We are talking here of the massive structures that are, in most cases, splendid example of how man can create majestic tribute to his faith. Most of them are being renovated, rebuilt, or repainted.
A case in point is the church in Calumpit that said to be 400 years old. The exterior was repainted in salmon pink, with some of the window edging turned into gleaming bone white.
The change is so radical that its façade appears to have parts that were not in the old unpainted structure. What looks like an archivault can be seen because the deep coloration has created indentations. The vaults for saints on the upper wall are now dainty frames that seem to float away from the wall.
Looking at a photo of this old church, we can see that whoever must have decided on the change must have thought out clearly the changes wrought upon the old building. It is not that a small part of the wall was repainted, it is that on the wall were created new patterns and curlicues not visible before.
We can only imagine the reaction of the parishioners or the people in the community when the whole painting project was completed. Was there a protest? Did people boycott the Mass inside that church? Did the faithful start to reconsider their fidelity to the church?
There is another case of renovation that is getting strong, sometimes angry words from the people of Naga City. It is the repainting of the entire façade and walls of the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral.
The present cathedral was built in 1808. Its façade cuts a wide, powerful swath, that power drawn from its architectural roots that are linked to the neo-Romanesque.
It is said that an anticorrosive chemical was painted over the body of the cathedral. When the application was completed, the entire structure disappeared in that darkness of the night.
I am, of course, being dramatic. The whole cathedral has turned so dark that when night comes, you can barely see the sacred structure.
An article in the Bicol Mail written by a friend, lawyer Luis Ruben General, entitled “The Black Cathedral (or Phantoms and other Disappearances),” can best explain the situation.
“The Naga Metropolitan Cathedral has again received a do-over. In the 1970s it was painted yellow, and this was long before the color assumed political drifts. It lasted only for a few months, as it was ridiculed to early discoloration. In 1988 a total renovation which included the interior was done, and the antique silver retablo at the altar disappeared. The exterior walls were plastered with cement, and so the antique stones also disappeared from view. Now, another coating of cement, black in color, has just been finished; so the whole cathedral is now black, with some accents of white for the small statues on the façade. “
Concluding his article, General lamented: “Some may not be bothered by these disappearances. They are the usual suspects. Those who really do not care or who take for granted heritage places or structures for not knowing any better, or simply for the reason that they do not share any connection of these places to their own past. They are strangers to the place; hence, do not appreciate the value in conserving it. Understandably, they might not feel any sense of loss if an old building was torn down or a cherished tradition had ceased.”
A sensitive matter has been inaugurated: The right of the parishioners over a physical church in their place. Is it merely the prerogative of the local church authority to renovate, rebuild and preserve sacred structures and the holding of traditional rituals? Shall the authorities consult the people first before undertaking changes involving churches and other sacred sites?
The plot thickens because amid all this is the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, which is mandated to look into management of heritage sites.
In a conversation, General brought out his knowledge of laws that prohibit the changing of street names that have been there or been in use for years.
I have not followed up on the case of the Calumpit Church. I can talk only of some positive developments brought about by the Naga Cathedral.
First, there is a long thread of discussion using the social media. The exchanges are sober and generally intelligent. Some individuals connected to the local church are talking about their projects to bring experts who will help orient priests and cultural workers.
In the absence of other indicators of civilization, these churches and other influences from Spain assure us that we, too, had a civilization, however, colonial the tendency of these memories are. If only because the artistry and genius of Filipino proto-architects are embedded in the designs of these old buildings, then the preservation and renovation of these artifacts make sense.
Let us not forget, however, that heritage is not only material. Out there are tales and songs and dances that should be retained, reclaimed, performed and preserved because they give us sense of identities that cannot be imprisoned within ancient stonewalls.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano