Located across the street from the plain and heavily modernized Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, in the historic Parian District, the Ecclesiastical Museum of the Archdiocese of Cebu is housed in the cathedral’s centuries-old rectory.
Surviving earthquakes, wars, the elements, and clandestine renovators, the museum building served in different occasions as rectory, school, and cooperative store until its adaptive reuse as a repository of religious and secular treasures and antiquities.
As we walked inside of what looked like an oversized bahay-na-bato, resident museum guide Baby Arnuco greeted us at the lobby. The lobby has an exhibition of artifacts unearthed within the rectory compound. There is also an excavated section showing different layers of flooring that came ahead of the present tiled-flooring.
Our veritable museum guide led us to the restored chapel where she presented an interactive and entertaining overview about the archdiocese’s history, the museum building and museum pieces that belonged to the parish of Carmen, Cebu.
Baby annotated every relic in the Carmen Collection from the antique patarakas used during lent to the massive pews reserved only for the town’s principalia. She also explained the Christian symbols engraved on the wooden altar panels and shared the story about the recent miraculous apparition of the Holy Face of Jesus in the ornate tabernacle.
We left the chapel bloated with Cebu church trivia. As we ascended the wide antique staircase we felt the child-like curiosity for the things that awaited us on the second floor exhibition galleries.
At the time of our visit, the galleries on the upper floor concentrate on six major themes. They are -The Genesis of Our Faith, Viam, Veritatis, Elegi (I Have Choosen the Way of the Truth), De Cal Y Canto (Building the House of God), Gathering of Saints, Regalia of Worship, and The Priestly Life.
The last theme is a peek into the typical bedroom of a priest in the diocese. Among the display were old furniture and religious statues.
While The Genesis of Our Faith exhibit traces the beginning of the Catholic faith the Philippines through vintage illustrations and photographs, the De Cal y Canto exhibits photographs and actual building materials that are no longer in used today in constructing colonial period churches including a documentation of materials used in building the church in Liloan, Cebu.
Treasuries of colonial churches have marvelous examples in gold and silver, encrusted with precious stones. The Regalia of Worship showcases a fine collection of chalices, cruets, ciboriums, sacras, monstrance and chasubles. Once venerated, these museum pieces provides the physical dimensions to the spiritual teaching of the church.
While the church vessels served their purpose in carrying out the sacraments, Christian images were introduced by Spanish friars as teaching aids. In the Gathering of Saints, antique santos of every conceivable saint collected from the different churches under archdiocese of Cebu are exhibited. Included in the exhibit was an exquisite statue of San Miguel Archangel from Argao and rare San Jose in his deathbed!
There is a certain beauty in old santos that cannot be defined. They radiate an inimitable forcefulforness. Especially in ivory. Not only that they are an exquisite art they are also prized collectibles from Spanish period churches. Central to the collection are two tableaus in ivory and wood. One of Calvary scene and another depicting the Sagrada Familia on their Flight to Egypt.
Antique santos foster intimacy between the faithful and their holy intermediaries, they have become prized collectibles especially if they were once enshrined on massive retablos of grand churches. Like the San Agustin Museum in Manila, the Baclayon Church Museum in Bohol and a handful of veritable church museums around the country, ecclesiastical museums safeguard these devotional handiwork from voracious collectors, thieves and heedless antique dealers.
Related post: Cebu Heritage Walk