Saturday, July 30, 2011

buried but not lost in memory

San Guillermo, Bacolor Pampanga

i find it embarrassing, really.

everyone i asked couldn't give me the answer when i asked if they knew the name of Mama Mary's mother. and if you're one of them, i bet you just popped another browser tab open to try and research the information in google.


I wouldn't have known if I didn't get the chance to visit barili in cebu and chanced upon a church dedicated to her. It is doubly embarrassing that as a catholic i don't know that piece of information.

The locals excavated the original retablo and mounted it closer to the dome of the original church

which leads me to a thought of how we name churches and the saints that magically bestow its protection over the town that carries their name as a patron. i guess, naming every church after Jesus or Mary would be a bit confusing.

in a recent trip to pampanga, i asked my hosts to bring me to bacolor to get the chance to visit the remains of the church that got buried in lahar (mud flow) in 1995 after the 1991 pinatubo volcano eruption.

notice the gold leaf gilding used to decorate the side retablo

the church is already famous before the tragedy partly due to its architecture that borrows heavily from rococo and baroque designs. More so, the gold leaf gildings of the main and side retablos as well as the pulpit that features statues hundreds of years old spoke of a grand and opulent history that rightfully acknowledged the fact that bacolor in pampanga used to be the capital of the Philippines.

part of the wing that was converted into a museum, note the windows that are close to the ground.

a painting of the original church. notice the smaller window on top of the original entrance
that now acts as the main entrance. 

a miniature of the current church structure / grounds.

the current structure hark to the old days although half of its 12 meter height is submerged under the earth. parts of the complex include a museum that houses some of the old statues and relics salvaged from the lahar. more importantly, the main structure is still used as a place of worship although one finds it interestingly odd that you have to use the windows as the main entrance to the church.

Jesus Christ, part of the Museum

following up on my initial thought about "naming" churches, it was a perfunctory fact for me that the parish is named after San Guillermo. doing a bit of research, i found little reference to the saint and his history except for the fact that the church lot was donated by a certain Don Guillermo Manabat to the Agustinians in 1576 which probably accounts for the name of the parish church.

a life sized statue of Jesus, notice the pampangan practice of wrapping the head of the dead with a piece of cloth that starts from the top and runs underneath the jaw



what is interesting with names is that it lends a certain "character" and perhaps has a certain mystical influence over a person, or in this case, the church itself.

Guillermo is actually Spanish for William, and whereas there is a dearth of information related to San Guillermo over the net, St. William brings up a lot of reference and that's where things fall into place.


St. William also called St. William the Great and St. William the Hermit didn't actually live a very "saintly" life. Before he was declared a saint in 1202 by Pope Innocent the Third, he lived a hedonistic existence as a French youth before he was advised to go on a great pilgrimage after his conversion to Christ. Upon his return he lived in Tuscany Italy as a hermit but moved to Malavalle where he eventually died living a life of solitude, penance, fasting and silence. A big turn around from his previous life.

notice the bats that hang on the wall

The story doesn't end at this point as his followers eventually formed the Williamites that got incorporated as part of the Agustinian Grand Union in 1256. Eventually, the Williamites spun off again but the Agustinians has continued to include St. William as part of their pantheon of saints.

With this history, it then makes sense that the Agustinians used San Guillermo as an appropriate name for the church that was donated by a man who shared the same first name as the saint.

the bare interiors of the church with exposed beams. notice the windows set on the ground towards the right side of the picture. these used to be the arches of windows that rose four meters from the ground.



The list of curious similarities and incidents doesn't end at this point. Like St. William who led a grand life before his humbling experience as a hermit, San Guillermo in Bacolor represented everything that was grand in the Philippines as a former capital. The pinatubo incident can be likened to the pilgrimage that stripped William of his pride and laid bare his soul in the incarnation of the current church that shows a very simple structure with exposed beams and bare wooden pews.


it is in this bare simplicity that more people feel a deeper connection with the church that has a very solemn and quiet feel to it. despite being touched with tragedy, the spirit remains strong in its solitude. just like a hermit.



and if you still don't know the name of Mama Mary's mom, it is St. Anne. I leave it up to you to find out the name of her dad!

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