Climb a belfry and love history

(Editorial, Bicol Mail, Volume XXV Number 29, March 12, 2009)

THE RESEARCH undertaken by local writer Jose Fernando Obias regarding old buildings and belfries including bells in the province in Camarines Sur has a mouthful to say about these Spanish souvenirs.

For one thing, built during the Spanish regime, these churches are expressions of the architecture at a given time. The façade—like the face of any man—has distinctive lines and features from “the slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune” that are expressive of the influence the builders of these structures were exposed to. There is no definite design followed by the various churches in Camarines Sur. Those in Partido have different designs from those in Rinconada or in the second district. But the common denominator of all these structures is the use of massive blocks and bricks held together by mortar. The façade of any church is a masterpiece by itself. This makes every church unique and gives it its own identity.

For another, the belfries of churches in Camarines Sur and the bells found in them are veritable archives. They contain data that have not found print in cultural journals in the province.

Take the case of the bell found in Libmanan which contains the declaration that the bell was cast during the term of Rev. Fray Jose Castaño. The name of the Franciscan missionary is written on the bell and any local writer worth his salt could not feign ignorance of who Fr. Jose Castaño was. He translated into Spanish the local epic Ibalon which was then handed orally from one generation to another in Bikol. What has survived to our days is the Spanish translation—not the Bicol narrative. The files of Bicol Mail on the Catalogo Biografico Religiosos Franciscanos de San Gregorio Magno de Filipinas contend that Fr. Castaño professed his vows on May 2, 1874, administered the parish of Camalig briefly in 1878, and was assigned to the parish of Lupi. How come a bell in Libmanan bears his name as the parish priest? Could it be that this bell was in the parish of Lupi before it was carried to Libmanan?

Did Fr. Castaño do the translation into Spanish thus perpetuating the epic in Bicol literature, while he was parish priest of Lupi thus bringing into the epic more familiar places in the whereabouts of parish, such as Colasi, Ponong to mention a few? This brings us to one very sensitive question: is it proper for other towns or cities in the Bicol region to lay claim on Ibalon for their festival? Should not Lupi have the first claim on the epic?

Still another observation uncovered by the research is the sorry state of these Spanish souvenirs. A big number of these Spanish bells have cracks, others have part of their mouth chipped off, and still others are without their clappers. Is there not a technology that can cure the cracks, give the bells a face-lift or a makeover so that they can be used as new? If old immovable structures can be refurbished and conserved why can’t these bells? Perhaps we just don’t have the technology at the moment but in this age the makeover for bells cannot be far behind.

As a station for the culture of a bygone regime, the belfries cannot be turned into a bodega as was observed by this research. Not very many have climbed the belfry of their parish. But if they do, they would see the trash accumulated in these belfries. However, of more importance is the experience to see for one’s self the data written on those bells and ravages on their surface left by the passage of time. Would that in our life we can observe intently and carefully the data that can be found in the belfry and in the façade of churches. Truly, one cannot only enrich one’s information about one’s town but also fall in love with one’s culture and history the second time around.


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