Sunday, July 24, 2011

Finding My Way to Apung Tiago

At the start of this particular millennium, I read for the first time about Santiago de Campostela in a book by Paolo Coelho who wrote about his pilgrimage in Northern Spain. I didn’t expect that I’d be reconnected with the same history in a town much closer to home in Betis, Guagua, Pampanga.

take note of the wooden floors, low view of the main altar from the entrance

betis church, exterior

The curiously grand baroque church of Betis is dedicated to the town patron Apung Tiago, otherwise known as St. James the Great.

The name Santiago is an abbreviation of the original Latin “Sanctus” and standard Hebrew “Ya-agov” or “Ya-aqo” that means “lacobus” in latin. “Lacobus” means “lago” or “Jaime” in Spain and translates to “James” in English.

the baptismal area

wide view of the altar

Santiago de Campostela is famous in Gallica, Spain as a pilgrimage route that leads to the shrine where legend says the dead body of Santiago was brought by angels in an unattended boat from Judea. Today, the pilgrimage and the shrine hold a “celebrated place in Christian history” as one of the major main pilgrimage routes that includes Rome and Jerusalem. The grand cathedral of Santiago de Campostela is the destination of such a pilgrimage and is often called the Way of St. James. If it makes for better reading, taking the Way of St. James guarantees “plenary indulgence” in the Catholic faith.

main altar, taken from the side



wooden carved details of the altar in the baptismal chamber

random saints and figures in the rectory

It isn’t much of a pilgrimage but I had to travel from Central Visayas in Cebu to Central Luzon in Pampanga to visit the church of Apung Tiago in Betis. It may not have the imposing structure of the original cathedral, but it is inspiring nonetheless with its murals and paintings that adorn the ceiling and walls of the church. Perhaps my own “pilgrimage” will help stave off a couple of pounds from the “gustatory indulgence” that I have been willingly subjected by Red and Voltz, my hosts in Pampanga.


the grand altar

the pulpit where the priest does the sermon

Its history is ancient by Philippine standards as it had its roots in the 1660s when construction started until it was rebuilt in the 1770s and the interiors beautified in 1939 by Padre Santiago Blanco, which is fascinating in the fact that he was named after Apung Tiago and is the last Spanish priest that took care of the parish of Betis.

paintings of the dome on top of the altar

painting on the ceiling, left wing of the church facing the altar


Through the years, restoration was done and culminated in the 1970s when the paintings were restored by Victor Ramos, an apprentice of Macario Ligon who did work in Betis together with Simon Flores, Maximo Vicente and brothers, Martin and Severino Gozum Pangilinan and other artists both local and international that helped in painting the interiors of the church in a grand style reminiscent of the works of the great Italian Renaissance artists such as Michaelangelo, Giotto and Masaccio.

a sample of the painting details on one of the four posts that support the intersection of the vertical and horizontal parts of the church.

It is not surprising then that the church has been called the “Sistine Chapel” of the Philippines and has been conferred the title of National Treasure by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

painting at the center of the main body of the church

the amazing details of the doors that lead to the church

More than just a pale comparison and copy of the grand cathedral and its obvious inspiration from the Renaissance, the church in Betis holds its own with grand woodwork that makes Betis famous throughout the Philippines as the home of the “mandukit”, artists that reshape hardwood into their vision of reality. More interesting is the fact that Betis is the only Spanish colonial church that still retains part of its wooden floors.

Unfortunately, my research ends with a question as to why the town and church were dedicated to Apung Tiago. I don’t claim to be a learned historian but that should be fascinating to learn.

a painting of St. James, Moor Destroyer another aspect of Apung Tiago

By the way, St. James is also sometimes depicted as St. James the Moor slayer which explains a curious painting I found in the rectory showing a man astride a horse striking down dark colored men with his sword. Rather violent, but something that is different story altogether.

If at any point you find yourself in Pampanga, let the whisper of St. James guide you to his sanctuary and maybe, just maybe, the beauty of the church will speak to you of the beauty of God’s love for us all.

6 comments:

AJ said...

The artworks are eye-popping! I've heard of this church before but didn't know it's this fabulous. :)

Cacho said...

nako aj, what are you waiting for? ang lapit lang kaya nyan sa manila! punta naaaaa! :) thanks for the comment - i share mo naman sa blog friends mo :P

Diane Veloso Blanco said...

really awesome photos of a really awesome place. i know this may sound off but they don't look like they were taken in the phils. haha! they did a good job restoring the place, huh?

Cacho said...

@diane - what's funny is that even the ones who lived in pampanga and are outside the country can't believe that they had this right in their own province. they did a great job restoring the paintings though, i think they're funded by UNESCO and a couple of agencies :)

Anonymous said...

Sir, im enjoying reading your travel blog, i also have some stories to tell (urban legends) about the churches in pampanga. I hope you will also be interested in knowing these stories :) thank you!

Anonymous said...

If you are interested, pls let me know, i also want to help in preserving the culture

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