The belfry of Boljoon has recently been restored to its former glory, as a heritage conservationist, I couldn’t be happier with the restoration. New materials have been added but the detail of the original has been painstakingly reserved. Truly impressive. The tisa (from Pondohan) roofing for example was cut based on the exact dimensions of the original. Even Fray Bermejo would be pleased with what’s going on here. All of this work guarantees that this wonderful monument of Filipino history would be around for the next generation to see.
The first restoration was done by Fray Moran in the 1920’s. In recent years, after the church (dedicated to Nuestra Senora Patrocinio de Maria) has been declared a “National Cultural Treasure”, talks about its full restoration started to surface. Some German group has shown interest in the past to provide technical supervision together with National Museum. I don’t know if this ever materialized. There were posters around the parish asking for contributions for the restoration, so these recent works could be a project locally initiated by the Boljoon town officials together with the church, who deserve to be recognized for its notable efforts in keeping the architectural integrity of the church. Looking inside, they’ve already started restoring some of the wooden structure. I hope everything would be well and good, I would definitely drop by again to check on its progress.
As I walk around the church and then to the nearby coast of Boljoon, I wondered how life was like here, the place is literally stuck between the sea and the mountain, its peaceful now but during the years when Muslim raiders roam the sea it must’ve been terrifying. I suspect that the villagers had a hard time protecting the church and their community from the Moros because of its terrain. The church is so close to the surf that once the barbaric raiders land the village is already within reach.
The campanaria plays an important part in our Christian history and a great example of this is Boljoon. The town relied greatly on their belfry. In the 1700’s the Missionaries acquired a silver bell from Spain. This silver bell is said to generate a distinct clear sound that when tolled can be heard all the way to Oslob. It not only called people to prayer but it also served as an alarm system for the town (these coastal belfry also served as navigational landmark for the Spanish navigators).
A pirate lord named Datu Orendain raided the town in the early 1800’s, after loading his bancas with his plunder and kidnapped villagers, he then aimed to steal the silver bell, so he ordered his many men to take it aboard but because of its heaviness the boat that was carrying the bell sunk in the middle of the sea. So that’s the end of that silver bell and most probably the men that stole it.
Burglary is not new around here, what a writer once described as “ornate Islamic silverwork of the communion rail” is no more. In fact, burglars has been feasting on religious antiques for years here in Cebu that towns like San Remigio, Badian, Alcoy, Boljoon, Dalaguete, Catmon, Cordova, Pinamungajan and Sibonga has already lost valuable icons and antiques. All of these prompted a circular from Cardinal Vidal to call on the parish priest to inspect their locale if their valuable are under threat. The good Cardinal has opened the Cathedrals doors as a vault for safe keeping. I don’t know if the parish priest has heeded the request of the Cardinal, as of this writing I’ve heard news of recent stealing from a nearby town.
Another recurring problem of the church of Boljoon are these tiny swallow-like birds, yes, birds that flutters in the interior of the church. They’ve been building their nest, dozens of them on the ceiling! With all of them up there, their droppings have been messing the seats below, prompting the caretakers to cover the seats with newspapers and plastics sheets. It’s astonishing how these small creatures can attach their nest to the ceiling using their saliva and some twigs. These birds are not going away soon that’s for sure.