The small town of San Joaquin is just a 20 minute, 13 peso bus ride away from Miagao, San Joaquin church is situated at the end of the main street that goes down from the National Road towards the market and Municipal Hall.
As I approached the church I noticed the stairs leading up to the bell tower just to the right side of the statue of the Virgin Mary but decided to save them for later, as my purpose here was to see the stone bas relief carved on the front of the church.
This is the only church in the Philippines that celebrates war. The church took 10 years to build starting in 1859 with completion in 1869. At the same time the church was being built the Spanish were involved in a war with Morocco and one of the deciding battles took place at Tetuan.
One story goes that when Friar Tomas Santaren, the priest in charge of the building work, received news of the Spanish victory over the Moroccan forces he ordered his Chinese and Mexican stone masons to sculpt the bas relief in memory of his father, who was a Cavalryman in the Spanish army. The use of Chinese stone masons also explains why some of the faces depicted there have Chinese features.
The stone masons must have enjoyed their work as they depicted the agony and pain of wounded soldiers in detail. The city of Tetuan can be seen carved at the top of the relief with the attacking Spanish Cavalry moving up from the bottom. The work is called “RendicionDTetuan” (Surrender of Tetuan) and can be seen at the bottom of the relief.
There are no religious signs anywhere in the sculpture and it is thought that Friar Santaren used the Spanish victory to boost the moral of his parishoners who were frequently being raided by the Moros from Mindanao and to show that Christianity could triumph over Islam.
I too was fascinated my the intricate detail carved there and then I noticed an unusual statue at the top and after zooming in on the statue discovered that it is a statue of Nu.Sr.De Las Angustias. Other statues seen on the front of the church at each side of the main door are Saint Peter Regaldo and Saint Francis of Assisi.
I had a quick look round the simple interior of the church before going back to the Bell Tower stairs.Since the church isn’t far from the sea the tower served as a lookout to give early warning of the raiding Moros.
Now when i see stairs or doorways i treat them as an invitation to explore and explore i did. An old iron gate slightly open and broken invited me in and as i squeezed my body through the gap i was overcome with the stench of Guano. I must have made some noise as tens of bats started to fly down from the walls of the tower into a stone doorway at the bottom.
Moving slowly so as not to cause a mass panic I climbed the worn guano covered stone stairs careful not to get my hands dirty, and then climbing a spiral metal staircase that led up to the bells. The four bells looked old,corroded and cracked in places and were supported by chains with a long rope tied to the clanger so that it could be rung from outside the tower.
A bell with the inscription “San Joaquin Bicentenial Celebration August 16 2001” was resting broken on the floor. I dont know how long that bell had been lying there but i asked myself the question “How did that bell come to be damaged in only 1o short years?” Was it cheap material used or bad workmanship?
The stairs continued up and I managed to avoid ringing the bell that hung over the bottom two stairs and started my ascent to the second floor. From here the view out of the small windows was fantastic. I could see over the town towards a large white cross on a hill with i am told a hundred steps leading up to it. There was also a good view seawards and along the coast, so i could imagine how easily the lookout would spot the raiding Moros and warn the people.
There were also some loudspeakers placed there. The reason i know not. I stayed up the tower for a while watching the tiny people and tricycles passing by before carefully climbing down again and trying hard not to slip on the guano.
Now i was feeling hungry and walked back up to the market to find some breakfast and return to the main road to wait for the Ceres bus to San Jose, Antique.
A church that celebrates war – that’s quite unique. I also admire how some buildings that are the focal points of a community also serve other purposes like defence i.e. look-out point for raiding Moros.