It was in the world news early this week. Last Tuesday at 8:10 in the morning, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the tourist island province of Bohol situated in the central Philippines. The power of such temblor was equivalent to 32 atomic bombs, and it flattened houses, crumbled buildings, destroyed bridges, cracked roads and, as of last count, claimed the lives of over 170 people, mostly buried under piles of rubble. The death toll is expected to mount as more bodies are retrieved from under collapsed structures. I have featured Bohol (and the nearby province of Cebu which was also heavily affected) in many previous posts. Both provinces are popular tourist destinations. Bohol in particular is known for its Chocolate Hills , the rare Tarsier, the green Loboc River, pristine beaches and its centuries old churches. Aside from the lives that were lost, the nation grieves with the destruction of 10 heritage churches, all priceless national treasures, some dating back to the 1500s. I had the opportunity to photograph some of these beautiful churches during my early travels, and below I have paired my pictures of them with the pictures I saw in the news in the aftermath of the quake. For us photographers who enjoy capturing old, historic structures, these are heartbreaking sights:
These old churches were built with materials during those times – coral stones, mud bricks, limestones – and are most fragile. Throughout their history, they have been subjected to fires, typhoons, previous earthquakes and even World War II. They were the first to come down during the powerful quake this week. Experts are assessing if some of them can be rebuilt, while others like the Loon Church which was flattened, may have a new church built on the site. I am quite fortunate to have captured the beauty and grandeur of these churches in their original condition before the disaster. Now I have them immortalized in images, and preserved in my memory as I saw them in their full glory.
Note: These churches are featured in Junsjazz Images & Inspiration Digital Magazine Issue #2.
After nearly two months, I missed a lot – this blog and the great WP community of photo blogger peers – that’s all of you my friends! My apologies, I’ve been bogged down by online work. But my deepest thanks to all who commented, liked and visited during my absence. I’ll try my best to go around and visit your blogs during my free time. Keep on clicking everyone!
The first thing I notice in a church from the outside is the belfry, or the bell tower. Since they are usually the tallest part of a church structure, they have that prominence in the overall architectural design underscoring their functional importance. There are churches with dual belfries while others have singular towers. Here are samples of belfry images from my collection:
For me, the interiors of churches are as much of a photographic delight as its exteriors. The grandeur in the outside is complemented or even topped off by the elaborate inside. You’ll find ornate pieces, sophisticated ceilings, fancy wrought-iron designs, luxurious stained-glass windows, and hundreds of other items of interest. It’s literally a photographer’s heaven.
The above is the facade of the St. John of Sahagun Parish Church in the historic town of Tigbauan, Iloilo province. Nothing really extraordinary in its Baroque-inspired exteriors, but wait till you get inside. Whoa, don’t scroll down and enter just yet! Before that, let me first share a description from Wikipedia:
Tigbauan, is one of Iloilo’s treasure trove, packed with “gems” from more than a millennium of historical significance. With one foot in the past, and the other in the present, Tigbauan allows every visitor a glimpse of its heady blend of architectural masterpieces and natural wonder, the town’s 134 years of history are on display when you look.
The town delights its St. John of Sahagun Parish. Constructed using forced labor under Fray Florencio Martin in 1867, its beautiful baroque facade in rococo finish, allow visitors a glimpse of the community’s intense spirituality. The church’s remarkable architecture with its façade and tower, survived the ravages of the Second World War and the great earthquake in 1948. Presently, the mystical beauty of its altar depicts heaven and Dante’s Inferno; the church walls with the Way of the cross, all done in intricate mosaic of colored stones is a sight not to be missed. On its churchyard remained a marker of what used to be the site of the first Jesuit boarding school for boys in the Philippines established in 1592 and renowned that time for their liturgical music during church services.
I guess you saw the key words and phrases “mystical beauty of its altar” and the “intricate mosaic of colored stones.” Let’s go inside. Below are a couple of images reflecting those key phrases.
You have to see the place in person to appreciate fully these spectacular works of art. The Wikipedia description doesn’t even come close. According to town folks I talked to, those are not just colored stones but also shells and corals (no environmental restriction on corals during those times) shaped into tiny tiles (thousands of them), painted, pieced and placed together, one by one, by hand. They are all around on the interior walls, columns and the famous half-dome ceiling in the main alter.
Churches are treasure troves of artifacts, relics, antiquity and extraordinary art. All are potential photographic subjects. Discover them and document them well. These are priceless – both of your images of them and the rich history that comes with them.
I never thought I had so many church articles and images already posted in the past nine months. I’d like to repost the article but pair it with altogether different images. This is titled Symbols of Faith posted last November 27, 2012.
I have around five previous posts regarding pictures of churches and how to photograph them. I can’t get enough of them so here’s another one which is probably not the last since I have a whole collection of them. My country the Philippines has a population of 95 million and 90 percent of them are Catholics. It is the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia, brought about by 300 years of Spanish colonial rule which started in the 1500s. The influence of religion is thus ingrained and pervasive in the peoples’ psych and culture, and most evident in the places of worship. From the far-flung towns to the urban centers, church structures abound, from the modern to the centuries old. They stand as symbols of faith, much like the Muslim mosques and the Buddhist temples. To individuals like me, churches, basilicas and cathedrals are profound photographic subjects. They have this visual grandeur and alluring solemnity. They invoke an aura of mysticism, serenity and of course spirituality. Those are intangibles that are represented in what we can see – the shapes, form, patterns, details, lines – elements which are in the microcosm of the physical church structure whether in its cavernous interior or its towering exterior. When you get the chance to tour my country, make it a point to visit the churches. First give thanks to the Almighty for all the blessings he has given you in this life, then pray that all the pictures you’ll take afterwards will be sharp, vivid, clear and in focus. Amen.
(Picture on top is the Miag-ao Church in Iloilo province – one of four Baroque churches in the Philippines listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while below is the Pan-ay Cathedral in the province of Capiz)
This excerpt was taken from my post last Oct. 14, 2012 titled Solemn Sanctuaries:
I always have this fascination for church structures, the older and bigger, the more interesting. They are such imposing landmarks with their towering belfries, ornate decors and massive interiors, fulfilling their roles as venerable venues for the faithful, and solemn sanctuaries for the Lord’s flock. The Philippines is a showcase of ancient churches, cathedrals and basilicas. As the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia, churches big and small, old and new abound all over the Philippines.
Yes folks, we revisit the churches, cathedrals and basilicas in my image collection, and how it is to capture the grandeur and details of these architectural landmarks. Welcome to another of JJ’s picture series. Have a splendid week ahead my friends!