In Isolation and In Restoration of the ‘Big Church’

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Photos courtesy of Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc.

When stricter measures under the Enhance Community Quarantine (ECQ) were handed down by the city government of Angeles, a group of restoration workers got stranded while working on a heritage church in Pampanga. Consequently, they had to retreat to their barracks and their grind was put to a halt. While they’re in no need of rescuing, they grappled with the isolation and restrictions, as well as adjust to the health and safety standards, so that they can continue to ‘save and rescue’ the more than 200-year old hallowed halls of the Holy Rosary Parish church.

According to the book, “Pisamban Maragul: The Living Church of Angeles City,” the almost 200-year old church started as a capellan (chapel) built with light materials by founders Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Doña Rosalia de Jesus. Other accounts state that it is the townspeople who labored for its construction for almost two decades while its structural engineering and architectural features are being attributed to Don Antonio del Camara of Manila, a follower of the Byzantine art.

The Holy Rosary Parish church stands in the town’s epicentre.

Affectionately called the “Pisamban Maragul” (Big Church), the Holy Rosary Parish (HRP) is a living testament of how local history can be traced back to the plight of its church. In 1899, the townspeople evacuated at the height of the Philippine revolution and where they went it is said that a chapel, made of bamboo and cogon grass, had to be built for their religious practice.

Meanwhile, the HRP then had been turned into a military hospital and army barracks by the American troops. In 1902, the war evacuees returned to what’s left of their homes and to a church damaged and its valuables looted. On January 7, 1945, during World War II, an American Mitchell B-52 bomber crash landed on the church and wrecked its nave and roof.

Through it all, the HRP survived and remains to be the center of worship and devotion in Angeles City, as the failthful crowd its holy grounds, especially during the Lenten and Christmas seasons. And in recognition of its role in history and in the lives of the people, the HRP church had been declared as an important cultural property by the National Museum, continually attracting the attention of the religious and tourists.

Bearing signs of age old wear and tear, the HRP, headed by Parish Priest Reverend Father Nolasco Fernandez, sought the expertise of Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc. for an exploration project in the church. Unfortunately, on April 22, 2019, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Central Luzon and damaged the heritage churches in the province, leaving deep cracks on the walls and ceiling of the HRP, in particular. Aside the immediate repairs required, the incident, more importantly, exposed the church’s deteriorating conditions that demanded major restoration and conservation work.

The Holy Rosary Parish and Escuela Taller partner to save the church. The Escuela Taller graduates are equipped with construction and conservation skills.

 “As if of divine coincidence, the tremor happened 11 days after Escuela Taller conducted a two-day inspection of five churches upon the request of the Diocese of San Fernando, with HRP expressing its intent to conserve its church,” reveals Architect Jeffrey Cobilla, head of the restoration team. “As a quick response, works such as the installation of shoring and removal of debris and components were done to ensure its safety and to arrest further development of the damage sustained during the earthquake.”

As a result, the HRP and Escuela Taller inked a partnership that would address the needs of the parish in a 5-year work plan that started in September.

“Currently, the works are focused on removing additions made to the structure over time and repairing masonry defects on the west bell tower. The church had a significant change when its roof was elevated using reinforced concrete which was followed by other interventions that now show signs of incompatibility particularly after the earthquake,” added by Cobilla.

It was in such state when the ECQ’s stricter measures suspended all the work being done at the HRP on April 15.

During the lockdown, “the food and other essential needs of the restoration team were provided by the HRP as part of its effort to give assistance to the community. Escuela Taller also sent additional provisions through its supporters. Since their lodgings are located in an empty lot several blocks away from the Church compound, HRP also provided vegetable seeds for them to grow and harvest, and to have an extra activity to be occupied with as well. They also receive regular counseling from members of the parish. Even the conditions of their teeth concerns one of the HRP personnel!” said Cobilla.

Damaged by the earthquake of 2019, the church undergoes repairs. The Escuela T The team continues to work under quarantine. aller team in action.

Since the safety protocols were strictly observed and contact outside the barracks was kept to a minimum, the 11 men and four women on the team are not just Covid-19 free, they’re thriving, health-wise. “I (jokingly) told them that we may need additional scaffoldings as I thought they got heavier during the ECQ,” shared Cobilla.

Separated from their friends and families, the team utilized their mobile phones as their primary line of connection to their loved ones miles away to ease their loneliness. They may have felt isolated but those measures kept them safe and enabled them to return to  work on their respective designations on May 15. 

The team continues to work under quarantine. Repair and conservation work are underway since September last year.

“The improvement of the structural integrity of the building while preserving the original and the significant from and components of the church is one the major issues that’s (now) being discussed. While this crucial aspect of the structure is being planned out, other works such as masonry cleaning, repair and repointing of mortar joints are under way. As these works progress, more building issues will manifest and will be added to the list of conservation works to be done,” explains Cobilla. With such outcome, he and his team are still confident that they would be able to complete Phase 1 in 14 months. Moreover, they are also hopeful that, with prayers and the generous support of the parish, major works on the ‘Big Church’ would be accomplished in the prescribed time frame.

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