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1521 Feature Heritage History

Cebu Archdiocese, CBCP to focus on first baptism, spread of faith in 2021 celebration

The baptism of Cebuanos led by Rajah Humabon will be the focus of the Archdiocese of Cebu and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in their celebration of the 500th year of the Christianization of the Philippines

On December 1, 2019, the church will start a 500-day countdown to April 14, 2021, the 500th anniversary of the first baptism in the Philippines. On that day in 1521, 800 Cebuanos under Humabon were baptized by members of the Spanish armada led by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

On April 14, 2021, 500 children with special needs will be baptized as part of the reenactment of that first baptism.

Jubilee Cross sendoff

Also on December 1, church officials will send off the Jubilee Cross, a replica of Magellan’s cross made of tindalo wood that will have in it a relic of the True Cross. The Jubilee Cross will visit the different parishes in Cebu and the rest of the Philippines.

The activities were announced earlier today by church officials led by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and CBCP President and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles during a press conference in the Executive Lounge of Oakridge Business Park in Mandaue City.

2021 EVENTS. Officials announce the official activities for the 500th anniversary of the Christianization in the Philippines. Present during the press conference in Oakridge Business Park are (from left) Fr. Mhar Vincent Balili; Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, who is also the CBCP president; Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, designer Kenneth Cobonpue, who heads the Visayas Quincentennial Committee; and Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Midyphil Billones.
2021 EVENTS. Officials announce the official activities for the 500th anniversary of the Christianization in the Philippines. Present during the press conference in Oakridge Business Park are (from left) Fr. Mhar Vincent Balili; Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, who is also the CBCP president; Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, designer Kenneth Cobonpue, who heads the Visayas Quincentennial Committee; and Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Midyphil Billones.

Fr. Mhar Vincent Balili said the 2021 celebration has three pillars around which events are organized – celebration, formation, and legacy. He said the 2021 celebration has many highlights – including the arrival of the Sto. Nino, for which the Augustinian community started a countdown today. He said the archdiocese chose to focus on the baptism because “it is when our faith was planted in our hearts.”

Open Holy Door

Fr. Balili said they requested Pope Francis for permission to open the Holy Door for plenary indulgence and extend this to the 9 oldest churches in Cebu. Archbishop Palma will also celebrate the Misa de Gallo in 2020 in these 9 oldest churches, which include Bantayan, Argao, Barili, Boljoon, Carcar, San Nicolas, among others.

Key events leading to 2021 including the holding of monthly jubilees involving church organizations, ministries, and sectors of society. The jubilees are pegged on feast days of saints.

Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Midyphil Billones highlighted the importance of the events saying 2021 is unrepeatable, irreplaceable and irrevocable. He said it is a “once in a lifetime event.”

“If Bethlehem is point x of our salvation history, in the Philippines, Cebu – the cradle of Christianity – is the point x where faith spread,” he said.

HERITAGE WALK. Designer Kenneth Cobonpue, head of the Visayas Quincentennial Committee, discusses the heritage walk the Cebu City Government and various stakeholders want to put up in time for the celebration.
HERITAGE WALK. Designer Kenneth Cobonpue, head of the Visayas Quincentennial Committee, discusses the heritage walk the Cebu City Government and various stakeholders want to put up in time for the celebration.

Mission congress

Part of the preparation for the year-long celebration leading to the quincentennial is the holding of mission congresses in the different parishes from August to October 2020. The Archdiocesan Mission Congress will be held on October 24, 2020. This will culminate with the sendoff of 500 missionaries outside extra during the National Mission Congress on April 12-16, 2021.

On April 11 to 18, 2021, organizers will stage an Amorsolo Painting Exhibit. One of Fernando Amorsolo’s most important paintings is “The First Baptism in the Philippines.”

Triduum celebrations will also be held three days before the baptism anniversary. Preceding it is the arrival of the Jubilee Cross scheduled on April 10, 2021. The first day of Triduum on April 11 will be held at the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The second day will be at the National Shrine of St. Joseph while the last day will be at the Sto. Niño Pilgrim Center. The Triduum will end with a procession around Cebu City.

First recorded Easter Mass

Valles said the church will mark the first recorded Easter Mass with a national celebration of masses. The Mojares panel is still looking into the question on where the first mass in the Philippines was held. Two previous panels have ruled in favor of Limasawa against the other claimant Butuan.

During today’s press conference, renowned designer Kenneth Cobonpue, who is head of the Visayas Quincentennial Committee, unveiled the planned downtown heritage walk that would take people to historical buildings and locations, including churches, in Cebu City. (See separate story).

Valles said the CBCP will send an invitation to Vatican for Pope Francis but they said they are aware of how tight his schedule is. He said it is likely that a papal legate will attend the events for the Vatican. He said they will also be sending an invitation to President Rodrigo Duterte.

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1521 Feature History

Lapulapu statue implicated in deaths of Opon mayors

In the old town center of Opon, the old name of Lapu-Lapu City when it was still a municipality, stands a statue of Lapulapu carrying a staff. Far from being the warrior that is depicted in the bigger and more popular statue in Liberty Shrine eight kilometers away, this Lapulapu looks less menacing.

He’s more shepherd than warrior. It’s ridiculous, said historian Jobers Bersales in an interview, “alho man daw na.”

Lapulapu legends

That alho or pestle figures in the many legends and myths that obscure the historical Lapulapu, National Artist Dr. Resil Mojares said in a paper he read during the Symposium on Lapulapu at the University of San Carlos on April 21, 1979.

One of the legends had the mythical Datu Mangal, said to be Lapulapu’s father, asking the warrior to make an alho out of a biyanti tree and hurl it against a coconut tree and if the pestle pierces the trunk then it would serve as a good omen that he will be victorious in the upcoming battle with the Spaniards. Lapulapu did so and not only did the pestle pierce the coconut trunk, it went through five, according to some accounts.)

Mojares said that folk tradition has Lapulapu himself killing Magellan with a blow of the alho.

Lapulapu statue then and now.

While interesting, there are scant historical bases for the tradition, Mojares said.

The killing by Lapulapu of Magellan with a blow of the alho does not jibe with Pigafetta’s account of his killing. He was killed with a poisoned arrow, Bersales said.

Also, Oponganons during Lapulapu’s time may have been orang-laut or sea-nomads who inhabit the sea, Mojares wrote. “They were obviously more attached to the sea than the land,” he wrote.

Canuto Baring and stories of Lapulapu

“It strikes us therefore as strange that an alho, an agricultural implement, should figure prominently in the Lapulapu legend,” said Mojares.

The alho myth ties up with the stories of Canuto Baring “a popular source of Lapulapu legends who claimed direct descent from the hero.” He died in 1962.

Mojares wrote that in 1930, a giant alho and kuwako (pipe) said to be of Lapulapu and owned by Baring were put on exhibit. Kuwako ug alho ni Lapulapu ipasundayag sa Kamabal, reported Bag-ong Kusug on January 3, 1930.

His daughter Antonia, however, told Mojares in an interview that “these were just old artifacts that were dug up and “ascribed” to the hero.”

LAPULAPU. A photograph of the Lapulapu stature on October 10, 1949 by “Life” photographer Jack Birns. Beyond the statue is the old Opon church. (Photo from John Tewell’s Flickr account)
LAPULAPU. A photograph of the Lapulapu stature on October 10, 1949 by “Life” photographer Jack Birns. Beyond the statue is the old Opon church. (Photo from John Tewell’s Flickr account)

Deaths of Opon mayors

But when the statue was put up in 1933, Lapulapu was armed with a bow and arrow and aimed at the direction of the old Opon municipal hall across the town plaza.

Three successive mayors then died in office – Rito de la Serna, Gregorio de la Serna, and Simeon Amodia – all serving short terms. Superstitious townsfolk blamed the Lapulapu statue for their deaths.

It was modified during the term of Mariano Dimataga, who assumed as Open chief executive in 1938. The bow and arrow were taken away and replaced with the staff or pestle. Dimataga remained chief executive for the next 30 years, the longest serving town mayor of Opon and the first city mayor when the town became Lapu-Lapu City.

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1521 History

Marica! Bisaya words in use when Magellan was in Cebu

I’ve long been curious about the word marica, which I first heard when I relocated to Cebu more than 20 years ago. I never heard it growing up in Polomolok, South Cotabato where we talked a patois that was a mix of Cebuano and Ilonggo.

For us, it was “dali” or “adto diri” or “ari di.” For years I spoke an ungrammatical “adto ko dinhi ugma (I’ll be here tomorrow).” The correct phrase is “anhi ko ugma.” To come here is anhi, to go there is adto, I was to learn soon enough.

I can no longer recall when I first heard marica but I’ve always thought it a modernism, a portmanteau of “muari ka” (edit: several people have said the root is the phrase “umari ka“) that evolved into a single-word bidding.

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1521 History

Magellan’s Cross offers indulgence to Catholic faithful

Augustinian friar Santos Gomez Marañon, who served as bishop of Cebu from 1829 to 1840, granted the Magellan’s Cross plenary indulgence to those who pray before it every Feast of the Triumph of the Cross on September 14.

The indulgence is gained by praying the Creed.

For those unfamiliar with Catholic teachings, an indulgence is a way to reduce the punishment for sins. It can be attained by performing a good deed or reciting a prayer or visiting a place.

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1521 Feature Heritage History

In Oslob, Fr. Bermejo looks out to sea he protected in his lifetime

Just outside the compound of the Inmaculada Concepcion parish church in Oslob, southern Cebu, stands a forlorn statue of a slightly hunched priest holding a cross — as if to offer a blessing — while looking out to the open sea.

The statue is that of Fr. Julian Bermejo, an Augustinian priest who played a pivotal role in protecting Cebu and other parts of the Visayas from devastating Moro raids in the 19th century.

He was called “El Padre Capitan” and served as the commander-in-chief of the defense network, centered in nearby Boljoon, against Moro raiders who staged regular pirate attacks for looting and slave raiding, said Paul Gerschwiler in his book “Bolhoon A Cultural Sketch.”

EL PADRE CAPITAN. The statue of Fr. Julian Bermejo OSA in Oslob stands in front of the ruins of the baluarte – the watchtower part of a network that he organized to protect southern Cebu towns from Moro raiders.
EL PADRE CAPITAN. The statue of Fr. Julian Bermejo OSA in Oslob stands in front of the ruins of the baluarte – the watchtower part of a network that he organized to protect southern Cebu towns from Moro raiders.

Behind his statue are the ruins of a watchtower, a defensive structure that he organized into a grid that served as sentinels against the marauding Moros. That network and the defensive system he set up ultimately stopped the pirate raids in the middle of the 19th century.

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1521 Feature Heritage

You think you’re kinky? Wait till you read about sexual practices of ancient Cebuanos

(WARNING: this article tackles a mature subject in graphic fashion)

These people go naked, Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta wrote in his account of the Armada de Molucca’s stay in Zzubu or Cebu, “wearing only a piece of cloth made of palm around their shameful parts.”

“They have as many wives as they wish, but there is always a chief one,” he added.

Then he wrote about a practice that, according to historian Laurence Bergreen, both fascinated and appalled explorers from around the world: palang.

“The males, both large and small, have the head of their member pierced from one side to the other, with a pin of gold or of tin as thick as a goose feather; and at each end of this pin some have a star-shaped decoration like a button, and others, one like the head of a cart nail,” Pigafetta said.

The middle of the pin has a hole through which they urinate, he added. “The pin and the stars always remain firm, holding the member stiff.”

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1521 Feature History

Is the original really encased inside Magellan’s Cross?

No, according to several historians. The panel placed at the foot of the cross makes two astonishing claims: that it contains the original Magellan’s Cross and that it was planted by the Portuguese explorer on that very spot.

Neither claim holds up to close scrutiny.

It is also interesting to note that the commemorative marker put up by the then Philippines Historical Committee in 1941 never made that claim.

MAGELLAN’S CROSS. This undated photo shows a view of the cross from Cebu City Hall. Behind it is the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño convent. (Photo from the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos)

MAGELLAN’S CROSS. This undated photo shows a view of the cross from Cebu City Hall. Behind it is the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño convent. (Photo from the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos)

Putting up of Magellan’s Cross

Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of the Spanish armada led by Magellan, wrote that they put up the cross to mark the conversion of Cebuanos, led by ruler Rajah Humabon, to Christianity.

“A large cross was set up in the middle of the square. The Captain General told them that if they wished to become Christians as they had declared on the previous days, they must burn all their idols and set up a cross in their place. They were to adore that cross daily with clasped hands, and every morning after their custom, they were to make the sign of the cross (which the Captain General showed them how to make); and they ought to come hourly, at least in the morning, to that cross, and adore it kneeling,” Pigafetta wrote.

Magellan planting the cross. (Image from the New York Public Library)

National Artist and Cebuano historian Dr. Resil Mojares wrote in his book “The Feast of the Santo Niño: An Introduction to the History of a Cebuano Devotion” that it was the practice of Spaniards to plant crosses on land they “discover” to mark possession for the crown and signify divine presence.

But after Magellan’s death in the Battle of Mactan, which author Hugh Thomas described as “a gratuitous adventure that deserved to end badly,” the Cebuanos turned against the Spaniards, allegedly at the incitement of the explorer’s slave Enrique.

Humabon invited the surviving Spaniards to a feast on May 1. He promised them gifts and jewels to take with them to the King of Spain.

FERDINAND MAGELLAN. This portrait of the Portuguese explorer and captain of the Armada de Molucca is “believed to be one of the few accurate likenesses of Magellan,” wrote historian Laurence Bergreen in his book Over the Edge of the World.

FERDINAND MAGELLAN. This portrait of the Portuguese explorer and captain of the Armada de Molucca is “believed to be one of the few accurate likenesses of Magellan,” wrote historian Laurence Bergreen in his book Over the Edge of the World.

Pigafetta, who did not join because he was still nursing injuries from the battle in Mactan, said a quarter of the crew attended, including the two new co-commanders, Juan Serrano and Duarte Barbosa.

During the meal, the Spaniards were killed by Humabon’s men. The massacre culminated in a standoff at the shore where the Cebuanos held for ransom Juan Serrano, who pleaded with his compatriots to save him. After an initial negotiation on ransom when the Cebuanos kept asking for more, the armada decided to leave Cebu.

NO SUCH CLAIM. The official marker put up in 1941 by the then Philippines Historical Committee, which is now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, never made the claim about the original cross being encased in the one now at the site.

NO SUCH CLAIM. The official marker put up in 1941 by the then Philippines Historical Committee, which is now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, never made the claim about the original cross being encased in the one now at the site.

IS THIS ACCURATE? Thousands of tourists visiting Magellan’s Cross daily think, because of this panel, that part of the cross is still there and that it was planted at this very spot. Those claims don’t have historical support.

IS THIS ACCURATE? Thousands of tourists visiting Magellan’s Cross daily think, because of this panel, that part of the cross is still there and that it was planted at this very spot. Those claims don’t have historical support.

Tearing it down

“Only 115 men remained of the 260 who had left Spain, and as they fled to safety, their last sight of Cebu was of enraged islanders tearing down the cross on the mountaintop and smashing it to bits,” wrote American historian Laurence Bergreen in his book Over The Edge of The World Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe. (Emphasis mine. Note the reference on a mountaintop. I haven’t found a similar one but the Spaniards were reported to prefer to plant the cross on the highest point of a place.)

“Simultaneously, before the ships had cleared the harbour, amid cries of jubilation from the indigenes, another party of them was tearing down the great Cross which Magellan had erected. What the leader had achieved during weeks of careful and patient work came to naught in an hour,” wrote Stefan Zweig in his seminal book Magellan.

In her dissertation on the Santo Niño de Cebu for her doctorate in anthropology, Astrid Sala-Boza said “there is no archaeological or historical evidence that this cross is actually the original (or at least the site of the original) Magellan’s cross.”

“Instead, because of its proximity to the Basilica, the site of the finding of the Holy Image during Legazpi’s expedition, there is the possibility that the cross could be “Legazpi’s cross” (now encased in wood),” Sala-Boza wrote. She also pointed out that the Legazpi expedition did not mention finding a cross.

NO TEXT OF CLAIM. This photo after a restoration of the kiosk by the Knights of Columbus several decades ago (we’re still looking into date) does not show at the base of the cross the panel that contains the claims about the original cross and its site.

NO TEXT OF CLAIM. This photo after a restoration of the kiosk by the Knights of Columbus several decades ago (we’re still looking into date) does not show at the base of the cross the panel that contains the claims about the original cross and its site.

Rada cross

In 1565, the Spaniards returned to the Philippines under the leadership of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. They planted another cross, made of bamboo and measuring five fathoms.

“It is credited to the Augustinian Martin de Rada and has been called the cross of Rada,” wrote Mojares. He said Rada was known as the Apostle of Cebu because of his evangelization work here.

The cross of Rada was reputed to be miraculous because it “did not suffer the least lesion” in a fire that destroyed houses around the cross on November 2, 1565.

MAJOR TOURIST SPOT. Magellan’s Cross is a top tourist attraction in Cebu. It’s part of the tour circuit that includes the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Fort San Pedro, and Plaza Independencia. (Photo provided by the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu)

MAJOR TOURIST SPOT. Magellan’s Cross is a top tourist attraction in Cebu. It’s part of the tour circuit that includes the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Fort San Pedro, and Plaza Independencia. (Photo provided by the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu)

“Augustinian prior Juan de Albarran, during the construction of the current church complex in 1735-40, built an enclosure around the cross. In 1834, Santos Gomez Marañon, the Augustinian bishop of Cebu (1829-40), had an octagonal temple built to protect the cross from the weather and devotees who, regarding it as miraculous, were accustomed to chip away splinters from it as relics,” Mojares wrote. “The “original” cross is now contained in another hollow hardwood cross set in the middle of a stone altar inside the kiosk.

Sala-Boza said the cross was once referred to as “the cross on Magallanes street” and became eventually known as Magellan’s Cross.

Magellan's Cross in 1965. ({Photo provided by the Basilica Minore del Sto.  Niño.

Magellan’s Cross in 1965. ({Photo provided by the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.

“The lack of definitive documentary evidence on the identification of this cross obliges us to admit that it is a relic from the expedition of Legazpi, and not from that of Magellan,” Sala-Boza wrote in her study, quoting Villanueva’s 1969 work.

Did you know?

Until our research for the interactive marker that will be installed at the site, I did not know that it was granted an indulgence. To Catholics, an indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.”

Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon granted the Magellan’s Cross plenary indulgence who those who pray before it every Feast of the Triumph of the Cross on September 14. The indulgence is gained by praying one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory to the Father for the intention of the pope in Rome.

PLENARY INDULGENCE. This framed document found in the basilica library is the actual plenary indulgence granted by Cebu Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon for the Magellan’s Cross.

PLENARY INDULGENCE. This framed document found in the basilica library is the actual plenary indulgence granted by Cebu Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon for the Magellan’s Cross.

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1521 Feature

Is Colon really the oldest street in the Philippines?

No, writes Dr. Resil Mojares in Integracion/Internacion: The Urbanization of Cebu in Archival Records of the Spanish Colonial Period.

There were already streets even before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, Mojares asserts in the book’s opening chapter Calle Colon and the Sites of Public Memory.

“In a commonsensical way, one can say that where a sufficient number of people pass, a street is made,” explains Mojares, a National Artist for Literature.

“But even when one requires that some premeditated design, apart from being trodden, is what makes a path a street, it can be assumed that there were already streets in the country’s populous centers when the Spaniards first came,” he says.

OLD COLON. This archival photo shows the corner of Mabini and Colon streets. This is the point of view were you to stand across the obelisk that stands on Colon. According to the text that accompanied this photograph at the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos, the building at the end of the road used to Hijos del Pueblo. It is where the present-day Gaisano Main is located.

OLD COLON. This archival photo shows the corner of Mabini and Colon streets. This is the point of view were you to stand across the obelisk that stands on Colon. According to the text that accompanied this photograph at the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos, the building at the end of the road used to Hijos del Pueblo. It is where the present-day Gaisano Main is located.

Historical marker

The historical marker installed by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines on the obelisk on Colon Street proclaims it as the oldest in the country.

“Colon St., known also as Parian, is the oldest street in the Philippines. It was built by the Spaniards who arrived in Cebu in 1565 on the fleet composed of the vessels San Pedro, San Pablo and San Juan under the command of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi,” says the marker published in English, Filipino, and Cebuano. (Emphasis mine.)

It is the only street in the country recognized as a national historical landmark, Mojares writes. What may be distinct, Mojares writes, is “Spanish colonial urbanism” and the deliberate planning of the settlement.

HISTORICAL MARKER. Three markers proclaim in English, Filipino, and Cebuano that Colon is indeed the oldest street in the Philippines.

HISTORICAL MARKER. Three markers proclaim in English, Filipino, and Cebuano that Colon is indeed the oldest street in the Philippines.

The street was known as Calle del Parian before it was named after Christopher Columbus or Cristobal Colon.

Colon is a short street, Mojares writes, extending from the corner of present day D. Jakosalem Street to the Mabini deadend (see photos).

Postcards, books

Present day Colon, especially the area of the old Calle Parian, is dirty and stinky. It’s strewn with litter, including cigarette butts and plastic wrappers. It’s not an area that Cebu City can proudly show off to tourists.

The book traces popularization of the claim to postcards and school books published at the turn of the 20th century. Among the first post cards was one published in 1910 by American Bazar labeled “oldest street in Cebu.” It used a photograph taken by a discharged American soldier who put up a photo studio in Cebu, the book said.

PRESENT DAY. Colon from the point of view of where the old photographs show the old street to be.

PRESENT DAY. Colon from the point of view of where the old photographs show the old street to be.

In 1914, William Boyce, a publisher from Chicago, wrote about the “many reminders of the earliest Spanish days in Cebu. Colon with its tiles and arcades, is the oldest street in the Philippines.” His book printed a photo of Colon with the caption “Calle Colon, Cebu, the oldest street in the Philippines.” (Emphasis mine.)

Mojares said that after Boyce, travelers would subsequently refer to Colon as the oldest street in the country.

That Colon became “an icon of Spanish colonial urbanism,” a fame founded on error, provides “fine irony,” writes Mojares. It lies outside the intramuros of Spanish settlement envisioned by Legazpi, in the periphery where the Chinese and Chinese-mestizos lived.

“The case of Colon suggests that urbanism is not the pure product of Legazpi’s mental map of what a civilized settlement should be,” Mojares writes. Colon is what “Cebuanos made it to be.”

OLD COLON. According to the information card that came with the photo, the presence of wires strung on the electric poles indicated that the power plant of Albert Bryan and RR. Landon was in operation. Their company is the forerunner of the current utility Visayan Electric Company Inc. or VECO.

OLD COLON. According to the information card that came with the photo, the presence of wires strung on the electric poles indicated that the power plant of Albert Bryan and RR. Landon was in operation. Their company is the forerunner of the current utility Visayan Electric Company Inc. or VECO.

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1521 Heritage TBT

TBT: Did you know the capitol was once located across Plaza Independencia?

Before the Cebu Provincial Government transferred to the current location of the Capitol, the provincial governor held office at the Casa de Gobierno or the Casa Provincial across the Plaza Independencia.

Lucy Urgello Miller said in her book “Glimpses of Old Cebu: Images of the Colonial Era” that the location of the Casa de Gobierno is, at the time of the publication of her book in 2010, now an empty space near the Trans Asia building.

OLD CAPITOL. This photo shows the Casa Provincial where Cebu’s governors and other provincial officers held office. It was located on what was then known as Calle de los Trece Martires, now M. J. Cuenco Avenue. According to the photo file, you can see at the far end the Colegio Parvulos del Santo Niño Jesus. (Photo from the Medalle Collection and used with permission of the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos.)

OLD CAPITOL. This photo shows the Casa Provincial where Cebu’s governors and other provincial officers held office. It was located on what was then known as Calle de los Trece Martires, now M. J. Cuenco Avenue. According to the photo file, you can see at the far end the Colegio Parvulos del Santo Niño Jesus. (Photo from the Medalle Collection and used with permission of the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos.)

Another view of the Casa Provincial. (Photo from the Medalle Collection and used with permission of the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos.)

Another view of the Casa Provincial. (Photo from the Medalle Collection and used with permission of the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos.)

The current Cebu Capitol was completed in 1938. According to Miller, her aunt told her about the strong opposition to its location, which was considered remote then. Her aunt told her radio commentators made fun of the location, saying that only monkeys from the hills near the building would attend the sessions held at the new capitol.

“REMOTE LOCATION.” A photo of the Capitol taken in 1940. When it was being built, people criticized the location of the new Capitol building. Radio commentators made fun of it saying that it was so remote only monkeys from the hills behind it would attend the sessions in the building. (Photo from the Medalle Collection and used with permission of the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos.)

“REMOTE LOCATION.” A photo of the Capitol taken in 1940. When it was being built, people criticized the location of the new Capitol building. Radio commentators made fun of it saying that it was so remote only monkeys from the hills behind it would attend the sessions in the building. (Photo from the Medalle Collection and used with permission of the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos.)

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1521 Heritage TBT

San Juan Bautista Parish Church, once Cebu’s most opulent church

DIONISIO Alo stood seething with anger as authorities tore down the magnificent San Juan Bautista Parish Church in Parian in the late 1870s.

“His heart bled with every stone that was removed and all he could do was bite his lips causing them to also bleed,” said Ang Sugbo sa Karaang Panahon: An Annotated Translation of the 1935 History of Cebu by Fe Susan Go.

Alo, who was capitan of the Parian gremio, was so angry at the destruction that he unknowingly crushed the golden handle of his baston.

The destruction of what had been described in various historical sources as the most magnificent church in Cebu was the end of centuries of struggle between the local mestizo community and the Spanish friars who wanted control over the structure.

San Juan Bautista Parish in Parian
The San Juan Bautista Parish Church in the Parian district is described as having been the most magnificent church in Cebu. (PHOTO USED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE CEBUANO STUDIES CENTER OF USC)

The Parian church, according to Go’s translation submitted to the University of San Carlos as her masteral thesis in history, “has never been surpassed by any other church that has been built in Cebu, such as the Cathedral, the Seminary and San Nicolas.” It was built in 1602.

What remains on the site today, the San Juan Bautista chapel, is but a faint reminder of an opulent past.

“The church was made of stone blocks, plastered together in a mixture of lime and the sap of the lawat tree. The roofs were made of tiles, and the lumber used was molave, balayong and naga. The paraphernalia used in the mass was made purely of gold, the pews were carved by a sculptor of the Parian, the altars were covered with stone slabs with money and gold inlaid, and the church bells were big and loud. The tolling of these bells was so loud that it could be heard as far as Hilotungan and the town of Talisay,” Go said in her thesis.

“The Augustinian friars upon seeing the magnificence of the church of the Parian, got envious, and employed every shrewd means they could think of to take over the Parian church,” the thesis said.

Fr. Rafael Vasquez, a Parianon, however, fought back and kept the friars at bay.

San Juan Bautista Church in Pari-an
The San Juan Bautista Parish Church in a diorama of the old Pari-an district located inside one of the galleries of the Museo Pari-an sa Sugbo 1730 Jesuit House, which is just a few meters away from where the Pari-an church was located. (Photo by Max Limpag)

Go said in one of her footnotes that Augustinian Fr. Santos Gomez Marañon filed a petition “to have the Parian parish supressed and incorporated into the Cathedral.”

Rivalry

Go said, “Many reasons for this request were given, but it definitely had the earmarks of a direct challenge against the dominance of the Chinese mestizo community of Parian and their elaborate church, which far outshone the cathedral.”

Through the years, however, the rivalry with Spanish friars continued with succeeding priests and capitans of the Parian gremio.

During the time of Don Pedro Rubi as Parian captain, the bishop ordered that masses be held at the church only on Sundays.

During the time of Don Maximo Borromeo as captain, the bishop “removed the right of the Visayas priests to officiate mass in the Parian Church.”

“In retaliation the residents of the Parian decided to make use of the school across from the church and converted it into a chapel where the parish priest of Parian could officiate the mass.”

In 1875, Dionisio Alo, known as Capitan Isyo, became capitan of the Parian gremio. With the San Juan Bautista fiesta in June approaching, Capitan Isyo called for a meeting to discuss preparations. The fiesta was a big affair in the area with most Parian residents spending “as much as three thousand pesos” for the celebration.

Capitan Isyo also wanted to discuss who would replace their parish priest, the Ilonggo Fr. Anselmo “Pari Imoy” Albanceña, who died in December 1874. The replacement would be celebrating the fiesta mass.

Fr. Tomas de la Concepcion, the parish priest of the cathedral, told the group “to request the bishop to appoint a white priest.” De la Concepcion said there was no Filipino priest capable of being named to the post.

Capitan Isyo, however, strongly disagreed and shouted at a cabeza de barangay who agreed with the suggestion.

“At that instance, a quarrel broke out between the two. While Capitan Isyo used his prerogatives as head of the mestizo gremio, Padre Tomas also made use of his power as representative of the Bishop in order to force Capitan Isyo to yield and accept (a) white priest as their parish and spiritual guide.”

The heated and bitter exchange ended with the two deciding not to hold a mass for the fiesta or even holding any celebrations.

Grudge

Followers of Capitan Isyo feared he would be excommunicated and tried to change his mind but the nationalist community leader just told them, “I would prefer that the church be destroyed rather than have a friar in it.”

Parian Church, according to "Ang Sugbo sa Karaang Panahon", “has never been surpassed by any other church that has been built in Cebu, such as the Cathedral, the Seminary and San Nicolas.” (PHOTO USED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE CEBUANO STUDIES CENTER)
Parian Church, according to “Ang Sugbo sa Karaang Panahon”, “has never been surpassed by any other church that has been built in Cebu, such as the Cathedral, the Seminary and San Nicolas.” (PHOTO USED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE CEBUANO STUDIES CENTER)

Fr. Tomas kept a grudge against Parian and “boasted to his priestly friends, especially the friars, that he was obsessed with the complete destruction of the Parian church.”

When Fr. Tomas reported the incident to the bishop, including Capitan Isyo’s declaration that he would rather have the church destroyed than have a white priest in it, the bishop felt insulted.

On June 24, 1875, the bishop forbade the parish priest from saying mass in the Parian church. The community’s fiesta celebration was also overseen by the Cathedral parish priest. Capitan Isyo could not do anything and his enemies made sure he would keep his post so that they could exact their revenge. They told residents that the capitan was to blame for what happened in Parian.

The bishop then ordered a Spanish engineer to check the durability of the Parian church. The engineer later informed the governor that the materials used to build the church were weak and the structure, including the stone wall that surrounded it, should be torn down.

Date of destruction

The governor of Cebu then ordered the destruction of the church. He also ordered the bishop to take possession of everything inside the church, including its statues and bells.

While Ang Sugbo Sa Karaang Panahon listed the destruction of the church as having occurred in 1875-1876, Go said “the actual destruction of the church seems to have taken place in late 1878 or 1879.

According to information printed on a photograph found at the Cebuano Studies Center in the University of San Carlos, “the convent of the church was spared and was used later during the American regime as a public library and a fire station.”