Sunday, March 10, 2013

San Guillermo Church of Bacolor: The Phoenix of Pampanga

After travelling for about 8 hours from Gumaca, I finally got a glimpse of what I only see in photos and the TV show May Bukas Pa. Peeking from the trees in a middle of a vast lahar field is the belltower of San Guillermo Church.

church bacolor
The half-buried Church of Bacolor

The church might looks small, or short, considering that it's a Spanish Colonial era edifice. The reason why? Half of it is already buried under lahar.

Detail of a bas relief on the facade, half buried as well

First built in 1576 (that's 437 years ago!), the church made up of light materials was destroyed in an earthquake, which is quite common during those era. Thinking of making a more permanent and earth-movement proof house of worship, it was rebuilt in 1886. Made up of cut stones and bricks, Bacolor townspeople painstakingly created a masterpiece built to withstand any force of nature. 

Retablo restored. A church adminstrator closing the gate towards my eye candy!

However, after 109 years of dominating Bacolor's landscape, it gave in to Apo Namalyari's fury. Mount Pinatubo's mud, ash, and pyroclastic materials buried around half of the church's height. 12 meters, as it was published. All of it's jewels; pews, santo's and antique poon's, all gone.

A clerestory window, supposed to be high and above eye level, now serves as ventanilla

But just like a saying goes, 'what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger', the Kapampangans of Bacolor got back on their feet, excavated the relics buried, and restored those into it's original condition. Rising from the deadly ashes, like a phoenix, they resurrected.

The original retablo, unable to fit in the altar, is now housed under the dome to accommodate it's height. Based on how it looks now, you wouldn't even think that it was once buried in mud and ash!

The main retablo placed under to dome to accomodate it's height

Unfortunately, a church administrator already closed the main altar grills, so I only got a chance to peek at the equally beautiful side retablo. It is richly carved and decorated, I'm tempted to cross the fence and take more pictures! But a good boy that I am, I restrained myself.

Side retablo, as beautiful as the main

To give the nave more vertical space, ceiling was made bare, showing the original trusses of the church. Dormer windows are added to let light in and for good ventilation as well.

Ceiling exposing the old goods: brick, wood, and antique chandeliers

Curious as I was, I tried going to the church's belfry entrance since it was open (though I'n not sure if visitors are allowed), and saw the original church bells and marvelous wood and stone works in the tower's frame.

Wooden stairs and floors of the belltower

At the tower's opposite side is a museum. I think it was the convento before, basing on it's architecture and attachment to the church. Other relics and old santo and photos pre-volcanic eruption are on display here.

The museum, a lahar survivor

Disappointingly, this is the only church in Pampanga that our trip went to. And it whet my appetite, congratulations, which made my hunger for more Kapampangan heritage intensified. Quoting Gen. McArthur; Pampanga, I shall return!

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