Pampanga - December 2013

Is there a nation on Earth with a greater propensity for natural distasters? Tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes, major floods and fires, not to mention the Typhoons which frequently ravage the islands have all left their mark. These “Acts of God” are common, awe-inspring and often deadly.

I remember watching the Pinatubo eruption as a 7 year old on the news. I knew what lava was. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to visit the ancient town of Bacolor in Pampanga that i knew what lahar was. 


As this is December,  Christmas is in full swing. Nowhere does christmas like the Philippines. It starts in September, and with a brief intermission for Halloween really ramps up in the final weeks. So I decided to head to Pampanga to see what a Filipino Christmas looks like.


These are called parols. These traditional lights adorn streets and homes all over the Philippines. But what i really came for was the churches. 

Sunken Cathedral-2.jpg

San Guillermo's history is a long list of tragedies - fires, earthquakes and floods, and all have made an impact on the Baroque Church. But the most significant of these was due to the greatest “Act of God” in the Church's history - the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Though the initial eruption occurred in 1991, it was a lahar flow brought on by Typhoon Mark’s rains in 1995 which has left the most visible scars on the 400 year old Church.


What was once a 12 metre high cathedral now sits on a new foundation. Parishioners now enter through the former second floor windows. The cemetery has since been remediated, though several structures can still be seen rising through the soil.


The Church took many years to be excavated to the condition we see it in today, and the former classrooms now house the Museo de Bacolor.

Sunken Cathedral-2.jpg

Just a few minutes drive away another sacred site with it’s own history of distasters – the Lady of Lourdes of Cabetican. 

What looked like little more than a large white home is the current shrine of the Lady of Lourdes, which has been built and rebuilt for centuries. The shrine is known for it miraculous events and healing properties.


On my way out I saw what appeared to be a huge concrete structure rising out of the ground. Manila has some beautiful examples of Brutalist architecture (the style was favoured by former first lady Imelda Marcos) and i assumed i had found another example, so i went closer to investigate.


Wow - this is the previous Lady of Lourdes. Destroyed in the Pinatubo blastof 1991, it has since been partially excavated. You can see the Stations of The Cross still adorning the wall. 

How big is it really? That's my friend in the lower picture. The answer is Very Very Big. 


Another amazing experience in what has been a truly amazing year. See you all in 2014! JBx