It’s all still a bit hazy to me, but I somehow recall how a fireball blazed into the sky and fell at the hill where an old tower stood. The meteor was taken by a stooped old man and was eventually forged into a sword, the balaraw. That sword was said to grow long by thrusting into the ground.
Ang Panday, a movie from my childhood, was more than a movie for me back then. And now, decades later, I am still unable to believe that I’m standing on the ground where that ball of fire struck.
But erase all that. After doing a bit of research, I stumbled upon a full movie of Ang Panday on Youtube. I started to watch it, waiting for the scene with the bell tower. Soon, I found that my memory served me wrong. The meteor didn’t land at the tower. Rather, a book was found there by Tata Temyong, buried under a tree, after an earthquake shook the ground.
The said bell tower is located just a few minutes’ walk from Vigan City, at a knoll near Bantay Church. The belfry looked almost exactly the same as it was back when it was shot in 1981. Made of fiery orange brick, slightly crumbling, but sans the steps leading to its door.
Like its counterpart in Vigan City, the tower is removed from the main church by some distance. In fact, it is actually pretty far, like sixty meters far. The town of Bantay got its name from that belfry, which was used as a watchtower for raiding pirates during the Spanish Colonial Era. Bantay, translated means to guard.
Due probably to the series of Panday movies, the belfry is much more famous than its church. But that’s not to say that the latter is far less interesting than the former. In fact, Bantay Church looks really handsome with its symmetrical bricked facade and pseudo-Romanesque cum Neo-Gothic look.
Formally called as the St. Augustine Parish Church of Bantay, this brick church has stood the travails of time. Established sixteen years after the Vigan Cathedral by the Augustinians, it has its share of misfortunes like most Colonial Period churches in the Philippines.
It stood as a silent witness to Diego Silang’s uprising during the Spanish regime in the country and it also got its share of damages during the Second World War. The current incarnation of Bantay Church was from a 1950 restoration, made five years after the war.
Bantay Church’s interior looks quite plain compared to its facade. The walls, finished with a simple paint job; the ceiling made of exposed frames; its retablo, lacking grandness; even the floor is devoid of the usual intricate Baldosa tiles found in the region.
But what it lacks in architectural flourishes, it makes up for in substance.
Bantay Church is home to the miraculous Nuestra Señora de La Caridad, Our Lady of Charity. It is housed at the central retablo, which can be accessed at the back of the altar. Pilgrims often visit the Lady, praying and asking for wishes to be granted. I’ve seen them in the form of colorful post-it notes tacked near the image, I kid you not.
At the back of the church, a smaller, open-aired shrine is located. During the many times I’ve visited Bantay Church, this is actually the first time I was made aware of this. The area is quite serene with lush greeneries and free-standing wall ruins.
Walk a few more steps and you’d fine Apo Caridad’s Art Loft. There is a minimal entrance fee, but as I started to reach for my wallet, I noticed it was closed at the time. Too bad, as I really wanted to see what kind of gallery it was.
Twice, I’ve climbed the Bantay Bell Tower. On both occasions, I was blessed with a beautiful sunset. This last time, the heavens promised another great show. We waited while the sky prepared to put on another grand performance, but as we were about to enter, its gates were slowly swung shut. Apparently, no more guests are allowed on the hill beyond six in the evening.
We were disappointed, to say the least; but still, I was grateful that I was able to witness the sun’s beautiful retreat from the tower from previous visits. And more, I was able to relive a childhood movie filmed at this iconic place. And yeah, I did watch the whole Ang Panday movie again too because of this. And believe it or not, it was actually better than I remembered it to be.
St. Augustine Parish Church
Address: Manila-North Road, Zone 5, Bantay, Ilocos Sur
Bell Tower Open Hours: 6:00am to 6:00pm
GPS Coordinates Map: 17°34'52.226"N 120°23'29.777"E