BOLJOON, Cebu— Steeped in rich history and imbued with profound religious significance, Boljoon town in southeastern Cebu is a captivating destination that transports visitors back in time.
This fourth-class fishing municipality where the shoreline clasp hands with its verdant mountains, proudly showcases a tapestry of historical and religious landmarks, each one offering a glimpse into the region’s vibrant past and the enduring faith of its people.
Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church
One of the most significant historical landmarks in Boljoon is the Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church, which was built in 1783 and is one of the oldest remaining stone churches in the country, second only to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City
CDN Digital was fortunate to conduct an interview with an indigent from Boljoon and the town’s barangay kagawad, Ramil Medrano, who provided valuable insights into the historical importance and notable occurrences related to the church.
The church was constructed by dedicated Augustinian friars, as a tribute to Our Lady of Patrocinio, whose name the church bears.
Legend says, in times of danger from invaders like the Moros, the baluartes (fortresses) in Boljoon sent signals to the townspeople. They would raise a red flag and ring the so-called “silver bell,” prompting the parishioners of Boljoon to gather and seek solace in prayer to the Virgin Mary.
As a result, gray clouds would form, driving away the Moros, and this event is considered one of the miraculous occurrences attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Manulod na sila unya mag-ampo, mao na gitawag siyag Patrocinio de Maria (panalipod ni Maria) ,” Medrano told CDN Digital.
(They will go inside the church and pray, that’s why she is called Patrocinio de Maria.)
The Boljoon church encountered challenges during its initial construction phase, including a devastating fire incident.
Despite the setback, the Boljoon church rose from the ashes, thanks to the determination of the Augustinian friars and the support of the Boljoon community. Together, they worked tirelessly to rebuild the church, which is now renowned as the Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church.
“Naa ray mga gamit sauna na church (nasunog) na nagamit siya sa pag build sa karun na bag-o na church,” Medrano said.
(There were items from the previous church (which burned down) that were used in the construction of the current church.)
Medrano also disclosed that everything within the church has remained in its original state since its reconstruction following the fire incident in 1800.
“Kung muhisgot ug nausab, siguro ang nausab ra aning church kay ang iyang atop kay tungod mutulo na siya sa kadugay,” Medrano told CDN Digital.
(If we were to talk about ‘the changes’, perhaps the only thing that has changed in this church is its roof, which has gradually started to leak over time.)
“Wala gyud na siya nausab sukad sukad…ang door sa church mao jud na ang original walay gihilabtan anang sa church,” he added.
(It has not been changed at all over time… the door of the church remains the original one, untouched throughout the years.)
The Boljoon Church is an impressive example of colonial architecture and features an exciting blend of Baroque, Gothic, and Neoclassical elements.
The façade of the church is intricately designed with sculptures of saints and religious symbols, while the interior is adorned with frescoes and paintings.
“Ang ceiling kay hand-painted gyud na siya ug lumad pud sa Boljoon,” said Medrano.
(The ceiling is actually hand-painted by a local from Boljoon.)
Gran El Baluarte
On the northern side of the church’s façade, stands the converted 18th-century watchtower, which now serves as the church belfry.
Overlooking the Cebu Strait, it was originally constructed to safeguard the town against attacks from Moro pirates. Eventually, it was transformed and incorporated into the church’s structure.
This has been one of the most striking features of the Boljoon Church as it stands separately from the main structure. The belfry tower is a four-story structure that served as a watchtower during the Spanish colonial period.
According to Medrano, Fr. Bermejo believed it was essential to acquire weapons and provide training to the people on their usage. The blockhouse known as El Gran Baluarte served as a storage facility for the town’s own arsenal of weapons.
The Baluarte, which was once a depository of cannons and other weapons, now houses church bells as an integral part of the church.
The bells bear inscriptions indicating the date of their establishment and the name of the foundry where they were created. The ground floor remains unoccupied, and the prison cell has been left untouched, preserving its original state.
As stated by Medrano, the baluarte served a dual purpose as a prison cell, detaining not only local residents but also individuals from different areas who had been captured.
“Ang kanang sa right side ig sud nimo sa baluarte kay prison cell na siya,” he said.
The prison cell features a high window and tall walls adorned with paintings that have been vandalized over the years. Mendrano mentioned that these paintings were created by prisoners who were skilled artists from Manila.
“Ang mga piniriso ara mga dinakpan na aris Boljoon. Naay mga taga laing lugar na piniriso ara na mga painters to sila, taga Manila duha sila kabook gitawag sila ug “preso kabalyero” kay maglakaw-lakaw sila na piniriso inside sa vicinity sa church,” he adds.
The El Gran Baluarte stands as a testament to the wonders of history, prominently positioned in front of the oldest church in Boljoon, Cebu.
Apart from these, there is much to talk about the structures within the vicinity of the two most historic landmarks in Boljoon, Cebu.
This small building has sparked a lot of curiosity, as it remains relatively unknown or overlooked by many. Amidst the dominance of edifices made of cut coral stones from the Spanish colonial era, Escuela Catolica manages to stand out with its distinctive wooden and concrete construction.
According to the Cebu Heritage Foundation, the Escuela Catolica was constructed in the 1940s in Boljoon.
The Escuela Catolica stands as a testament to the efforts of the Spaniards in fulfilling the religious needs of the people of Boljoon, as it is one of the structures they built for this purpose.
Its versatile nature highlights its significance as a hub for education and religious activities in Boljoon.
“Ari sa Escuela Catolica i-house ang mga bata na padulong mag-communion,” Medrano told CDN Digital.
Medrano also mentioned that the Escuela Catolica served multiple purposes throughout its history. Apart from being a venue for religious teachings, it also functioned as a primary school during a certain period.
“Nahimo gyud na siyag eskwelahan sa high school, mga 4th year high school students sa year 1970’s-1980’s,” he said.
In present times, the Escuela Catolica has transformed into a meeting place for various religious groups within the parish, as well as a library.
Overall, Boljoon, with its centuries-old stone churches and intricately crafted artifacts, stands as a living testament to its rich cultural heritage. This charming coastal town invites visitors to discover and reflect upon its history, making it a hidden gem in the province of Cebu.
With its captivating blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, Boljoon definitely has something special for everyone. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or simply someone who’s seeking a peaceful getaway, this charming town is for you. /rcg