Last Holy Thursday I went to Bataan for a day long 'Visita Iglesia' at some of its historic Spanish colonial churches located in the town of Samal, Abucay, Orion, Orani, Balanga and Pilar with a side trip earlier that day at the World War II memorial atop the scenic Mount Samat.
My friend Rea who hails from Bataan was home for the holy week so she accompanied me to Mt. Samat with his brother who drove us up to the zig zagging hills atop the War Memorial, after lunch time they took me to my first stop, church number 1: Pilar Church which is located in the town of Pilar - one of the twelve towns in the province of Bataan. The church's belfry is very distinct as it is placed on the center of the church in contrast with the common practice of placing it on either the left or right side of the facade of other churches.
Pilar Church was the seventh town established by the Dominicans in the Province of Bataan by becoming an independent Vicar-headed Parish in 1801. It's adobe made facade presents a strong structure for its small size and the interiors, while it already shows countless re-design and repainting, it still projects an old feeling by virtue of the red brick walls on it's both sides.
Next stop was the Balanga Cathedral located in Balanga city, the capital city of Bataan province. It was the fifth parish in Bataan that was established also by the Dominicans in 1739. During WWII the church was used by the Japanese as an artillery base to purposely bomb Filipinos and American troops holed up in Mount Samat.
The interior of Balanga church provides a bright aura with sunlight coming from the rows of windows on both sides, which is adorned by red brick walls and white ceilings. After this stop my friend Rea and his brother have to go back to their place to attend to the 'Pabasa' being held near their place so they dropped me off the terminal where I took the jeepney to the town of Abucay for me to continue my Visita Iglesia.
Abucay Church (Santo Domingo)
Being one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, it was originally constructed in 1587 and is considered as a 'National Historical Landmark' by the National Historical Commission by virtue of being the site of a bloody massacre of more than two hundred Pampanga natives at the hands of the merciless Dutch invaders in June 16-23, 1647. Of the Churches I visited in Bataan, the Abucay was the my favorite because it presents a facade that has the least effect of renovations made.
From Balanga terminal I just took a jeepney bound for Orani and got off at Abucay, from Abucay I rode the jeepney plying the same route where I got off at the neighboring town of Samal.
It's very easy to visit the churches in Bataan as it only follows one route and all you need to do is get off at each town and all the Churches are located along or near the highway as with Samal Church. It is not squarely located by the road but it was just a few walks away from where I got off at the side of the road. I passed by the town plaza and I saw this small church right away beside its own convent.
It was old-looking with minimal restoration evidence which is the better if you ask me. The inside was rustic if not bared of other decorations and paintings that adorned much bigger churches, but the mood inside still projects a religious embrace as a few youngsters were busy preparing for the holy week program when I went inside. As read on its historical marker, Samal Church was entrusted to the Dominicans in 1596 and became a refuge of the townsfolk when the Dutch Invaders attacked the town in April 1647, "but the local garrison of Pampangos under the command of Alejo Aguas compelled the Dutch invaders to retreat".
Something happened after I visited Samal Church, as I was about to proceed to the next town of Orani, I realized that I missed out on Orion Church so I had to take the jeepney back to Balanga and hop on to another jeepney bound for Orion. It didn't mattered as it only cost me about an hour backtracking. It was all worth it though as the 'retablo' of Orion church was very beautiful and proved to be one of the highlights of my Bataan Visita Iglesia.
A bus load of people was posing for photographs in front of the Church that I was a bit hesitant to go inside at first. After a while I went inside and one of the them called "Mark" at my direction. I was almost sure it was someone I knew, she was asking "Mark asan si Mama mo" I was a bit puzzled as a thousand faces slideshows in my mind without a match - but since she called me by my Christian name I was about to say "Nasa bahay". But then, before I could blurt out my answer - a guy behind me answered back "Nasa bus na ata Tita" - so there, the woman was actually talking to the guy behind me and not at myself. This has happened to me before way back in college at a bar and involves a hot chick - that sucked more than this I tell you. (well, enough of the side story).
Orion church looks small but as I've said the interior was splendid from its retablo to its ceilings, chandeliers and simplistic yet stylish floorings and walls. It's marker mentions that it was part of the Abucay ministration up until 1667 when it had the Rev. Domingo Perez as its first minister. It also mentions that the first Filipino Supreme Court Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano was born in this town and Florante at Laura author Francisco Baltazar Balagtas became a resident of Orion in the later period of his life.
After my stop at Orion I then proceeded to Orani to drop by at my sixth Church for that day. I flagged a jeepney beside one of those historical markers that are found along the highway of Bataan where the Filipinos and Americans who participated in the infamous Bataan Death March passed en route to Camp O'Donnell in Tarlac.
|kilometer 35 of the more than 100 kilometer route of the Death March|
Orani Church, looking at its facade, one will have to know that it already underwent modern renovations making it lose its heritage appeal. The Church of Orani was built also by the Dominicans in 1714 after becoming an independent missionary center. The church is a popular choice for wedding ceremonies brought about by the belief that every couple who says "I do's" in this church will withstood all trials and will have a lasting union till death. I guess, someday If I'll ever get married I will consider this church to tie the knot.
It has a very attractive interior making it probably the grandest of all the Churches I visited in Bataan that day. A long red carpet lies along the aisle leading up to a spectacular altar covered by an impressive domed ceiling. Classical chandeliers hangs from above flanked by thick walls at both sides.
Outside the church a few faithfuls are gearing up for the Good Friday rituals by parading around the town carrying a cross. I watched the procession for a few minutes then I ate in a nearby carinderia and hang around the lively town plaze for a while before I boarded a Cubao bound bus a few minutes before the sun sets.
It was a tiring day indeed but fulfilling and shout out again to my friend Rea for showing me around - but I realized on the bus that I was 1 church short of completing my Visita Iglesia. Anyway I took care of that by dropping by the church here in our place in Meycauyan when I arrived back at around 9:30 PM. It was my first time to do a 'Visita Iglesia' alone and I intend to do it again next holy week.