Patrocinio de Maria Church in Boljoon Town is a famous historical structure built as the center of religious activities during the Spanish occupation in the 18th century. Travelers come to see the church structure, religious artifacts, the 'baluarte, and the fortifications still intact today.
I was comfortably spending time at Club Fortmed and was contemplating where and what else I can do in this exciting municipality. So, I began asking the right people in the area – one of the staffs at the resort.
She was not just one of the staffs. She was responsible for checking out the guests or the status of the numbers of guests. Being a resident of the area, I thought I was asking the right questions to the right person.
Moreover, yes, I was very delighted to get answers such questions as “where are the popular tourist attractions in town and how to get there.” She was very helpful and happy to answer my detailed questions.
With her very generous guidance, I decided to visit Boljoon Church, as it is popularly known. The full name of this parish church is Nuestra Senora del Patrocinio de Maria Church. I can understand why most people do not use that name – it is a bit long, and most Filipinos love to use initials and shortened names.
Here I went, feeling a bit anxious but more of excitement to see the church and everything in it. That is because I feel deep inside that I am about to see and explore another heritage and treasure in the area. I know it is not gold, but it is worth my time, energy and resources. So, let me say something about this church in the following paragraphs.
Apparently, Patrocinio de Maria Church is dedicated to Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ as mentioned in the Bible. It means that the design and religious items inside the building are about the Mother of God. Anyhow, I can show you some images below.
Location-wise, the church is located in the central part of the Parish Complex and just opposite to the town’s municipal police office building. Patrocinio Church is surrounded by other structures and spaces for various parochial functions and facilities, which you will find further on this page.
Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio Church, as it is also called, started its construction in the late 17th century. It was said that right after the slave traders destroyed the older one in 1782, that was when the construction of the present structure began.
It was finally completed in 1814 when the famous Father (Fr.) Bermejo became the parish priest, according to the recorded account of the book “Balaanong Bahandi” (translation: blessed/holy inheritance/treasure) of Cebu Archdiocese.
The edifice has thick walls made of coral slabs and high windows. It is said that this design was meant to serve two purposes: first, a place of worship and second, a sturdy wall of refuge against the invading Moro pirates. According to some experts, Patrocinio de Maria Church is the only existing fortress church which has an intact fortification until changes were made in the late 20th century for the sake of development.
I noticed that, although I am not an archaeologist (though I took a course on archaeology), it looks like most of the church structure and its items (holy images, painting, carvings, etc.) are ancient. The workers I met at the main door (doing the repairs and restoration works) said that the whole place retains about ninety percent (90) original. Wow, this is fantastic – that is because nowadays we can only find replicas of originals!
So, you will notice that it is still holding its choir loft (upper floor) and pipe organ, but the latter maybe does not function anymore. You can also see how the priest elevated himself on a pulpit which is located on the wall on the right-hand side.
The ceiling is painted with religious images and designs, which are believed to be accomplished in the 1920s to 1930s by a local artist to keep up with the religious development in the period.
You can also still see the altar, images, and other religious artifacts filling the wall areas.
Also, you can see the old baptismal area with all the necessary items needed for Christening a baby.
Yes, I saw and chatted with the workers doing something on the main door. Knowing that everything in this place is a treasure I was just curious what they were doing, and silently asking myself if they are actually ‘qualified’ to do such work in this priceless holy place.
To answer my questions, somehow, without expecting to get satisfactory answers, I asked them on my way out. To make it short, they answered that they are trying to remove some parts which will infect some parts and could destroy the whole door eventually. Some patches on the door were removed and changed with another solid piece of wood. The said that the door is made of Kamagong hardwood – one of the hardwoods and endemic tree variety in the country.
As aforementioned, this church is considered to be the only fortress church with almost perfect enclosure - only its side facing the sea is lost. Unfortunately, that frontal defense part was totally removed to give way to the coastal highway built in the 1900s.
Patrocinio de Maria Church in Boljoon was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute in 1999. A couple of years later, the National Museum declared it a National Cultural Treasure in 2001.
You can still notice the rectangle-shaped fortification that protected Patrocinio de Maria Church building and other structures inside the parish church complex. Each corner of the wall was with bulwarks (‘baluarte’). Most of them are still visible, and one stood out, the biggest in the whole province as a popular attraction. It earned its name “El Gran Baluarte.”
As mentioned above, only the wall facing the sea has been removed due to the coastal road that was constructed in the 20th century. It was not needed anyway.
When facing the sea’s direction, you will find a cemetery of the faithful at the left-hand side of the church. The cemetery is by the walls that surround that church at present.
As a significant part of the church building, the rectory of Patrocinio de Maria Church is believed to be the oldest and largest residential structure built and is still extant in Boljoon. It is directly linked to the church in a shape of letter L of the alphabet.
Stories have it that the rectory used to hold gatherings and meetings of church officials who regularly visit the parish during the Spanish period. The ‘kumbento’ (literal translation for ‘convent’) was built in 1847 through the leadership of Father Bermejo, the famous architect, and builder of Cebu baluartes.
The Kumbento reflects the typical ‘Balay Nga Bato,’ which is based on the concept of the ‘nipa hut (house)’ of the locals. The difference is that it is sturdier as the posts are made of slabs of stones, which support the whole structure built with bamboos or wood.
The ground level of the rectory was used to be a storage room, typical to a Spanish-type building. What you can see now is the museum which displays religious and liturgical items as well as the archaeological finds in the church’s ground.
These items are precious, and visitors are not even allowed to take photos. I asked the museum guide but answered it is not allowed as a policy. I guess that it is a precaution against dangerous elements, including the effects of flashes to the artifacts and possible thievery.
As you enter the museum, you will see photos of excavations of burials within the ground of church plaza. It is an indication that the area was a residential area among natives that inhabit the grounds before the establishment of the church complex.
Besides, deceased family members were buried within the church ground. In the burial sites, archaeologists found artifacts that come from places outside the country which indicated that exchange of goods (trade) happened long before the Spaniards arrived in this part of the province.
Just like most churches, there is a spacious plaza in between the church and the coastal road which passes right in front of the church.
It is covered with green lawn and patches of concrete benches where one can sit down and face towards the sea serving as a perfect vantage point to various interesting sites – Ili Rock, cove, and the islands beyond.
During the Spanish period, the plaza is the center for all religious celebrations and other festivities. Of course, still engraved in the minds and hearts of most Filipinos, we continue to practice such religious influences, and the townsfolk hold not only religious but also mundane activities on this ground. Moreover, many would also understand and take it as a place for relaxation.
Boljoon Church’s belfry merely is not very intricate in its design, and the not even similar to the ones made in the nineteenth century. For example, the belfry is lower than the church’s façade which is not the usual feature of most churches built during that period in the province.
A researcher on the period indicated that when the first church was burned down by the pirates, the belfry served as a watchtower as well.
You can see the it has been renovated and has a fresh look but they try their best to keep its original design and feel.
When I first entered the church complex, I passed through the gate which I realized later on that it was the gate to the cemetery inside the church ground. I could see the burials (and ‘lubnganan’) inscribed with names of the dead. I was actually searching to see if I could find any relatives in the area.
This is the first Christian burial ground in the municipality. It was a normal practice of the church in that period to bury parishioners in the church’s grounds. The cemetery was built when the first stone church was constructed in the 18th century. Many ancestors of Boljoon people in the early days were buried in this cemetery most of them are those baptized Christians.
Escuela Catolica looks like an ancient house and a little eerie but a historical building located just right beside the rectory’s right-hand side. The year that is quite visible in the structure’s center wall says ‘1940’, which obviously mean the year it was constructed.
Escuela Catolica was used to be a dormitory for children who were receiving catechism instruction to prepare them for their first communion. It also served as a primary school aside from a religious education building, according to the Cebu Heritage Frontier.
At present, it serves as the parish’s meeting venue for various groups belonging to the parish.
El Gran Baluarte is one of the structures that form part of Bermejo’s defense system. It is part of the fortress that protected the church and people that took refuge within its fortified walls against pirate raiders.
Similar to other Cebu ‘baluartes’ (bulwark or vanguard), El Gran Baluarte is a two-storey stone structure that faces the sea. Completed in 1808, its upper storey served as defense station with cannons manned by soldiers. The ground floor served as a supply room for weapons and ammunition. It has a prison cell but not anymore today.
At present, El Gran Baluarte serves as Patrocinio de Maria Church’s bell tower aside from the belfry attached to the church building. Not only one bell but four of them. Infront of El Gran Baluarte, you will notice the statue of Jose Rizal and elongated concrete benches. Locals decorated with Philippine flags and ribbons the front part of the baluarte during the annual commemoration of Rizal’s life.
You will certainly enjoy the place and more so if you learn more about the historical background of the whole church complex.
From here, you can proceed to Oslob Municipality where you can also find famous sites and travel attractions. If you want to travel to Boljoon, you may check out this link. You can take a bus from Cebu South Bus Terminal in Cebu City and arrive in Boljoon about over three hours with fantastic views of the sea and towns along the way.
Hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading.