Speak of Cebu and images of the Sto. Niño , the province’s patron, come to mind. And so does the valiant Lapu-Lapu, sweet mangoes, the famous lechon, guitars and beaches. But it is more than that. Cebu is a special and beautiful place. It is also my home.
This is the 9th installment of my Semana Santa series where I feature rituals and traditions observed in certain places during this most solemn week in the Catholic calendar. Click on the image at the right to check the rest of the articles.
Cebu is one of the provinces blessed with beautiful Spanish colonial era churches in the country. Most of these structures were built by the Augustinians as the island was under the Order’s care but those built by the seculars, though few, are notable too. This post lists seven of the most noteworthy that I have seen.
1 Dumanjug Church
What a structure! That was my reaction the first time I saw this architectural gem that loomed infront of me as the sun was setting behind it. It’s massive. The beautiful details on its façade dazzled my eyes as the relieves just flow from one part to another. I was just delighted and transfixed savoring the ecstasy that I felt gazing at it.
What’s more intriguing was that this edifice was built by the seculars, a not so known and oft forgotten detail. The intricacy of the carvings has it’s parallel in Daan Bantayan but bigger in scope and one of the most beautiful churches in southwestern Cebu.
2 Bantayan Church
I was never prepared to handle this lovely structure when I first set my eyes on it. Stunned with disbelief and awe, I stood speechless across it. Eyes wide and with a smile across my face, taking my breath away even if the out-of-place belfry stood by it’s side, a big contrast.
Once inside, my jaw dropped, amazed. I’ve never expected such devotion to details as the walls of the nave are carved with various relieves. It is stunning! I have never seen any comparable church in the province with such embellishments. I didn’t imagine that this northern municipality, an island off San Remegio, has this wonderful secret.
Exploring it’s different parts from the choirloft to the pillars to the wooden kumbento, was just too much to handle. There are just so many interesting details and surprises in this secular built edifice. What’s more, two holy water fonts have antique Chinese and Japanese porcelain embedded inside.
Located atop a hill overlooking the town, Carcar Church’s imposing structure is just awe inspiring. On a beautiful sunny day, it casts a wonderful glow as the morning sun strikes the whitewashed façade. The twin belfries capped with muslim inspired domes, minarets, if you may, is one of it’s notable feature. Its neoclassic lines provide a good contrast to the baroque pediment as well as details at the iwan-like central part that frames the main portal.
Inside the three naved church, be prepared to be tantalized as magnificent woodwork in the form of a coffered ceiling below the choirloft and above the lateral naves as well as the presbytery makes a lasting impression. Surely, I have never found such a beautiful ceiling in this country than in Carcar.
One of the churches in the southeast of the province, it completes a chain of old religious edifices founded and built by the Augustinians. Carcar not only hosts this beautiful church, it is one of a few heritage towns in the country.
4 Minor Basilica of Sto. Niño de Cebu
This basilica, a shrine to Cebu’s beloved Child, God and King, is perhaps the busiest of all churches in the province. It is also an architectural gem steeped in history and religious significance.
As early as dawn, devotees already pass by it’s hallowed grounds to pay homage to it’s famous icon. It’s deluged with tourists too and on Fridays and, especially in January, it is the focus of many pilgrimages across the country. It’s feast day is the basis, albeit it has lost it’s true meaning, for the annual Sinulog Festival.
Within the vicinity of the basilica one can experience faith, as well as commerce, in action.
5 Boljoon Church
As one comes out from a curve in the road, the vertical face of a limestone cliff gives way to a charming town that is Boljoon, southeast of Cebu. Just beside the highway, an almost plain looking old structure with a triangular pediment embellished with sparse relieves greets the occasional traveler. This is the church of Boljoon and to appreciate it, one has to enter it’s hallowed grounds.
What a surprise. Resplendent baroque and roccoco retablos; folk renditions of faith and decorations expressed on it’s wooden ceiling; an exquisite pulpit as well as one of the best preserved tejado (tiled) kumbento that makes one proud of one’s heritage.
Outside, it’s wide expanse of ground brings attention to a beautiful 1941 schoolhouse. Just behind it’s belfry, the visitor is greeted by a stone arch with Death holding a staff and an hour glass. Infront of the church, a blockhouse, a defensive structure, rises.
With all these, no wonder, it has been recommended for inclusion in the next batch of baroque churches to be inscribed as World Heritage Sites by Unesco.
6 Argao Church
Tucked within the maze of narrow roads, away from the main highway, the church of Argao is often missed. But for the intrepid soul, seeking out this beautiful church is rewarding. Part of a walled town, the church patio is ringed with a short fence that has relieves of the stations of the cross. Add to the fact that it is one of a few religious structure in the country to have a capilla posa, chapels found at the four corners of the patio (only one original remains).
Like the church in Boljoon, it’s interior is stunning. Wonderful ceiling paintings, exquisite retablos and pulpit delights the senses. Alas, the parish priest, Msgr. Montecillo, thought that centuries old estofado technique done on the main retablo is not worth it that he decided to coat it with modern gold paint. Fortunately, outrage stopped him from doing this sacrilege to the remaining retablos.
7 Naga Church
This small church just beside the highway is unassuming as a bundle of unsightly electric wires seem to be noticed more by motorists. Its interior has already been remodeled and its belfry is modern.
But if you just look past these shortcomings and explore it’s façade, lovers of heritage churches are rewarded with a stunning display of relieves, perhaps rivalled only with the frieze of San Joaquin in Iloilo.
Where else can you find details of angels, some playing musical instruments, lining up neatly as if to herald God’s coming? There is also a riot of floral details, stars and geometric figures as well as other embellishments that fills the upper parts. Every time I pass by or stand before it, I’m always transfixed.