Jan 03 2012

Oldest Church in Bohol

Published by at 3:00 am under Arts & Culture,Out of Cebu

This is the third post of a series of articles about the great and beautiful churches of Bohol. Its old parishes were established by the Jesuits and taken over by the Augustinian-Recollects when the Society was suppressed in the mid-18th century. Although it is now a separate island province southeast of Cebu, it practically shares the same language, culture and values as the Cebuanos.

Baclayon church from the harbor.

The house were we stayed was just a few walks to the church of Inmaculada Concepcion. From a distance, one can surmise that this church was built as a fortress. The massive bell tower sits right beside the church, a bit to the front, and seems to have doubled as a watch tower. Of very heavy construction, the church itself is massive, built with stone walls that are more than a meter thick. Attached from its back is a palatial L-shaped rectory, a part of which is now a museum.

The church is regarded as the oldest stone church in Bohol. Facing the Mindanao Sea, it was built in 1727 by the Jesuits and the belfry in 1777. When the Jesuits were suppressed and eventually expelled from all Spanish domains including the Philippines, the Augustinian-Recollects took over and built another facade in front of the original as in the case of other Jesuit-run parishes in Bohol. The entire church complex was then fortified with a stone wall that rose to a height that was as tall as a two-storey house although it no longer stands and only a remaining part of it can be seen at the back of the rectory.

A play of light fantasizes visitors to Baclayon church, the oldest in Bohol.

Entering the cavernous interior, one is immediately drawn to the sanctuary where three large wooden baroque-rococo retablos dominate the scene. Intricately carved in wood are various curves and lines that make up a motif that one can describe as simply breathtaking. The ceiling is bereft of frescoes although it is certain that it used to have been decorated with such in the past. A finely-carved wooden pulpit is attached to the Epistle side of the interior wall.

At the choir loft is a pipe organ that has been remarkably restored to its full glory. Amazingly it is used during masses all throughout the week unlike the pipe organs in Cebu that are used only on special occasions.

A few kilometres from Baclayon is the town of Alburquerque where the church of Santa Monica can be found. The church is also somewhat large although the interior is currently being restored and nothing can be seen except scaffoldings here and there. What makes this church unique is a stone bridge that connects it to the porticoed rectory beside it. The middle part of the church facade is a slender towering belfry that looks like a minaret minus the crescent moon.

Personifications of Faith, Hope and Charity top the pediment of Loay church.

A Roman Edifice

Heading east along the coast, we proceeded to the church of the Santísima Trinidad in Loay. The contemporary porticoed facade of the church is very Roman, a design quite common to churches in Rome. Its pediment is topped with statues of the personifications of faith, hope, and charity. Beneath this facade is an older facade. Etched above the main entrance of the church is the year 1822. The belfry stands separate in order to spare damage to the main body of the church if – God forbid – it will collapse during a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

Loay boasts of ceiling frescoes that are still intact, a wooden pulpit attached to the Epistle side of the interior wall, and altar retablos. The choir loft also has a pipe organ that has been restored and is currently being used everytime there’s a religious service. Quite large, the pipe organ has similarities in form with the pipe organ in Loon. The side-altar retablos however do not look a bit attractive because the curve of the decorative scrolls seems to be primitive in form but nevertheless still charming. Outside the church, just within the plaza, are several other Spanish-era buildings some of which are still being used.

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