Friday, May 19, 2017

TRAVEL | Appreciating the church and surrounding attractions of Boljoon, Cebu

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The full moon (well, almost) rising early over the Boljoon church.

It was Palm Sunday, in Roman Catholic tradition the start of the Holy Week. We missed the last mass and the church doors were already closed, but the plaza outside was still pulsating with life--kids playing, people strolling, a couple of others on either bicycles or motorcycles, and food vendors attending to customers. What a lovely scene, I thought.

Envious of photos Kwittiegirl had shown me before from her past trip to Boljoon, I've been meaning to visit this town in South Cebu for about three years now. Darkness was just around the corner, so we proceeded to at least go around the old church and save the interiors for another day.

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The facade of the Boljoon church complex.

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The church stands on a very spacious lot facing the sea.

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The convent, which also houses a museum, is directly connected to the church as part of a complex.

The Boljoon church complex
While commonly referred to as simply Boljoon Church, officially it is called Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church, dedicated to the town's patroness, Our Lady of Patrocinio.

Built under the supervision of the Augustinians, this 19th century structure was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute in 1999, and a National Cultural Treasure--the only church in Cebu--by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2001.

As with a lot of colonial-era churches in the Philippines, the Boljoon church is massive, with walls that are said to be 2 meters thick (like, wow!) made of mortar and lime. Also noteworthy are its terra cotta roof tiles, and I love how they all slope in an imperfect curve.

The church is adjoined by a building that houses a museum and the parish rectory, which altogether make up the church complex. There's a small courtyard that sits right in the middle of these ancient structures. I didn't have the chance to see it for myself because the church was already closed when we arrived but from Kwittiegirl's photo it looks simple yet lovely, with a lush mountain as backdrop.

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Behind that wall is the courtyard.

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One need not be religious to appreciate beauty in things like these sculptures of different saints.

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One of the side doors of the church.

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The church's rear. I don't understand architecture and civil engineering but I suppose this is a pillar for support, right?

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Kids playing after attending Mass.

Repairs and improvements
Much care is being given to this centuries-old structure. Apart from a series of restoration efforts in the past, I saw that part of the roof is being refitted with its characteristic terra cotta roof tiles, which still look old, by the way, save for a few new pieces. My guess is it's the galvanized iron sheets that they replaced after carefully removing the tiles, and now they're putting everything back piece by piece. There's also some scaffolding inside the church, indicating some sort of repair or repainting going on.

To the church's right is an old cemetery, believed to be the first Christian burial ground in Boljoon. It has also been given a recent facelift, with fancy garden pathways and sections of lawn. It's nice how they used shards of clay pots, or probably broken tiles, on the pathways to still afford that old-world look that's consistent with the church's. Give it a year or two and the clay will darken with age.

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Definitely new but still consistent with the church's old-world look.

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Capturing another Instagram-worthy shot.

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Old and beautiful.

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In storage: letters that make up "Ave Maria" used in May for a month-long tribute to the Virgin Mary called Flores de Mayo.

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Crime scene. 😱

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Roof maintenance works in progress. It sure takes a lot for the upkeep of this heritage structure.

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Was surprised to see a tennis court behind the church. But I love the contrast between modern and ancient here. I mean, just look at those walls.

Church interiors
We finally got to see the church interiors on our way back to Cebu City. I couldn't go near the altar out of respect, as there was a funeral mass ongoing. But stepping inside was enough to appreciate the beauty of this building.

All it up, the retablo (altar) looked majestic even from afar. In case you were wondering why the religious statues and images are all covered, it's a Catholic tradition among churches in the Philippines during Lent. The purple cloths are removed by Easter Sunday.

On the other hand, the paintings on the ceilings reminded me of another National Cultural Treasure, the San Isidro Labrador Church in Lazi, Siquijor. Curiously, both churches were built under the supervision of the Augustinians.

The adjacent convent houses a small museum of old religious relics and various 16th century artifacts excavated from the church's front lawn in 2008. The operation was undertaken by an archaeological team from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, who concluded that the place could possibly be an ancient burial site.

Kwittiegirl was able to snap some photos from her trip here in 2014. You can check out her photos of the Boljoon church and museum in this blog as well. Mind you, some of the archaeological finds are quite interesting. Ever heard of a penis ornament, for instance?

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The yellow light brings out the grandeur of the main altar.

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Such painstaking effort to paint that ceiling, I could imagine.

Other attractions
There's a slew of different attractions--mostly heritage--in Boljoon. Chalk it up to laziness but I only managed to see a few of them. Here's but a few located near the church.

El Gran Baluarte
Built by Fr. Julian Bermejo of the Augustinians in 1808, this two-storey blockhouse is the largest surviving Spanish watchtower in the Philippines. It was part of a defense system around the church against Moro raiders at the time. The church complex itself was also designed as a fortress, and it was this same priest who saw to its completion.

For a priest, Bermejo was quite the military man, having also designed several other fortresses, or baluartes, across several other towns in South Cebu, including Aloguinsan and Oslob. In the former, a park has since been built around the watchtower ruins and is now known as Aloguinsan's Baluarte Park.

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In front of El Gran Baluarte for some #ootd shots.

The watchtowers were estimated to number around 40 in all, and was an elaborate defense network that stretched as far north as Carcar, down to the southernmost tip of Cebu in Santander. As such, he's been hailed by Cebuanos as "El Parroco Capitan" or "El Padre Capitan."

Today Boljoon's El Gran Baluarte still stands tall and proud in the corner of the massive church plaza right along the highway, and serves as the church's bell tower. As it was also used as a prison, there are drawings on the ground floor wall by Moro captives and are still intact to this day. History can be cruel.

Escuela Catolica
Also located within the church grounds and right across El Gran Baluarte is the Escuela Catolica. Having been built only in 1940,  it is not a colonial-era structure. As the name "escuela" suggests, it was once a school for religious teachings, particularly as a dormitory for children receiving instructions on taking their first communion.

Today it looks fragile and I'm not sure if it's still used for meetings by religious organizations.

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The facade of the Escuela Catolica.

Ili Rock
From the photo below, taken from the church plaza as vantage point, Ili Rock hardly looks like a landmark anyone would be proud of. However, if one were to look at old photos, it was once a beautifully huge limestone rock with a healthy patch of green extending toward the sea.

Controversy ensued when the local government initiated the clearing and carving of the famed rock "for safety reasons," specifically to prevent rocks from falling during landslides. As the rock has been deemed "stable," clearing operations ceased. Now it looks like an ugly monster with an unflattering underbite.

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The beauty-turned-ugly monster that is Ily Rock.

But apparently the LGU has more plans for Ili Rock than mere "safety reasons." There's now a barren view deck at the top accessible by a 136-step flight of concrete stairs, a parking lot midway, and a rappelling facility. According to reports, they also intend to build a lighthouse and a shrine for the Virgin Mary.

Boljoon still has a lot more to offer like waterfalls, springs, and ancestral houses. Unfortunately time seems to be never on our side. But of course we can always go back.

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The church facade at dusk.


From the South Bus Terminal in Cebu City, take one of the buses bound for Oslob or Bato. If the latter, make sure that it's via Oslob, not via Barili because that's on the other side of the island. Just ask the bus driver or conductor to drop you off at Boljoon. It's a three-hour or so ride, and fare should be a little over Php100.

Alternatively you can arrange for a van to take you straight to Boljoon. It's gonna be much more expensive but convenient.

Once in Boljoon, you can get around town with a tricycle or habal-habal (motorcycle).

Where to stay? Try Jaynet Ocean View Resort.

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