POSTCARD TOWN. Traveling from town to town in southeastern Cebu can be disorienting because this part of the island province shares a similar landscape. Unless one pays attention to the arches marking the entry points on the national road, it’s hard to tell which town you’re at by just looking at the passing scene from the bus window. The view is repeated in Carcar, Sibonga, Argao, Dalaguete, and Alcoy except in Boljoon.
Upon making a sharp turn on a road carved out of a natural rock formation known as Ili Rock –a postcard town is revealed. The expanse of the lovely cove is dominated by the blue waters of the Bohol Sea on the foreground while the towering verdant hills serve as the background of the centuries-old fortress-church of the Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria.
BOLJOON. Standing aged and proud in the coastal poblacion of Boljoon, the church has been declared as a National Cultural Treasure. The prestigious title has been awarded not only for its age but for being a remarkable example on how to preserve a heritage structure.
Boljoon graduated as a visita of Carcar in 1690. The main church, belfry and rectory were built on different occasions but the current church (second to be built on the same site) was constructed by Fray Ambrosio Otero, O.S.A in 1783.
NECK BREAKING. Inside the church, our eyes were immediately drawn to the paintings on the ceiling. The 80-year old paintings on the ceiling were painted by Boljoon native Miguel Villareal.
RETABLOS. From the aisle, we can view from a good distance how the main and two side retablos were cleverly and tastefully restored using gold dust.
It was cleverly done because portions of the retablos that reveal its old paint and art were spared from gold dusting. It was tasteful because the color and texture are consistent everywhere which in effect retaining the old world allure of the interior despite the different phases of the restoration job.
CHURCH TREASURES. Under the clay-tiled roof of the rectory, on its ground floor is a museum that houses the treasures of the church including antique santos being paraded for centuries during religious festivities. The sacra, silver vessels, vestments with intricate embroidery and church furniture used by the early friars are also exhibited.
At the back of the church is the first Catholic cemetery of Boljoon. Opened around the 1760s, most of the town’s forefathers were buried in the site.
LA SANTISSIMA DE LA MUERTE. The gates and walls are dated at the time when the current church was being built. Stone relief of human skeleton and skull supported by crisscross human bones are found on the cemetery wall and gate. The image of La Santissima de la Muerte guards the cemetery gate.
With the opening of the public cemetery, the church cemetery was closed in compliance with the Sanitary Code of the Philippines.
ESCUELA CATOLICA. At the left side of the church is an ornate bahay na bato made distinct by the double grand staircase.
Built in 1940, the Escuela Catolica was used as a dormitory for children who are required to stay in the house overnight before they receive their first Holy Communion. It has been used for teaching catechism and was for a time a primary school.
BLOCKHOUSE. Rising high over the Rizal statue and Boljoon Municipal Hall is the two-level blockhouse. The locals referred to it in earlier times as dakong balay (Cebuano for big house). Its construction is attributed to the soldier priest Fray Julian Bermejo.
Built in 1808, it served as the main fortress of the church complex’s fortification. Today, the blockhouse serves as the bell tower where four iron cast bells are installed replacing the artillery that were then mounted in the roofed parapets.
FORTRESS COMPLEX. Enclosing the fortress-church complex composed of the rectory, cemetery, the primary school, the blockhouse and the church is the perimeter wall made of impregnable coral stones and rubble.
As part of the fortification plan, Fray Bermejo built the walls and massive gates of the fortress from1802 to 1808. The three gates are located at the front and one on each side of the fort.
ILIHAN. Before leaving Boljoon, we went to Plaza Bermejo, a public square by the beachfront that was named after the soldier priest for a view of what according to oral history was a natural fortress during pre-Hispanic times.
Ilihan is a natural rock formation at the edge of the poblacion where a road connecting the town to the national highway was carved out of it. Perched over the cliff is one of the three watchtowers built by Father Bermejo (now in ruins).
EPILOGUE. As we viewed the breathking landscape from the plaza, the pleasant cove, its blue waters and the verdant rolling hills in the background, all we could do was to envy that lonely sentinel that once viewed from the watchtower over Ilihan –The Postcard Town of Boljoon.
– 14 November 2009 | Feast of the Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria