Recently we visited Pampagna on an all day excursion, taking in churches, traditional food and a lantern festival. About 2 hours north of Manila, its the home of the still active volcano of Mount Pinatubo. When it erupted on 15 June 1991, lahar flowed from the slopes of the volcano onto the surrounding countryside, burying everything in its path. The massive eruption and subsequent destruction was devastating and one of the most powerful volcanic explosions in recent years. Towns were completely wiped out, and the landscape was changed radically. Over 20 years later, you can still see evidence of the explosion in just the grey ash colour of the soil, not to mention the property damage and strange elevated roads. Among the many half-buried buildings that still stand is the San Guillermo Parish Church in Bacolor, which we went to view. I cannot find my SD drive with all the photos, so I will have to make do with descriptions, which is a real shame as the photos were great! (I blame the cat, who probably batted it and chased it from my desk to some remote dusty corner of my office.)
The townspeople excavated the altar and the retablo after the volcanic eruption and relocated it under the dome in order for the wooden retablo to fit. And clean up and other repairs were done, of course, but the main church still remains half-buried in the ground. IF I had pictures you could see the main entrance to the church is now through the first story windows and the altar now sits under the eaves. The congregation sits looking down out of half buried windows, and bats fly occassionaly around the altar. (I saw a colony of them nesting high up in the ceiling.) It was literally, bats in the belfry….and very weird too. You can see where the expression came from.
Other than these oddities, its business as usual inside the church. Its decorated, clean and cared for. There was a baptism while we were there. Everything is just a little higher than normal.
We are planning another trip to Pampagna next month. This time to visit the slopes of Mount Pinatubo’s crater and to swim in the crater lake. So more on Pinatubo to follow…. (hopefully with photos next time.)