June 4, 2012

Family history

From May 12 to 24, my husband and I went on a road trip through the Central Luzon and Ilocos Regions, stopping at cities and towns that we've never visited before. My Manila goes outside Metro Manila for the next few days. I hope you enjoy the trip.

ruins of the Litonjua house in BacnotanMy husband and I spent two days in the province of La Union. One of the reasons for that was personal—he wanted to visit the town of Bacnotan, where his mother's family originally was from. He remembers visiting Bacnotan, 243 kilometers northwest of Metro Manila, a few times when he and his siblings were little children and just walking to the beach from the house. We found the house thanks to a map that his mother had drawn for him. Sadly, it is in a very bad state.

ruins of the Litonjua house in Bacnotan All but one of my mother-in-law's family moved to Metro Manila or the U.S. a long time ago and the brother who stayed behind passed away several years ago. Since then, no one has taken care of the property. In the spacious yard, we saw the well where, my husband recalls, their bath water was drawn from.

Bacnotan town hall After visiting the house, we decided to walk around the vicinity and discovered that the town hall was just a few blocks away. A very young-looking town hall, considering the fact that Bacnotan was formally founded in 1599.

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bacnotan The Catholic parish of Bacnotan has existed since 1787, but the original church constructed by the Spanish was completely destroyed in a fire in 1877. The church was rebuilt in 1888–91 and, according to the plaque at the church entrance, was repaired in 1937. For that information to be included in the plaque, I assume that the damage was quite heavy; the plaque, however, does not state why the church needed major repairs. But Bacnotan was a setting for one of the many battles of the Spanish-American War at the turn of the 20th century, so it may be correct to guess that the church was damaged then.

statue of St. Michael the Archangel in front of the church in Bacnotan The complete name of the church is Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, and there is a poorly rendered statue of the archangel in front of the church. Whoever painted it couldn't even distinguish the snake from the rock it was on and painted them the same red color.

old bronze church bell in the garden of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bacnotan The big bronze church bell, green with age, lies under an ivied trellis in the churchyard.  

facade of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bacnotan Without a guide—then and right now on the web—it is is difficult for me to say anything with precision about the church other than the dates that are written on the plaque; I can only make guesses based on observation. And it seems to me that the 19th century church was made of red bricks, and the 1937 repair and reconstruction used marble and other stone blocks. Note the stained glass window here which depicts Mary carrying the infant Jesus with a dove representing the Holy Spirit—we will get back to it at the end of this post.

old buttress of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bacnotan In many parts of the church, the bricks have been reinforced by concrete.

interior of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bacnotan The exterior of the church may be a mix of 1891 and 1937 construction, but the interior of the church looks much, much newer than 1937. Like the Agoo Basilica, the ceiling is made of wood, but the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel is simpler. No arched aisles, no transept even, which I find unusual for a 19th century church. I have to admit, I find the simplicity of the ceiling and walls soothing. The retablo (reredos) behind the altar and the two similarly-designed iconostasis flanking the sanctuary are the most ornate items inside the church.

altar and retablo of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bacnotan But even the retablo is simple compared to those of other churches in the country, having only three niches aside from the tabernacle. In the topmost niche is an icon of Saint Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of the parish.

main doors of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bacnotan The stained glass window over the church's main doors depicts the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the remaining eleven of Jesus' apostles, described in the Acts of the Apostles 1:12-14 and 2:1-8.

stained glass window in the loft of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Bacnotan Now we get back to the stained glass window on the church's facade. My husband and I discovered that there is a second one behind it, which can only be seen from the loft inside the church. It depicts Saint Michael the Archangel slaying the devil, not just a snake which symbolizes him—a much more powerful image befitting the history of the church than that awful statue. Unfortunately, the parish has not gotten around to repairing the loft yet, which means that very few people get to see this gem. The floorboards of the loft are very old and weak, and I had to walk right beside the wall where the wood was strongest—hence the skewing. I don't think we were even meant to be there; the gate of the stairs to the loft was unlocked but a chair was blocking it. My husband and I didn't know better, and there was no one to stop us, so we just moved the chair. I think the image was worth the risk. LUZON ROAD TRIP SERIES #3


Dina said...

Glad you got out alive. What a tour, thanks!
Nice you could do a roots tour too.

Lowell said...

What a wonderful trip that must have been in so many ways. The old house looks like it was quite grand when it was new(er)...I must say you were quite brave to be prancing around the loft. I've heard of chancel-prancers but never loft-prancers! :-)

brattcat said...

such an interesting excursion back through the family's history.

Cezar and Léia said...

Very interesting places. The bell is impressive!
God bless you!