I first visited the famed St. Joseph Church in Las Piñas on a field trip in college while studying various church architecture types. I sketched its interior, awed by the immense stone columns in this very small house of worship. I was totally unaware until later that it was the church that houses the world renowned Bamboo Organ of the Philippines.
Fast forward some years later and my appreciation for architecture grew even more after graduating in UST. I was then partly residing in Las Piñas and I usually visit this church every so often to attend mass. The place was especially magical during Christmas when lighted lanterns hover above on the huge trees surrounding its grounds.
Fast forward a few more years and I was finally able to attend a Bamboo Organ Festival and heard for the first time how the legendary instrument sounded. It was almost like a rock concert; with a longhaired crazy looking European fellow pounding the keyboards and heavy music coming out of the wooden pipes. The sanctity of the church was the only thing that kept the crowd from moshing I think.
Photography was the furthest thing on my mind back then, being too engrossed with music and architecture. I am quite sure that the first time I ever took a photograph of this beloved adobe church, even just a snapshot with friends or whatnot, was a few weeks ago after revisiting Las Piñas City.
St. Joseph parish was founded in 1795 under the guidance of Father Diego Cera, an Augustinian from Spain. The church was first built of light materials before it was reconstructed to a more permanent Adobe stones. It was finished in 1819.
Three years prior to the church’s completion, work was started on the building of the Bamboo Organ. Father Diego Cera, also an organ builder, was again the director of the project. The bamboos used for both the church and the organ were first buried underground for a number of months for curing. This ensured that the material will last for centuries as is now evident with the Bamboo Organ and the church ceiling.
The church is made in Earthquake Baroque style, nevertheless, it still suffered through numerous shakings and other natural calamities. Work has been done to restore it to its glory days by celebrated architect Bobby Mañosa and Ludwig Alvarez during the 70’s.
It was with strong nostalgia as I reentered Bamboo Organ, as the locals fondly refer to it. The church looked old, but well preserved “old”. The walls are not crumbling, the interiors are clean, and everything looked good.
St. Joseph actually looked huge outside but once you enter its walls, you’d be surprised at the compactness of its interior. I’m guessing most of the mass was taken by the actual immensity of its adobe walls which looks more than two feet thick. Its inside feels more like a chapel than a church and there are only fifteen rows of wooden benches.
I feel that this is how churches everywhere should look, everything is made of natural materials and they’re not hiding it under the gloss of colorful paint. The walls are made of rough adobe stones interspersed with red brick highlights, the seats, ceiling and the chandeliers are made of bamboo, the floors are unglossed bricks, and the altar is of unpainted concrete and natural bricks. If they could devise an electric fan made of wood, I think they would.
Another thing that I feel that this church got right is the light. Here, they don’t over light the church with incandescent tubes like it’s an arena. They keep light to minimum, with only the stained glass windows and a few of the altar lights turned on, they keep everything warm looking. The atmosphere is very solemn it’s embarrassing to make even the slightest sound; and that in my honest opinion is how churches should be.
I can definitely say that St. Joseph can stand side by side with the most impressive churches in Metro Manila.
It may not boast of huge isles and soaring ceilings, but its intimate space is actually its strong point. Add its rich history and the National Cultural Treasure suspended above the choir loft, and I almost wonder why it’s not declared as a World Heritage Site.
St. Joseph Church | The Bamboo Organ Church
St. Joseph Parish, P.Diego Cera Avenue,
Brgy. Daniel Fajardo, Las Piñas City
(02) 825-7190 | (02) 820-0795