Towering high over the provinces of Laguna and Quezon is Mount Banahaw. This dormant volcano is believed to be a sacred mountain. Near its foothills are quaint towns that share the legend and mystery of this power mountain.
Since pre-Hispanic times Mount Banahaw has been a spiritual center. When the Spaniards came over in this part of the new colony, friars were able to used folk religion as a potent tool in the evangelization process. Hence, they were able to construct massive bastions of Christianity using the “might of the sword and power of the cross.”
From The Lake Towns of Laguna, Traveler on Foot went on a cultural and religious pilgrimage to colonial churches located near the foothills of Mount Banahaw.
The Church of Magdalena
Dedicated to Mary Magdalene, the church was built in 1829. The church has a sandstone façade and bell tower. The old baptistery is located at the ground floor of the bell tower. A convent is also attached to the church.
The church of Magdalena houses an important relic. When Brains of the Katipunan, Emilio Jacinto was mortally wounded after an encounter with Spanish forces at the Maimpis River on February 1898, he was brought here.
Today, the blood of Jacinto that stained the brick steps of the convent is enclosed in a glass case surrounded by a wrought iron fence and is marked by a low obelisk.
The Old Church of Lilio
The façade of church of Lilio is covered with red-bricks adding to its rustic feel. Dedicated to San Juan Bautista, the façade has a bas-relief depicting the Baptism of Christ. On the right is a moss-covered, three-storey bell tower.
Its interior has undergone several renovations. Like the exterior, red bricks were used to cover the interior walls of the church.
The Church of San Bartolome
The present church in the town of Nagcarlan is a fine example of “Laguna Baroque.” The church was first built of light materials in 1583 by Franciscan Tomas de Miranda, OFM. Brick and stone were used to build the second church 1752 leaded by father Cristobal Torres. Fire damage the church in 1781, and was repaired by Atanacio de Argobajo soon after and continued by Father Fernando dela Puebla who also built the bell tower.
Built on alternating layers of stone and brick, the church’s interior features fine wood carvings, antique santos, stained glass windows depicting Jesus Christ and the saints and a unique mural illustrating the Purgatoryo.
Church of San Gregorio Magno
An unusually tall, stone and brick colonial Baroque church, with its imposing view of the town and Laguna de Bay, the Church of San Gregorio Magno was considered to be an advance feat when the first stone church was built in 1606.
It is difficult to image that with its thick adobe walls covered with vines and moss, vaulted halls and enormous and unusual 16.5-meter high solid buttresses was once built in bamboo and nipa when the first church was established in 1573.
Rebuilt twice and restore three times, within its 6-meter walls is the original walls sandwiched between layers of brick and mortar on both sides to strengthen them.
It marvelous interior shows a 60-meter long, 17-meter wide and 16.5 meter high nave that has cantilever balconies on both sides leading to the cupola where a catwalk called kalangitan can be accessed (from the Tagalog word langit which literally means heaven).
Three impressive altars, antique relief statues of saints, azulejo-tiled floor and five elaborate retablos constructed on the wide pilasters supporting the lateral bays of the capiz window-lined transept.
However, there is more to the massive church in Majayjay than its architecture. According to Anita Feleo, the church is “a repository of folk memory.”
Feleo reported, “The first stone church was built in 1606, an undertaking caused tension between Franciscan missionaries and the locals they used as slave labor. After a fire destroyed the first church, the population moved beyond the town boundaries to avoid being drafted again for building duties. The friars, obsessed with erecting an edifice in whose utmost grandeur” the natives might recognize the majesty of the deity, chased down the villagers, burned their huts and forced them back to town.
The present structure was completed in 1660 by a congregation coerced into bringing sand and gravel whenever they attended church. They were also compelled to quarry stones, fell and hew timber, manufacture bricks and lime, and put the church together block by block. Violators were flogged or fined. The hatred spawned by these acts eventually led to the division of Majayjay into three towns and ultimately, to open revolution in 1896.”
In more recent times, another tension rocked the parish in 1988. It was reported that Majayjay Church has been systematically divested of its treasures. Rumors around the town spread that the parish priest was selling the pieces to fund its restoration projects. These pieces include a grand chandelier that reported to worth a brand new Mercedez Benz, some church silver, and 11-14 antique wood relief carved by local artists. Feleo noted that “although the priest was brought to court, nothing became of the case. The Church intervened, claiming that the artifacts belonged to the diocese and no to the State.”
With all this conflicts between the church and the people, the church remains as a source of folk pride. Because in this old structure is the labors and pains of its builders –the people of Majayjay.
Church of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
The church of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in Lucban was first built in 1593. It was left ruined since 1629 until a second church, built between 1630 and 1640. This church was seriously damage by fire in 1733 and was reconstructed in 1743. The church was partially destroyed during World War II and finally reconstructed by the Philippine Historical Commission in 1996.
Noticeable are gardens and grottos surrounding the church. The old stone wall fence called the quince-quince is still visible. The venerated image of San Isidro Labrador is enshrined here and it feast popularly known as the Pahiyas is celebrated every 15th of May.
Minor Basilica de San Miguel Archangel
A National Cultural Treasure, Minor Basilica de San Miguel Archangel in Tayabas is one of the best preserved and most exquisitely decorated church in the province.
The 103-meter long basilica is touted as the longest Spanish colonial church in the country. It was first built by the Franciscans in 1585 hence, one of the oldest colonial structures. Repaired followed in 1590 lead by San Pedro Bautista then it was changed to brick in 1600. it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1743 and later rebuilt and enlarged in 1856 by adding a transept and a cupola.
Contained in its bell tower is an eighteenth century clock (it is said to be the only one of its kind in the country) that chimes every thirty minutes. It was into a Minor Basilica in 1988. The interior, a good example of Neo-Classical style, has an antique organ, seven altars done in the Neo-Classical style.The adjacent convent was used as a Japanese garrison during the World War II.
The church in town of Sariaya was established in 1599. A second church was built in 1605 and the third one in 1641. The church, as well as the town, was destroyed during an earthquake in 1743.
The present structure was built on its new site in 1748. It contains fine old santos and houses the image of the Santo Cristo de Burgos, an object of pilgrimage every Friday and Holy Week.
The image was brought from Spain by galleon. It was initially installed in the original church. A Moro attack burned the village including the church. However, amidst the ashes the image was found intact.
Plans of transferring the image to the new location were halted by Divine preference. According to legend, the image was wrapped in white cloth and being carried by four men to the new church. After resting under a tree, the four men found the image could not be lifted even with the help from other people. Taken as a Divine preference, they built a church on the site.