Explainer: What we know so far on Boljoon’s once-lost pulpit panels

By: Morexette Marie B. Erram - Multimedia Reporter - CDN Digital | February 22,2024 - 10:48 AM

Boljoon pulpit panels: Explainer: What we know so far on Boljoon’s once-lost pulpit panels

Left: A photo taken in 1985 showing the still-intact pulpit of Boljoon’s Patrocinio de Maria Santissima Church. (Photo from USC Cebuano Studies Center) Right: Four of the pulpit panels unveiled in a recent turnover ceremony at the National Museum of the Philippines (Photo from National Museum of the Philippines)

CEBU CITY, Philippines — The latest collection unveiled at the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) sparked not only a renewed interest in history but also prompted the Cebuano community to take action to preserve Cebu’s heritage.

The case of the once-missing pulpit panels of Boljoon’s Archdiocesan Shrine of Patrocinio de Maria Santissima is nearly solved. Except for one thing: how did these valuable properties end up in the hands of private collectors and auctioneers?

READ: Gov. Garcia wants Boljoon pulpit panels returned

In this feature, we’ve compiled the facts we know so far surrounding the recently resurfaced pulpit panels.

The pulpit panels

Boljoon pulpit panels: Explainer: What we know so far on Boljoon’s once-lost pulpit panels

This photo from the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos was taken in 1985, showing all six panels of the pulpit in the Archdiocesan Shrine of Patrocinio de Maria Santissima in Boljoon, Cebu still intact and before they went missing for decades. In February 2024, the National Museum of the Philippines unveiled that four of the pulpit panels have been donated to them by private collectors. | Photo by USC Cebuano Studies Center

The four panels formed part of the pulpit of Boljoon’s centuries-old church, which was formerly known as the Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church.

The pulpit’s original design has a total of six panels, according to Dr. Jose Eleazar Bersales, consultant for heritage and history at the Cebu Provincial government. The fifth is under the care of the church’s priests while the sixth is still missing.

Sometime in the late 1980s, these went missing, with locals raising multiple theories including the possibility they were looted or sold without the permission of the Archdiocese of Cebu.

Since then, the whereabouts of the 19th-century panels were unknown until one evening on Feb. 13, 2024.

READ: Cebu archdiocese urges Boljoon pulpit panels returned, asserts ownership

Unveiling & Turn Over

Boljoon pulpit panels

Photo shows the four early 19th-century panels that have been donated earlier to the National Museum of the Philippines. The panels, which feature the image of Saint Augustine of Hippo, trace their origin from the pulpit of the Patrocinio de Maria Santisima Parish Church in Boljoon, Cebu. | Photo from NMP Facebook page

At the National Museum of Fine Arts in Metro Manila, museum curators presented its latest collection to the public – four pulpit panels featuring the image of Saint Augustine of Hippo.

The artifacts’ origins were traced to Boljoon’s Archdiocesan Shrine of Patrocinio de Maria Santissima, which itself is declared a National Cultural Treasure and National Historical Landmark.

They were donations made by private collectors Edwin and Eileen Bautista, who were also present during the public turnover ceremony last Feb. 13.

Edwin is the president of the Union Bank of the Philippines while Eileen is a professor at De la Salle-St. Benilde and Asia Pacific College.

But not everyone was happy with the National Museum’s newest collection, with the NMP earning the ire of several Cebuano netizens.

It did not take long for Cebuanos, particularly Boljoanons, to identify them as the previously missing pulpit panels of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Patrocinio de Maria Santissima.

The unveiling even prompted Boljoon Mayor Joie Derama and Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia to issue an open letter addressed to the NMP, requesting for the panels to be returned to their home in Boljoon’s iconic church.

READ: Donated Boljoon pulpit panels acquired legally -Nat’l Museum

Stolen or sold? 

Boljoon pulpit panels: Explainer: What we know so far on Boljoon’s once-lost pulpit panels

Strengthening our heritage tours by including visits in churches, especially in the south of Cebu, is a way to make tourists stay longer in Cebu. CDN FILE PHOTO

Upon the panels’ resurfacing, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma asserted the Archdiocese’s ownership over them. But the question of how these ended up in private auctions remained unanswered.

As far as the Roman Catholic church in Cebu is concerned, they received no formal request from the parish priest at that time, Fr. Faustino Cortes, for the removal of the pulpit panels.

Furthermore, the Archdiocese found no existing official records about the whereabouts and status of the pulpit panels shortly after they went missing in the 1980s.

But Ivan Henares, commissioner at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (for cultural heritage) and secretary general of Unesco National Commission of the Philippines, was quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) that ‘santero and antikero circles knew they were sold by the parish priest to a collector.’

Santeros are folks who craft or sculpt religious relics, images and statues like those of the Catholic saints while antikeros are used to describe local antique experts.

READ: BIZ BUZZ: Brouhaha over church treasures

The panels, in addition, have changed hands many times, Henares added.

The Capitol, in a recent press conference, revealed that the panels were previously part of a private collection of Philippine antiquity through an exhibit at Salcedo Auctions in 2023.

Nevertheless, the NMP assured the public that these were acquired through legal means while Bautista told PDI that they would leave it to the former to decide on the fate of the pulpit panels.

Public officials request, dialogues

Both the Roman Catholic church and government, local and national, agreed that open and constructive dialogues would be needed to iron out the issues surrounding Boljoon’s pulpit panels.

The NMP also proposed an ‘exchange of technical assistance to facilitate sharing the four panels with the people of Cebu as soon as possible.’

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TAGS: Boljoon’s Archdiocesan Shrine of Patrocinio de Maria Santissima, Cebu, history, pulpit panels

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