Bicol church declared as national treasure

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CAMALIG, Albay: A century-old church in Camalig, Albay, has been declared by the National Museum as a national treasure.

The declaration was made on Saturday during the town fiesta of St. John the Baptist parish in Camalig over the weekend here.

Camalig Mayor Maria Ahrdail Baldo said the almost 500-year old St. John the Baptist Church built by Franciscan missionaries is an important and historical place of worship.

St. John the Baptist Church was a mute witness to World War 11 as a garrison of Japanese soldiers was located at the back of the church.


Baldo said the declaration of the church as a national treasure will boost tourism here.

Camalig is known as the country’s pinangat (a native fish) capital and home to cultural and historical sites in the Bicol Region.

Jeremy Barnes, National Museum director, in a letter to the local government unit of Camalig said St. John the Baptist Parish Church was declared as one of the significant structures of the Philippines for 2016 under the category of important cultural property.

“It is with pride and commitment that we affirm as National Museum the inclusion of this important cultural property as among the significant built heritage [sites]of the country,” Barnes added in a letter.

Construction of the church started in 1605, resumed in 1837 and was completed in 1845.

Its bell tower served as a lookout post during World War 11.

The church serves as refuge of the people of Camalig during the Spanish, Japanese and American occupations and as evacuation center during eruptions of Mayon Volcano.

St. John the Baptist Church was destroyed during the eruption in 1814.

Christianity was brought to Camalig by Capt. Luis de Guzman together with Father Alonzo Jimenez, an Augustinian priest who arrived with the Miguel Lopez de Legazpi expedition.

Evangelization was begun in 1578 by Augustinian missionaries.

When the Augustinians left, Franciscan priests Pablo de Jesus and Bartolome Ruiz continued their work.

In 1579, Camalig was formally inaugurated as a town and as a parish.

The Franciscan missionaries ran the church for over 400 years, from 1579-1983.

At first, the church was made from wood and nipa from 1579 to 1580.

The second church was made from Mayon Volcano rocks and stones and built by prisoners in 1605.

The church was destroyed by successive eruptions of Mayon from 1766 to 1814, when the strongest eruption was recorded.

Two priests, Francisco Latoba and Manuel Brihuega, helped rebuild the church in 1837.

Construction of the facade, bell tower and Escuela Catolica was supervised by Fr. Miguel Barcela in 1845.

The existing church, which was made from lava rocks cut by hundreds of stonecutters, has survived several typhoons.

It is touted by the Department of Tourism as one of the strongest churches in the Bicol Region.

Fr. Jose Maria Barrulo, a Spanish Franciscan assigned to Camalig after the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese in 1945, said the church could compare to any of the cathedrals in Europe.

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