current structure minus the two side extensions.

“When I came, the structure was narrow. It was just the middle part of the current church and could only accommodate 200,” he explained.

The cardinal recalled asking the National Historical Commission in 1990 for permission to expand the church and being told he could go to prison if he would touch any part of the structure.

Cardinal Vidal said they were preparing to celebrate Cebu’s 400th anniversary as a diocese in 1995 and he didn’t have any choice but to renovate the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.

“On its side near the belfry, the structure had a little side extension for baptistry services. There was nothing on the other side. It had no symmetry,” he explained, adding he had the architecture of the original structure followed in the construction of the sides.

Growing needs

Aside from the new exterior paint, other changes he introduced include the construction of another level as a meeting place of the clergy, addition of a pipe organ from Holland costing only P3 million, and improvement of the plaza in front of the church.

“After finishing the renovation, nobody could tell me that I didn’t do anything here to meet the growing needs of the diocese,” Cardinal Vidal pointed out.

The Cathedral, under the leadership of newly appointed parish priest Msgr. Roberto Alesna, underwent another renovation in 2009 in preparation for the opening salvo marking the Diamond Jubilee of Cebu as an Archdiocese.

Improvement involved the redevelopment of the perimeter sidewalk of the plaza, restoration of 19th century fence, creation of new courtyard, and putting in of a 21-bell digital carillon that incorporated three old ones. A big clock was installed at the belfry.

Changes to the main church structure included the installation of a new wooden retablo made of Philippine mahogany and a fresh coat of interior paint to match it and two other wooden retablos flanking the main one, replacement of new chandeliers and lamps, new wooden canopy above the cathedra or the seat of the Archbishop, refurnishing of pews, repair of pipe organ, putting in of three air-conditioned confessional boxes and new stained glass windows, upgrading and rewiring of electrical lines, and all-steel retrofitting of wooden trusses infested with termites.