THE province of Bataan has seven old Catholic churches built some 215 to 428 years ago that have been appointed as pilgrimage sites, and one of these is the Church of Samal, which houses centuries-old images.
These pilgrimage churches were constructed under the ministration of Dominican priests, and are located in the towns of Hermosa, Orani, Samal, Abucay, Pilar and Orion and the City of Balanga.
The oldest is the Church of Abucay, which is now 428 years old. Santo Domingo de Guzman is its patron saint. Its museum houses the first printing press, used by first Filipino printer, Tomas Pinpin.
The Church of Samal – whose patron is Saint Catherine of Sienna – is the second oldest at 420 years.
Orion church, with Saint Michael the Archangel as its patron, is the third oldest at 349 years old.
The next oldest, Orani church, 306 years old, has as its patron Virgen Milagrosa del Rosario. The image of the Virgin Mary at its altar is more than 300 years old. The clothes and crowns worn by Our Lady of the Holy Rosary can be viewed in a museum in the church.
The Church of Balanga follows at 302 years old, with Saint Joseph as its patron saint. Life-size images of saints adorn the frontage of the Saint Joseph Cathedral, by which it is now known. Bishop Ruperto Santos, like all other bishops of the Diocese of Balanga, holds office in the cathedral.
The Church of Hermosa, with Saint Peter de Varona as patron saint, is the sixth oldest at 260 years, followed by the Church of Pilar, with patron Virgen Milagrosa del Pilar at 215 years old.
Although all the churches underwent various renovations, the common major materials were sturdy big bricks locally known as batong silyar. These items are very evident on the walls of the churches.
The Church of Samal was declared a Jubilee Church during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. It houses various images that are centuries-old, one even considered as old as the church.
Four images of town’s patron – Saint Catherine of Sienna – can be found enthroned at the altar (a replica) and three others are at the second floor of the church convent whose walls are made of bricks and adobe).
The three original images of Saint Catherine of Sienna are all centuries-old, but one is believed to be the oldest at 420 years old. The image shows traces of termite-infestation on the body, but it is still sturdy, and its face and eyes are glowing.
Also more than hundred years old are the images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Immaculate Conception, Saint Joseph and the cross with the small Crucified Christ and tabernacle at the altar.
Other images of the saints and Jesus Christ can also be found at one of the corridors at the ground floor of the convent.
Altar boys Bernard and Enzo Garcia said pilgrims by the busload flock to the church, especially during the Lenten Season. This year, pilgrims from Northern Luzon, Bicol and CALABARZON have visited the church, along with the rest of the six other appointed churches in the province, as early as late February.