From Betis, we were back on Olongapo-Gapan Road traveling back northeast. Upon reaching the next town, I imagined what this place must have looked like when Mount Pinatubo erupted on June 1991. Dormant for 600 years, the notorious volcano ejected ash and volcanic material of Biblical proportions that altered weather patterns worldwide and literally obliterating several towns in Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga from the map including the historic town of Bacolor.
Church of San Guillermo Ermitaño
We veered away from the highway, to see for ourselves the half-buried San Guillermo Church. Damaged by earthquakes in 1645 and 1880, a fire in 1672, it was buried up to one-half by the lahar flow of September 3, 1995. Its five-meter high main entrance disappeared and a storey of its four-storey hexagonal bell tower was lost to lahar.
One of the oldest and largest churches in Pampanga, it was named after the town’s former patron saint San Guillermo Ermitaño, once a rich duke of Aquitania in France. In November 1786, the town’s patron was changed to La Naval de Bacolor in honor of the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. The church was probably built by Father Jose Coronel from 1617 to 1629 on the lot donated by a wealthy landlord –Don Guillermo Manabat.
We entered the church through the ornamented window of the choir loft that has become its new entrance. We walked around the church on new concrete floor that covered the layers of lahar beneath it. From the aisle, we imagined how the ornate retablo where the Our Lady of La Naval is enshrined for years must have looked like before it became half-buried.
From the main church, we passed by a museum to visit the adoration chapel. The museum is housed in the old convent which served as headquarters of Don Simon de Anda where he formed a provisional government with himself as Governor General when Manila fell to the British in 1762.
As a reward, a royal on November 9, 1765, made the town Villa de Bacolor with its own coat of arms and given the motto Non Plus Ultra (nothing greater).
Bacolor was made the capital of the province of Pampanga in 1755 until 1881 when the provincial capital was transferred to our next destination –City of San Fernando.