The original plan of shooting the old Manila Chinese Cemetery for this year’s All Saints’ Day was abruptly cancelled (just temporally, it still pushed through later). We were weaving through the traffic of people along M.H. Del Pilar and the thought of swimming further on a sea of humanity along Rizal Avenue was just not that appealing. We headed towards the opposite direction and boarded a jeep going to Malabon’s Bayan instead.
I hazily recall, from years past, of a huge church with a cemetery right beside it. The new plan was to check out the scene at the graveyards at Bayan then revisit Malabon’s old church.
Unfortunately, the cemetery was pretty small and there was not much to see. After a few photos, we went inside the church. Malabon’s San Bartolome Parish was founded in 1614 after it became independent from Tondo, Manila. Construction of the church itself was started six years after and wasn’t completely finished until exactly 233 years later.
Gazing upon its towering ionic columns, I can definitely say that this church is indeed massive. I can’t even get a full frame of its facade through my camera along its plaza and had to go all the way out its gates.
I was, however, confused with its exterior; everything seemed hodgepodge and doesn’t connect too well. I know for instance that this was supposed to be an old church but I can’t seem to see that on its yellow-painted columns and fake adobe walls.
I took shelter inside its thick walls, walked along its intricate Mediterranean-styled Machucha tiles and gazed up at its domed transepts. The ceilings were painted in the three dimensional style of trompe l'oeil, a popular technique used in old churches, with a few vividly painted with biblical scenes in betweens. Its domes were impressive.
The ceiling along the nave was in the process of being repaired and was bare during our visit.
I had mixed feelings after exiting the immense archway of San Bartlome. The interiors looked beautifully intricate and the size of its exterior can be felt through its lofty interior, but its facade really bothered me; it just does not feel right.
After some research, I found through Cecile M’s post at My Malabon that San Bartolome has been going through some restorations for quite some time now. Its once rough adobe walls, which were smoothly plastered with concrete and painted during the sixties, were now painted over with fake adobe lines; its interiors which were once bare and simple, as with churches of the era, were now painted over with, again, fake adobe lines and flourishes of every kind.
I agree wholly with the author and could not have said it any better in her article’s conclusion:
I couldn't help asking myself, how do you define "glory," anyway? And how do you really restore it?
Certainly not by making something shiny and new and masking it with a gaudy veneer, but by reconstructing or rehabilitating it as faithfully as possible to the original. Old churches, especially, provide a valuable linkage into our own history as a people of faith. We should value and preserve them; to alter them is to deny future generations a precious legacy: a faithful glimpse into the past and an opportunity to be proud of ourselves as a people.
The renovation of San Bartolome Church has sought to restore its "glory."
And it has succeeded -- in a way that makes me profoundly sad for future generations...
I haven’t grown up with this church and I really have no notion regarding its history; but there I was transfixed with its painted ceilings thinking how nice and beautiful it was, impressed that this was how it must have looked for centuries past and how they did quite a good job of restoring it. But it was not so; I was fooled with a grandness initiated for just grandness itself.I saw an old photograph of the church through Cecile’s site and was stricken with its simple beauty; it was something that can compete with the likes of the Manila Cathedral. I never thought we have something like it in Malabon; it’s something any resident of this flood-stricken district could be proud of.
But the keyword there is could.
I really hope that old churches such as San Bartoleme Church can be restored to its true identity and not transformed to something it is not. Let’s not cover our history with a brush of colorful latex paints; not everything needs to look new.
San Bartolome Parish Church
Address: Rizal Avenue, Tañong, Malabon City, Metro Manila
Contact Number: (632) 281-1266 | (632) 283-3512
Click to view location on Google Maps