I was overwhelmed with joy when I learned that Guagua’s Betis Church is included in Culture Shock PH’s Pampanga Culinary tour. The Sistine Chapel of the Philippines it is dubbed. The Baroque-inspired Betis Church is one of the 26 elite churches in the country that has been declared as National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum and the NCCA.
The group has visited another church in Pampanga, the half-buried Bacolor Church, just a few hours before we disembarked at Barangay San Nicolas in Guagua. The sun was almost retiring behind the faded pink facade of the church as we gazed upon its peeling exterior.
Betis Church is officially known as the Parish Church of St. James the Apostle, also known as St. James the Moor-Slayer. In fact one can see a life-size image of the saint along the church grounds, riding a white horse with his right arm held high, ready to slay two Moors.
I was a bit crestfallen as I scanned the famed Betis Church façade, expecting something grander. Its exterior seemed much too simple and modern to what I imagined it to be. In my purist mind, all great churches should be unspoiled by paint and are made of stones.
But doubts slowly transformed to wonder and amazement as I went pass Betis Church’s ornately carved wooden portals. I paused, my eyes adjusting from the glare outside and into the dimly lit sanctum of what was supposed to be the Renaissance counterpart of Philippine churches.
A few steps in, and all at once, the opulent beauty of Betis Church overwhelmed my senses. This church, which was built during the 1660, has one of the grandest interior my eyes had ever laid upon. Its ceilings are profusely painted with frescoes and trompe l’oeil artwork originally done by Macario Ligon. Its walls laden with ornate Corinthian columns and punctured with colorful mini rose windows.
Walking towards the elevated pulpit from a bygone Catholic era, I was amazed to see that Betis Church’s floors are still made of thick hardwoods, something I’ve only seen at Siquijor’s Lazi Church.
As far as I know, there are only three churches left in the country with such floorings, the other one being in Valencia, Bohol.
My jaw totally dropped as I approached the Betis Church retablo. It was grandness overload. The frescoes, murals and carvings were simply too much for my slow brain to process. The town of Guagua is known for its excellent wood artisans whom they call mandukits, and one can see its evidence at the heart of Betis Church.
Still dazed, I went back towards the details of Betis Church, trying to take everything in, one small detail at a time. Although I’m not a fan of comparing our cultural treasures to other countries, I can definitely see why people associate this church with Vatican City’s immortal Sistine Chapel.
Parish Church of St. James the Apostle
Address: Brgy. San Nicolas, Betis, Guagua, Pampanga
Contact Number: (045) 900-0022