Baliuag

WHAT TO SEE IN BALIUAG. Talk about Baliuag and the first thing that comes to mind are the prices of antique furniture at current auctions that has went from crazy to unbelievably insane like a narra and kamagong chest that is elegantly decorated with wood and carabao bone-inlay, a style that traces its lineage to this town in Bulacan were sold from eight to twelve million pesos.

Heir to a glittering past, the town of Baliuag is best explored at a leisurely pace to appreciate its history and heritage. So what is there to see in this town? There is a remarkable 18th century church and unusual monuments to Rizal and Bonifacio. There is a town museum that is housed in a historic bahay-na-bato. In a narrow alley, there are artisans that still practice the old-fashioned craft of applying animal bone inlay in making the Baliuag-style furniture and there is also an Alibaba’s cave of antique objects owned by a respected antique collector and dealer.

TOWN CENTER. One of the main landmarks that we first saw across the Baliwag Clock Tower at the town’s poblacion is the Rizal Monument. Designed by artist Ramon Carreon in 1928, this monument shows Rizal in overcoat just like how we see it in the Luneta. Interestingly, Carreon added allegorical figures including Inang Bayan standing taller than national hero as if whispering behind him and a couple of sphinxes flanking the monument.

There is also a monument to Bonifacio, which we rarely see the hero of the masses portrayed brandishing a bolo while riding a horse.

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH. Behind the Rizal Monument is the San Agustin Church, which dates back to the Spanish period. The stone and brick church facade glows in that full midday sun with the image of the town’s patron saint overlooking the plaza from its Classical pediment. At the base of the slender bell tower is a bas-relief of Moses holding the tablet of the Ten Commandments. A visual feast were the church’s main doors flanked by double Doric columns all dressed-up with garlands of flowers.

Legend has it that when Baliuag was invaded by the Moors, the townsfolk would lock themselves inside the church. Beneath the church were secret tunnels used as escape routes leading to a nearby river. On what used to be a river now stands a fast food restaurant.

MEET MONSIGNOR VALERA. Preparations were taking place that day for the Traslacion of the Santo Niño from Bustos later in that afternoon. Inside Baliuag Church we met parish priest Monsignor Andres Valera. Despite of his busy schedule preparing for a wedding celebration and for that day’s festivities, he found time to lead us for a tour of the rectory and the church museum, providing narratives to every religious and secular piece.

In the museum were every conceivable image of the Blessed Mother in wood and in ivory. There are librettos of church music and missals printed in Latin and a compilation of the  town’s census dating as far as 1777. Enclosed in a glass frame is a vestment used for the image of San Agustin that is spread out to show the metallic thread of inuod embroidery.  There are also silver monstrances and chalice gilt in gold. Monsignor Velara pointed out that in the olden days church receptacles were never made in gold. Silver was preferred for its attribute to change color in the presence of poison. Monsignor Valera then led us to his office were he showed us his collection Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter action figures and memorabilia.

THE RECTORY. The church rectory that shares the same age as the church still has remnants of the original structure. Apart from the refurbished flooring and ceiling, preserved on the walls of the rectory were the relief of repeating patterns of flowers, tropical plants and the cincture.

Some of the church’s original furniture were transferred to the rectory for safekeeping and exhibit like the massive vestry cabinet that was originally in the sacristy and the communion rail that now functions as a wall decor. The centuries old statue depicting the Baptism of Jesus was originally in the church’s baptistry. And there is the sacrarium. Dated 1883 and embossed with Augustinian symbols, this marble basin was used in the olden days for washing of chalices and other receptacles used in administering the sacraments. It has two faucets. The priest used one to wash his hands before the mass and the other after the mass.

LUMANG MUNICIPIO. A few walks from the town center is Baliuag Museum and Library that is housed in the old town hall.  This 19th century bahay-na-bato was originally the residence of Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez, one of the writers of the Malolos Constitution and the first school president of what would later be known as University of the Philippines. The ancestral house was bought from Dr. Gonzalez by the local government  in 1915 to serve as its municipio.

Aside from being a well-preserved heritage house, the old municipio is also a historical landmark where the first Philippine election was held.

MAY DAY EVE. While inside the Baliuag Museum, we chanced upon a group of students from Bulacan State University having their dress rehearsals and script reading. When I heard one of them in a booming voice said Guardia sereno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o! I knew immediately they were rehearsing for Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve so we requested the one playing the role of Doña Agueda to be the sitter for a photo.

Rooms in this grand bahay-na-bato were sub-divided into function rooms. The original zaguan houses the local tourism office. The sala mayor and some of the bedrooms have permanent exhibits of antique furniture and objects. These same rooms were occasionally used for art and moving exhibitions. When the municipal government took over the house, the comedor was converted into a courtroom with a raised platform reserved for the tribunal.

SIGLO ANTIQUES. Past lunch time, this old world town continues to casts its spell over me and my travel companion. By then we found ourselves inside Siglo Antiques. There Engineer Mike Nicolas greeted who we first met in his antique stores branch at Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City.

The humble and respected antique dealer led us to his warehouse, unlocking room after room of antique furniture and curiosities. It took a while for our eyes to adjust from the glare of afternoon sun to the dim and windowless interior filled with antiques and vintage objects nothing later than the 1950s. There is a Gothic-style altar that must have housed a family’s favorite santo in the oratorio. There were platerang buntis and abanico and aparador of different heights with their coronas. There were escritorios, lamesas, and sillas with Art Deco and Art Nouveau details.  And then lo and behold my heart beat faster upon seeing the iconic Baliuag-style comoda elegantly inlaid with wood and carabao bone.

IMBUTE ARTIST. Baliuag-style furniture were common pieces found in Filipino homes and the craft of applying carabao bone inlay were in demand particularly before World War II.  In Barangay Sto. Cristo we met Anacleto ‘Ka Romy’ Bernardo, the youngest and only surviving member from an older generation of artisans specializing in wood and carabao bone-inlay. This craft is locally called imbute.

The imbute artist buys the ribs of the animal from the slaughter house and makes them smooth using wood bleach. He then cuts the bone in different shapes using improvised tools. We watched Ka Romy carve small dents using an old chisel that he inherited from his father on the furniture. He then apply alternating strips of carabao bone and wood to form geometric patterns around floral design.

EPILOGUE: TRASLACION. By late afternoon, we drifted back into the road when the vehicles were halted to give way to Traslacion of the Santo Niño de Bustos.  In fascination, we watched the townsfolk of Baliuag and the visiting folks from neighboring town of Bustos pull together the colorful festivities from the iron-braced bridge that connects the two towns.

From the Baliuag side of the bridge was the image of San Agustin awaiting on a carroza along with a welcoming committee. Marching on the other side of the bridge were the town folks of Bustos that came in throngs and in red shirt carrying their Santo Niño. When the two images came face-to-face, the carroza carrying San Agustin was turned and led the procession that meanders back to Baliuag Church with the Sto. Nino de Bustos.

– In celebration of the Heritage Month | 2017

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Published in: on May 7, 2017 at 11:52 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Baliuag has a very colorful, rich history. Buntal and furniture making, the LGU has to ensure these heritage trades survive. Also, more projects needed to conserve what’s left of its structural filhispano heritage. It was a bit of a let down that the house of Ponces were not accessible for public. I’m a frequent visitor here because my wife’s family is from the neighboring town, San Rafael. Today, Baliuag is the center of commerce there.


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