Friday, February 20, 2015

What Was Baclayon Church Like Before the Evil Storm Surge

By Mona Sabalones Gonzalez

We visited Baclayon Church just a few months before the earthquake and then the storm surge came and swept and broke a number of its pillars. This is the church that has one pillar that shows the face of Padre Pio. That pillar is still standing.

 Baclayon is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines and, until the two natural tragedies -- was also one of the best preserved.

It was built by the Jesuits but by the 19th century, a modern facade was added so you are confused as to where the original church begins and the new additional facade picks up.

Under the Spaniards, churches had to be tall, strong and sturdy structures because when there were typhoons or storms the people would run to these churches for cover.

Baclayon was the first seat of the Spanish missionaries in Bohol. They were Jesuits and they came in 1595. However, attacks from Muslims forced them to move inland to Loboc.

Initially the church was still a pretty basic structure, nothing fancy. By 1717, Baclayon was a new parish and serious construction began.  Filipino forced labor, some 200 of them,  grabbed coral stones from the sea which they would square and block and pile one atop the other.

Some one million egg whites were used to cement the stones together. When the church was complete in 1727, it had a dungeon (to punish errant Filipinos), and an old convent which today houses a museum or church relics, some dating to the 1600s. Of special interest (to me, at least) are books that had carabao skin covers, and Latin librettos covered with sheep skins.

I was amused to see this historic building also had its own reflexo-foot therapy. With limited transportation in those days you wondered if similar foot therapy existed and was often practiced.

On the ceiling and to the left you can see samples of cuadro paintings that date back to 1859. They were the works of Liberato Gatchalian.

Baclayon Church is called La Purisima Concepcion de la Virgen Maria Parish, or the Immaculate Conception church.  The National Museum of the Philippines declared the church a National Cultural Treasure. It was also named a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. It was formerly among the tentative list of Philippine UNESCO World Heritage sites. However, it was severely destroyed by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in 2013, which was quickly followed by the storm surge.

I couldn't understand why it had so many towers and support pillars, but two of them are belfries. Many of the side towers were destroyed by the earthquake just a few months after our visit. We were fortunate to see it in its original beauty.

One of the support pillars has a "miraculous" image of Padre Pio on it. It just suddenly appeared, and people were very touched by that. This pillar was not affected by the storm.


The Baclayon Pipe Organ, built in 1824, is the third oldest in the Philippines. Over time it deteriorated to a splash of pipes on the floor, the food of termites. However, its bellows remained intact, and the organ was modified in 1902.

More indoor action.


 What I especially liked were these rounded arches, strong pillars and old walls.


And, I was surprised by the fact that they tied bottles to the trees. I asked why, and they said that it helps to make the fruit come out faster. I tried googling trees tied to bottles. Apparently, this reason is a first.

I did find a Blue bottle tree tradition that is meant to keep evil spirits away. I'm not worried about evil spirits, but the tree looks kinda cool.


 I fell in love with this tiny cottage and its magical old doors.

How to get there: Baclayon is 6 km. east of Tagbilaran. You can travel by bus,  jeepney  or tricycle. Tell the driver you want to go to Baclayon church and ask him to remind you when you're there. But keep an eye out for it yourself, too. Best to depend on yourself, but two brains also give you double the chance of success for the simple reason that two minds are at work.