Bohol is one of the first islands in the Philippines to receive evangelization from the Spanish missionaries. Polo or forced labor was imposed by the friars to build the churches and convents in Bohol towns.
The churches in Bohol survived the atrocities of the Philippine-American War (it was said that prominent residents of Bohol offered food and supplies to the American enemies) as well as the bombings of World War II since it was not a major target of American bombers.
Today, most of the churches in Bohol are preserved to its original form. This legacy brought by Christianity is repeated throughout island, in towns like Baclayon, Loboc, Dauis and Maribojoc.
The Church of La Purisima Concepcion de la Virgen Maria
The Church of La Purisima Concepcion de la Virgen Maria in the town of Baclayon was both under the charge of the Recollects and Jesuits. The stone church was built by Jesuits Juan de Torres and Gabriel Sanchez. It once claimed to be older than the oldest church in the country which is the San Agustin Church in Intramuros. However, there are evidences that show the church was constructed in 1727. This hoax was probably due to the mix up of information from the Recollects who stated that the mission was founded in 1595. The date 1595 inscribed on the façade is a recent addition.
The native laborer used coral stones which were quarried from the sea. Egg whites were used to cement the blocks of coral (This is probabaly the reason why Broas or Lady became a popular delicacy in Bohol since it made of the unused part of egg –the egg yolks).
The church is facing the Bohol Sea. According to Rene Javellana, “the Jesuits fortified the church against raiders and built a fort behind it. The Recollects on the other hand, built a bell tower whose walkways at the second and third stories indicate military purpose.” The bell tower is connected by a portico and its six bells were endowed by Father Jose Cabañas.
The focal point of the interior is the green and gilded main altar and the two side retablos, dates back to the time of the Jesuits. The Jesuit motto “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” is carved in the main altar.
Attached to the church is the old convent which a portion of it was turned into a museum. The church of Baclayon started the trend of putting up museum in parish churches. Taking pictures inside is not allowed. The museum’s collection includes century-old religious icons and relics of saints and other antiquities dating back since 16th century.
The town of Loboc is considered as Bohol’s cultural center. The town is famous for its children’s choir and its church, which is listed as a National Cultural Treasure.
The church of Loboc is a beautiful example of early Renaissance architecture. Like other Bohol churches, Loboc converted a part of its convent into a museum called the Museo de Loboc. A room is also reserved for the famous Loboc Children’s Choir where they hold there practices and voice lessons.
The church was a popular pilgrimage site during the early 17th century until the remains of the saintly Jesuit Alonso de Humanes, which was originally buried in the church, was transferred in Manila in the 1900s.
Located near the riverbank is the four-storey octagonal-shaped bell tower which was built by the first Recollect parish priest in 1768. The bell tower has seven bells and a clock from Manila’s famous clockmaker, Altonaga Co. which was installed in 1893.
The demolition of the antique bell tower to give way to the construction of a massive bridge (which is not necessary by any traffic) was halted, thanks to the protest made by the town’s people and the Edsa Revolution which ousted the head of the infrastructure mania at that time –Ferdinand Marcos.
The Church of Dauis
The church of Dauis is located near the foot of the bridge that connects Panglao Island from the mainland is the fifth to be erected on the site. Founded by Jesuits Diego de Ayala and Joseph Gregorio, the church is dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumpition which is believed to posses miraculous powers.
According to legend, when the town of Dauis was invaded by Moro pirates, the people lock themselves inside the church until they ran out of provisions and water. A well miraculously appeared at the foot of the altar. It was said that the taste of the water is sweet even thought the church is located a few meters from the sea. It is also said that water from the well has healing powers.
At first we did not see the well, until we lifted the thick red carpet to reveal a flat wood that covered the well. A sign that says: This is not a wishing well. This is Virgin Mary’s well. Please do not throw coins into the well” is attached to the flat wood cover. The bottom of the well is not visible.
Another interesting part of the church is the trompe l’oeil on ceiling and the paintings over the transcept done by Ray Francia 1916.
And the back of the church is second oldest bell tower in Bohol. According to Rene Javellana, the tower was built in 1774 to protect the shallow and narrow straight between Panglao and Tagbilaran. This straight was the site of early settlements of Boholanos.
Noticeable are the small heads that decorate the corners of the tower. A seal of the Recollect order, Saint Augustine’s flaming heart pierced by the arrows of divine love and surmounted by a bishop’s tasseled hat is delicately carved on one side of the hexagonal tower.
Santa Cruz Church
The town of Maribojoc was originally a Jesuit mission in the 18th century. The Jesuits built a church which the Recollects replaced with the present structure in 1886.
The façade of Santa Crus Church in Maribojoc is plain and has a bas-relief of San Vicente Ferrer. The church ceiling is made of metal and painted with catechetical and liturgical motifs. There five exquisitely carved and painted retablos and a choir loft with a large metal pipe-organ dating from the 1890 which was last played in 1975.
The spacious sacristy was turned into a museum of religious art. From the sacristy is a passage leading to the convent that presently houses a school.
Additional Source: Fortress of Empire by Rene Javella S.J.