Thursday, March 22, 2007

More Bohol Trip, The Baclayon Church

I love the centuries-old cathedrals here and the two that I visited in Bohol are both worth the time to stop in and check them out. The first was at Baclayon and the other in Loboc.

As much as I scorn the Spanish of 109 years ago (and before) for their despicable acts during their lengthy colonial period, I still enjoy the moldy permanence of their architecture. If not for the ancient bricks and stones all mortared together into the myriad churches that dot this country there would be almost no Filipino architecture here older than 70 or 80 years. Mind you, all these wonderful old structures were put up using local laborers and craftsman. Until just after WWII indigenous buildings were almost all made of wood and have not lasted the years well, if at all. Termites and the tropical climate make relatively short work of wooden structures, even those built of Filipino hard woods.

Our guide took us to the Baclayon Church after our stop at the Sandugo Diorama. I won’t go into the specifics of the place; you can get that at other sites like this one: Baclayon Church But I will give my impressions, and I must say I enjoyed visiting this one as much as any other I’ve seen, perhaps more because of the cool museum in the adjacent convent, now vacant of nuns. There is a small fee to enter the museum, but don’t let that deter you, it’s worth every peso.

Most of the old churches of the Philippines have been in continuous use for more than 200 years, and in the case of the present Baclayon structure, it’s been there for 300 years. If you are a Catholic you’ll especially like checking out all the years of church paraphernalia. Ancient d├ęcor, manuscripts and books, furniture, statues, and vestal garments instead of moldering away in some closet or rectory are on display there in the museum. I’ve only visited one other church museum that is better stocked with exhibits and that's the massive one that is part of The St. Augustine Cathedral sitting these past 400+ years inside the walls of the Intramuros of Manila.

The church’s museum has a typical little gift shop with the predictable t-shirts and rosary beads. And also typically, they didn’t have the one item I’m always interested in. I gave the counter girl a bit of a hard time trying to get her to convince her bosses that many tourists love to buy well-written pamphlets and even books that contain photos, facts and historical details. I quizzed her, asking if it was true that others like me had asked for the same thing. As cheap as it is to produce them locally (believe me, I know) and with all the creative talent in this country, it still astounds me that usually no one tries to fill this market niche. In fact, every town and village should produce their own booklet, listing the local history complete with photos and places of interest. I’m telling you, discerning tourists will buy them for their coffee table and travel collection.

One other thing caught my eye in the gift shop—a bit of historical detail that I found hugely fascinating. It was a list of all the senior pastors going back to the early 1700s to include the timeframe they served in that position. Continuity thy name is Catholicism! The list is uninterrupted going back almost 300 years—remarkable! What struck me about the list though, is the obvious reminder of Spanish self-importance and condescension. Every single priest was Spanish right up until 1898, the year we finally booted them out. All those years and the Europeans felt that only Europeans were fit to run that little parish. Thinking about it makes me seethe, but I suppose it was the way of the times to think so little of the locals, in this case the priestly talent. I really need to get over that aspect of this place, especially since Filipinos sure don’t seem to be hung up over it like I am.

Next, our driver and guide continued to take us up the coast toward the turn off going to the Chocolate Hills located in the center of the island. We made one tourist stop at a bolo making shop. The fellow in there doing all the work was both carpenter and blacksmith. He seemed like a humble hardworking guy and I bought one of his wooden-sheathed creations for 300 pesos, telling him to keep the change from a 500. I wasn’t trying to show off; I just like to reward industriousness. I encourage you to also stop in and watch him at work; its well-worth five or ten minutes and he hand makes a pretty good product that makes a great souvenir, and heck, you can use it too.

Our next stop—Loboc.

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