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Pondering over ruins

/ 11:42 AM December 19, 2013

Dimiao and Guindulman in Bohol province lie about 30 minutes from each other by private transport. Both towns share something in common: they both have ruins of Spanish-era structures that witnessed calamities long forgotten.

At the epistle side of Roman Catholic Church of Dimiao (your right side if you are facing the church façade) are coral stone edifices and a walled cemetery that locals refer to as “Ermita.” A few meters north of the epistle side of the Roman Catholic Church of Guindulman lies the remains of what must have been a three-level coral stone belfry and the walls of an earlier church. These old structures in both towns must have been ruined during the devastating earthquake of 1880 and again in 1922. (This contention is supported with what one sees at the façade of the present church of Guindulman, which carries the date ‘1881.’)

The similarities end there. For if the people and church of Dimiao have painstakingly taken good care of their “Ermita,” the people and church of Guindulman have apparently left their ruins to the elements—and with garbage to add flavor to the sad ramshackle.

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If the people of Dimiao take pride of their ruins, it appears that those in Guindulman somehow do not show that they find these ruins endearing enough to care. Worse, a tennis court, aptly called Kampanaryo Tennis Court, has been built right beside the walls of what must have been the epistle side of this earlier church. That side, I told the person who showed us around, would be where the dead were buried and so those playing tennis there had better be careful lest they lose their balls, tennis balls that is!

The ruins at Guindulman show a structure that must have been grander than the present church, at least insofar as its belfry is concerned. For the belfry of the present one reminds you of the mission chapels of the late 1500s, when bells were hung on two to three-meters high makeshift towers made of lumber and roofed with cogon or nipa.

The one standing in Guindulman today is, to be blunt, probably the shortest belfry in the world, rising barely two meters above the ground with two bells held up on crooked timbers and with a corrugated roof—quite a classic look minus the height. This makes me wonder why the partial ruins of the tall belfry beside the tennis court have been left to the parasitic ficus or belete plants to cling to instead of cleaning it up and putting up a marker perhaps to remind everyone that before the present belfry became a dwarf, there was once a giant one standing nearby.

Even what little remains of the barrel vaulted ceiling of the chapel inside in the Dimiao “Ermita” has been painstakingly cleaned. The cemetery grounds are covered with Bermuda grass giving it the feel of a well-kept garden amid the ruins.

What gives? One secret about Dimiao’s caring attitude to the ruins may have to do with an archaeological training project funded by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) through its SPAFA Regional Center for Archaeology and Fine Arts in the late 1980s. Archaeologists from all over Southeast Asia went to Dimiao to excavate the cemetery there and to study all the ruins of fortifications and church buildings that were found within the compound. The church cemetery or “camposanto” of Dimiao was abandoned in favor of another one a kilometer away sometime around 1814. Around that time, the concept of germ and bacteria had been relatively known and the churches were ordered to transfer their cemeteries a kilometer away as a health measure. This explains why one finds the Ermita walled in with tiny niches where dead human bodies will never fit. They were designed to store the bones that were exhumed in the early 1800s following the universal edict to move cemeteries away from town centers.

Alas, Guindulman’s ruins await its turn for a formal study of its grounds and ruins—one that archaeologists and conservation architects must do inasmuch as there appears to be no initiative on the part of the Guindulman local government or its church to remove all the extant plant growth and garbage that now mark what was once a house of prayer and worship and also a sanctuary whenever pirates and slave raiders from Mindanao would ravage coastal towns like Guindulman.

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Speaking of ruins, I just got an e-mail from the Prince Claus Fund of Belgium that it has a Cultural Emergency Response (CER) facility to help conduct damage assessment and repair of heritage structures under stress due to calamities, like the recent earthquake and supertyphoon Yolanda. For churches and heritage houses as well as public heritage buildings where funds are not immediately available, I urge you to check out the fund at www.princeclaufund.org.

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Finally, let me greet all the readers a very merry Christmas ahead. My next column will appear a day after Christmas and it will be too late by then to greet everyone.

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