Boljoon Church and Convento

Boljoon Church
Church of Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria in Boljoon, Cebu, 2009 (National Historical Commission of the Philippines Collection)

Roman Catholic Parish Church of Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio / Location: Boljoon, Cebu / Begun 1783

The Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church (Our Lady of Patronage of Mary Parish Church), commonly known as Boljoon Church, is a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to the Our Lady of Patrocinio in the municipality of Boljoon, Cebu, Philippines, under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu.

It has been declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines and a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. It is also under consideration for the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Philippines as a member of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Extension).


Formerly a visita (mission chapel) of Carcar, the parish was said to have been founded simultaneously with the town after Boljoon was made capital of the second vicariate south of Cebu in 1692. Fr Nicolas de la Cuarda, OSA was Boljoon’s first prior. For lack of priests, the parish was turned over to the Jesuits in 1737; it was returned to the Augustinians in 1747. The first buildings were probably ruined during the frequent Muslim raids in the 18th century, particularly in 1782. The present church was begun by Fr Ambrosio Otero and finished by Fr Julian Bermejo, who enclosed the complex within stone walls. Inscribed dates, like 1789 above the south wing door; 1801, above the main entrance door; and 1829, above the side door near the belfry may indicate several suspensions of work, renovation, and expansion. Both church and convento were restored by Fr Leandro Moran, OSA, Boljoon’s last Augustinian prior, 1920-48.

The stone church measures 65 m long, 12 m wide, and 12 m high. The classical facade is accentuated with floral and geometric rococo motifs on the panels and pilasters. It consists of three levels, including a large triangular pediment. Its only openings are the arched main door on the ground level and the two arched windows on the second level. These windows are on either side of a niche housing the statue of Nuestra Señora de Patrocinio.

To the right of the church is a two-level belfry attached by a gable-roofed baptistry to the main structure. The other bell tower, holding more bells of various sizes and now facing the municipal hall building, was once used as a watchtower or blockhouse. Massive and rectangular, this used to be connected to a large house at its north wall; the house deteriorated, leaving only few stone remnants.

The church interior has a single nave and transept. Wooden tracery adorns its pulpit and choir loft. The hexagonal pulpit, five panels of which are missing, has an elaborately designed crown. Still in the choir loft is the old organ installed in 1880. Other highlights include an outstanding gilded main retablo which has five niches on the first level, three on the second, and one on the third; two minor gilded altars at the transept similarly decorated with gold leaf; and the vaulted ceiling painted with biblical scenes.

To the right of the church is the L-shaped convento. The church can be entered through the convento’s ground floor; a door opens to the church at the south wall. A grand old staircase from the basement leads upstairs to the spacious main sala overlooking the sea. The sala is only half of the horizontal section of the convento. The other half consists of larger rooms. A volada (gallery) linking the sala to the dirty kitchen protects the storage rooms and chambers of the parish priest and his assistant from sun and rain. In addition to the kitchen and bathroom, these rooms occupy the vertical section of the convento.

In the 1990s, the ground floor was turned into a garage, bodegas, and pens for domesticated animals. The ground floor windows are narrow and protected by semicircular wooden balustrades. There are two doors of hardwood and wrought iron, with metal locks; a semicircular door faces east, and a flat and wider door faces south. Persiana or louver shutters encircle the entire second floor. Rather than ventanillas or sliding shutters beneath the window and translucent transoms as in a typical bahay na bato (stone house), static and plain wooden panels are used. The convento’s steep roof is made of tiles,

On the Epistle side of the church is a cemetery, entered through a lintel and post gate with a relief of death as a skeleton holding a scythe and hourglass. Beside the convento is the two-story Escuela Catolica built in 1940 and designed by Fr Leonardo Moran. Similar to the bahay na bato, the lower story is cement and the upper story is of wood. The school has a pitched roof of galvanized iron. A double flight of cement stairs, believed to be a way to separate girls and boys, leads to the second story. The stairs end in a landing with wood filigree cutout in the style of Victorian houses.

Boljoon church was designated a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute (NHI) on 25 June 2000.

Because of this declaration restoration of the complex and cleaning of the area was done. The once dirty ground floor has been cleaned and part of the zaguan converted to the parish museum of Boljoon. The museum displays church artifacts and precolonial and early colonial gold artifacts, metal tools, pottery and tradeware unearthed during a 2007 archaeological survey of the church plaza.

The church and bell tower underwent consolidation and a new layer of palitada or plastering was applied in 2007 under the supervision of NHI. These recent interventions may have saved Boljoon from damage during the 15 October 2013 earthquake. The structure suffered surface cracks but remained structurally sound.


The church is a fortress church, built of coral stones and located on a hill near the sea. It originally served as a watchtower for Moro raids. The church is known for its original terracotta roof tiles and its distinct folk art or Filipino Baroque style seen predominantly on its choir screen and pulpit. Twenty-eight pillars support the 2-metre (6.6 ft) thick walls made of mortar and lime. Its ceiling paintings are the work of Miguel Villareal, a native of Boljoon. The three gates and the walls of the church are made of coral stones and were constructed from 1802 to 1808 under the auspices of Father Bermejo.

The main retablo is in pseudo-baroque rococo with gold leaf highlights and polychrome accents. Located on the central niche of the main altar is the image of Boljoon’s patron, Our Lady of Patrocinio, brought by Father Bartolome de Garcia from Spain in 1599. A side chapel located on the left side of the church is also dedicated to the patron.

The rectangular bell tower used to have seven bells. The tower’s ground floor was used as a prison cell, probably for pirates as can be assumed from the drawings of ships on the walls.

Adjoining buildings were also built as part of the church complex and fortification.

The first floor of the church convent houses a museum containing liturgical objects such as record books, images of saints, vestments and other relics.

The church plaza, locally called Muraya, is mainly used for large church activities. It is believed to be a former burial ground and site of an early Hispanic burial site. Archaeological excavations undertaken by the University of San Carlos revealed several burial sites, antique jars and dishes, a necklace and a gold earring. The gold earring, the first archaeological find of its kind in a Philippine burial site, is probably worn by a person of high status and may have indicated “wealth, influence or great power”.

Also called the fortress or Dakong Balay (Big House), the quadrangular blockhouse was first built by Father Julian Bermejo when he came to Boljoon in 1808. The 120-by-80-metre (390 ft × 260 ft) blockhouse served as an artillery store and as the main fortress in the church complex. It is a two-story structure with a tile-covered parapet, built of coral stone with a tiled roof. Today it serves as a bell tower.

The first burials in Boljoon’s cemetery probably occurred in the 1760s. It was closed when a public cemetery was opened. Its gates might have been built in the 1700s, or in 1783 when the present church was constructed. Consisting of coral stones, the cemetery has a symmetrical stone arch gateway with a three-layer pediment, finials on both sides of the two-lower layers and a stone relief of a human skeleton on top. The walls are also adorned with a relief of a human skull and bones.

A former square watchtower made out of coral stone stands on the Bohol coast. It is said to have been constructed by Father Bermejo as part of the church’s massive fortification efforts.

 

 

SOURCE: (Manila News-Intellegencer)

Originally posted 2014-11-21 23:29:59.