The island province of Bohol is well-known for its Chocolate Hills, tarsiers, white sand beaches and coral reefs. Beyond these natural attractions, however, are several historical spots including centuries-old church buildings. So during our recent visit to the province, we made sure to drop by a few of them even if time was a luxury we could ill afford on this trip. Fortunately many old churches are quite accessible, being located right beside the province’s major highway.
Probably the most popular of Bohol’s religious edifices is the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary Parish Church in Baclayon town, often simply known as the Baclayon Church. First built in 1596, the present structure was reconstructed using coral rocks in 1727. The magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck Bohol in 2013 heavily damaged this building, with the portico and bell tower collapsing, but restoration works were completed in 2017.
Officially declared a “National Cultural Treasure,” the Baclayon Church complex is located right along the main circumferential road of the province and is 4.5 kilometers away from where the Borja Bridge crosses over into Tagbilaran from Panglao Island. A convent connects to the church structure and incorporates a museum that houses centuries-old religious artifacts. (There is a P50 entrance fee for the museum.)
5 kilometers east from Baclayon Church – also along the same circumferential road – lies the Santa Monica Parish Church of Alburquerque, commonly known as the Alburquerque Church (no, this is not a misspelling; this town is often called by locals in its shortened form – Albur). This church was not as heavily damaged as Baclayon and other churches in Bohol during the 2013 earthquake.
The Alburquerque Church complex also includes a convent linked to the church by an arcade – a unique feature that sets Alburquerque apart from other churches in the province. At the back of this arcade are two vertical structures that look like parts of another, unfinished, arcade. This church was first built in 1842 using light wooden materials but sturdier materials – coral rocks and, much later, concrete – gradually replaced these in the succeeding years. It was declared a National Historical Landmark in 2014.
Some 12 kilometers away from the Alburquerque Church, along the route going to the Chocolate Hills in Carmen is the San Pedro Church of Loboc. This is the second oldest church in Bohol and was heavily damaged during the 2013 earthquake. We had wanted to visit this church right after our Loboc River cruise but it was still undergoing reconstruction.
Bohol is the site of the first peace or friendship treaty between native Filipinos and Spanish during the 16th century. The pact was made using wine mixed with a few drops of blood from Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi and Raja Sikatuna, the chieftain of Bohol. A monument was erected at Bool, Tagbilaran, to commemorate this event. The Sandugo or Blood Compact Moument also lies along the circumferential road and is less than a kilometer away from the Borja Bridge. A sculpture depicting the event was made by national artist Napoleon Abueva, a native of Bohol, and includes 5 life-size images of men including those of Legazpi and Sikatuna. The monument is located at a vantage point that affords picturesque views of the coastline and the Bohol Sea but a temporary fence placed to protect on-going construction blocked this view.
The last stop of our short history tour was another church – in the town of Dauis, in Panglao Island. The latter is connected to mainland Bohol via two bridges/causeways; we were taking one of them on our way back to our resort hotel at Panglao Island when we dropped by this church. The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption was completed in 1879 after 16 years of construction. Like some of the churches in the province, its design is a fusion of different styles including Gothic influences infused with modern design.
There are many more old churches in the interior towns and municipalities in the east – a good enough reason to come back to Bohol and explore more of its history while savoring its natural beauty. In the meantime our tour of Bohol’s natural wonders comes next…