This is the continuation of our South Cebu excursion way back in December 2015.
The Secrets of Boljoon
When we departed from Osmena Peak, rain started to fall. It was an element we were totally unprepared for because of the fine weather we’ve had so far. Our drivers drove as far as they can because they knew we were in a hurry – we are traveling to Dumaguete, Negros Oriental later in the day. Whenever the rain got too strong, we would seek refuge in shades or shops along the road.
The rain kept pouring but our drivers skillfully navigated the road with ease while keeping us safe. Taking advantage of the fine albeit temporary break in the weather, our drivers sped as far as they could go. Before the rain would fall on us again, we arrived in Boljoon, one of the oldest municipalities in Cebu. Tourism-wise, it has lagged behind its more popular neighbor, Oslob.
But there is more to Boljoon than meets the eye. What these secrets are we are about to learn that afternoon we dropped by the historic Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church, or more commonly called as Boljoon Church, to seek refuge from the rain. The church already captured our attention on our way to Osmeña Peak. I am thankful to our drivers for dropping by the place.
While waiting for the rain to abate, we explored the Church. When we arrived, a wedding ceremony was on the way, so we opted to explore the surrounding area first. The church is planked by a cemetery on its right side, and by a convent on its left side. The first floor of the convent was converted into a museum. To gain entrance to the museum, one must first pay a minimal entrance fee of PHP 30.00.
The museum is a reliquary for relics from the church. In prominent display are the intricate garbs of the church priest. Some of the details of the garbs and vestments were made from gold. Other displays include statues of saints (some of which were once stolen from the church by thieves), record books and other liturgical objects. Take note that taking pictures inside the museum is strictly prohibited.
While browsing through the museum, we got to learn more about the history of the area. Unbeknownst to some, the area is an archaeological haven. Purely by accident (while a volleyball net post was supposed to be put up), artifacts and human skulls were retrieved. Further excavation unearthed what ordinary residents never imagined: a burial ground just in front of the church. More human bones, earthen pots, and golden jewels were unearthed from the area.
Pots and jars from China and Japan evidenced a once booming trade. Some of the artifacts are displayed in the Church museum while some are displayed in the National Museum. Whereas most of the artifacts point out that the relics were from the early Spanish to the mid-Spanish era, pieces of evidence also point out to an organized Malay settlement that predated the Spanish subjugators. The excavations lasted from 2007 to 2011; the place is now restored to its current state.
After rummaging through the items displayed in the museum, we proceeded to the church where the wedding just concluded. The original structure was built in the 16th century but was destroyed by the Moros in 1782. The current structure was completed only in 1841 under the tenure of Fr. Julian Bernejo. It was built like a fortress church, a fortification against pirates plying the Bohol Strait. Remnants of the old fortification can still be seen today. It is also the oldest remaining original stone church in Cebu.
Like most Spanish churches, it wasn’t built using any concrete or metal irons. Its thick foundations were built of wood fortified with corals and shells. The secret ingredient that kept these elements together? Egg. Yes, eggs acted as cement that held the shells and corals together. But hey, this ingenious method is effective – most Spanish churches in the country withstood the elements of time, including powerful earthquakes.
One of the prominent features of the church is its altar where a breathtaking tabernacle is in place. Traditionally called a retablo, it is built using pseudo baroque-rococo. The retablo glimmered in the early afternoon darkness because of its gold leaf highlights and polychrome accents. The retablo houses images of saints, with the image of Our Lady of Patrocino, the patron of Boljoon Church, taking the center.
Another prominent feature of the church is its bell tower which once served two purposes – a siren in times of invasion and a prison cell for captured invaders. Currently, the church, along with four others, is nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It is part of an extended set which is to be added to the “Baroque Churches of the Philippines”. Four baroque churches, including Miag-ao Church in Ilo-ilo, already earned UNESCO Heritage Site designation. Hopefully the Church, and all the other Philippine sites nominated for the status, will get approved.
Practicalities: How to Get to Boljoon
From Mactan International Airport, proceed to Cebu South Bus Terminal. Cabs Ride any bus bound for Boljoon at the Cebu South Bus Terminal. Tell the driver to drop you off at the Boljoon Church; it is just along the highway.
The Old Spanish Cuartel
When the rain subsided again, we proceeded to Oslob to retrieve our things before crossing the strait to Dumaguete City. On the way, we stopped at downtown Oslob to drop by the Old Spanish Cuartel. Oh yes, remnants of the 300-year Spanish subjugation can still be found all over the country. Cuartel is the Spanish term for “barracks”. The structure was historically used as a barracks by the Spanish army. The cuartel, and the old fortification served as the first line of defense against Moro invaders.
Using the same engineering innovation used in Boljoon Church, the Cuartel was constructed using coral stones from the collapsed floor of the bell tower of the neighboring Nuestra Señora de la Immaculada Concepcion, or locally referred to as the Oslob Church. The inundated ruins of the old Spanish Cuartel was renovated and turned into a park. Within walking distance of the Cuartel is the Oslob Church. As a mass was ongoing and we were short on time, we skipped exploring the church.
After our exploration of the remnants of the Spanish period, we then proceeded to our lodging to recover our things. Thankfully, our habal-habal drivers agreed to convey us to Liloan port in neighboring Santander town. Due to our conscientious drivers, we made it in time for the last trip to Dumaguete City. The boat took a little less than 30 minutes to cross the Tanon Strait.
From the port, we proceeded to downtown Dumaguete to settle down at our accommodation. It has been a long day indeed, we swam with the whale sharks, we climbed Cebu’s highest point, and visited Old Spanish structures. But we still have a lot in store. Do watch out for the continuation of our South Cebu-Negros Oriental trip.
None of the pictures used in this article is mine. All pictures, except the last one, are rightfully owned by Rey Ernesto. The last picture is owned by Jorella Doga-ong.
To check the rest of this travel series, you may click on the links provided below: