The church of Pakil is one of the best preserved in Laguna. Built in 1684, it stands as a fine example of colonial baroque architecture. The church’s curlicue stonework and cherubs on the facade is enough to fascinate us. But the wonderment continues inside the 324 year old structure and continues further in stories that were passed on through generations.
It was the Franciscan Father Pedro Bautista (later became a saint) who designated a place for the church and plaza in Pakil. In 1602, Pakil became a visita of Paete. Tradition has it that when the people of Pakil had to hear mass in Paete, they had to carry some stones to help build the church of Paete. On May 12, 1676, Pakil was separated from Paete. It was Padre Francisco Barajas who helped established the first church under the patronage of San Pedro de Alcantara.
During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese Army took hold of the town but did not stay. It is said that an old woman warned the enemy to keep out since the place is infested with malaria carrying mosquitoes. The town was also spared from allied bombing raids during the Liberation. According to a story of an American jet fighter, clouds usually cover Pakil whenever he flew over the town and on one clear day he could have dropped the bomb, however he saw a white flag waving from the roof of the church’s belfry.
The Parish Church of San Pedro de Alcatara has been part of our recent Visita Yglesia via the Lake Towns of Laguna. When we first entered the church, we observed that every corner reflects creativeness and much so the unexpected such as the holy water font whose basin rests on a monkey’s (or a devil’s) head which we find unusual for a church. Another intriguing artwork is the painting Judicium Finale by Paete artist Jose Dans. The huge painting illustrates heaven, purgatory and hell.
From the right side of the aisle is a magnificent life-size image of the Crucified Christ. We later learned that this is the same image that is brought down to be laid on a bier to serve as the Santo Entierro (or dead Christ on a bier) for Pakil’s Good Friday rites. Travel and lifestyle writer Anita Feleo suggests that people of Pakil did not bother to own a Santo Entierro because they are enamored with wonderful tale behind the image of the Crucified Christ.
“A long time ago, a man showed up at the church and told the priest he must be given carving tools, a room to work in, food and be left alone. The request was so unusual that the priest complied. The mysterious man went into the room and locked the door from inside. Each day the parishioners brought him food. Being familiar with how a carver works, they described the sound as that of a hammer hitting a chisel. On the seventh day, they heard nothing from inside the room and the door, which had been solidly locked from inside was now ajar. When the parishioner’s slowly opened the door, they were greeted by a magnificently carved image of the Crucified Christ. The carving tools were neatly laid out on the workbench. The carver had disappeared.”
As we approached the main altar we marveled at the bas relief of saints and the Stations of the Cross. The niches of the ornate side and the main retablos are occupied by antique images of saints. A centuries-old anda that is used to bore the venerated icon of the church is locked in chamber located on left side of the altar.
Enshrined on the main of Pakil’s Church is the carved statue of the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba, the celebrity of the town’s Turumba sa Virgen festival. According to Feleo, “the Virgin of Turumba is a fashion plate, thanks to devotees who gifted her with more clothes than she could wear. She currently owns more than 300 gowns and wears each one only once for every two weeks. After her dress is changed, the used garment is cut into tiny squares. These are given away as amulets.”
But there is a much older image of the Virgen de los Dolores that is too small to be taken out to processions. It is a precious image that is kept in a chapel within the church’s convent. It is the original Painting of the Virgin of Sorrows that made the People of Pakil Dance for Joy.
This is the first of a series on Pakil
Reference: Leap of Faith by Anita Feleo