I checked my camera’s viewfinder, backing away as I did so. I was trying to fit the massive edifice of the Taal Basilica on my camera frame. It took some steps back to finally enclose the church fully in my camera, and I was using an ultra wide lens at that.
Colossal is the word that comes to mind as one steps under the shadow of the ancient Basilica of St. Martin of Tours in the historic town of Taal, Batangas. Almost a hundred meters long and 45 meters wide, made of adobe and coral stones, this is the largest church, not only in the Philippines, but through the whole of Asia.
Originally built on the old Taal town, it was destroyed by Taal Volcano’s fiercest explosion to date. The whole town was then moved farther away from the volcano, the church included. Work on the new house of worship was started in 1755 thru 1782 by various rectors. It was, however, again damaged by a massive earthquake in 1852.
Construction of the current reincarnation of the basilica was set in motion in 1856 thru the designs of Spanish architect Luciano Oliver. It was finally inaugurated by 1865, even if was still unfinished after almost a decade of work. It has gone various reconstructions and restorations since then.
Historical is what this Baroque church looks like; its 24 classical columns and walls clearly showing its form and texture. I went in through one of its tunnel-like side-doors and the temperature suddenly dropped as I got farther along its cavernous hall.
I walked along its ornately tiled floor, hearing my footsteps echo through its ribbed ceiling. The church looks very bare with trimmings its only décor.
I changed my mind though as I stepped into the central part of the basilica. Here, walls and ceilings are painted in the trompe l'oeil style, characteristic of Baroque cathedrals. The paint-work made the decors look very three-dimensional, enhancing the intricacies of the church.
The domed ceiling of the church was more than a match to Lipa’s San Sebastian Cathedral in terms of grandness and complexity. An octagonal clerestory tops the ceiling, providing illumination down the altar and transepts.
We checked its famed belfry, which is said to contain the largest bell in the country. We climbed along the rough and dark stairwell up the restored bell tower after paying the PHP50.00 entrance fee. The panoramic view of Taal Town as seen from up there was worth the fee.
After that claustrophobic episode, we relaxed a bit on an atrium off the right side of the church where a koi pond was located.
When it comes to grandiosity and massiveness in their churches, Batangas is quite hard to beat with its collection of such edifices dotting its towns. And its crowning glory? Taal Town’s Basilica de San Martin de Tours, no question about it.
Basilica de San Martin de Tours
Taal, Batangas City