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|St. James the Apostle Parish Church
Sistine Chapel of the Philippines
Iglesia Parroquial de Santiago Apóstol, Capilla Sixtina de Filipinas
Interior of Betis Church
|Location||Betis, Guagua, Pampanga|
|Dedication||St. James the Apostle|
|Heritage designation||National Cultural Treasure|
|Designated||November 5, 2001|
|Architectural type||Church building|
|Number of domes||one|
|Archdiocese||Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Fernando|
|Province||Ecclesiastical Province of San Fernando|
|Archbishop||Most Rev. Florentino Lavarias|
The St. James the Apostle Parish Church (Spanish: Iglesia Parroquial de Santiago Apóstol) commonly known as Betis Church is a Baroque church located in the Betis, Guagua in Pampanga, Philippines under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Fernando. The church was established in 1607 and dedicated to Saint James, the Apostle. It was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
The baroque-inspired Betis Church was built around 1660 under Father José de la Cruz. The preliminary structure was made out of light materials which was composed mainly of wood and stucco. Fire broke out within the church several times due to these light materials so it was finally built with concrete materials in 1770.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, Father Manuel Camañes dug an artesian well on the north-side of the church which served as a source of potable water not only for the Betis townsfolk, but to the other nearby towns as well. On the other hand, the present-day concrete fence with caryatids was built in the 2nd quarter of the 20th century.
In 1908, the rectory of the church was burned with fire and all the documents about baptism and other historical catalogues of the church turned into ashes.
Beautification of the interior part of the church was extensively done by the last Spanish priest named Father Santiago Blanco in 1939.
The interior ceiling was painted by the famous, Anac Baculud, a relative of Juan Crisostomo Soto, by the name of Isidoro C. Soto, who was mentored by Dr. Sijuco.
Isidoro, nicknamed Doro Soto, actually painted the artwork on the ceiling itself, a very tedious work of an art.
During the Spanish-Colonial period, Betis is an independent town which has its own autonomy as a municipality. But due to migration of its inhabitants to the nearby Guagua in the American Period, it was merged to this town in 1904 under the Act 943.
History of Betis
Betis as a town traces its roots way before the period of Spanish colonization which began in the 16th century. The town already had a unique culture and way of life prior to Spanish occupation. People here were well-known carvers and expert in trade. This talent and expertise would then be used by the colonizers to infuse western influences to the natives of Betis.
The word Betis was derived from Hispania Baetica or Hispania Baetica-an ancient place during the Roman Period which was located at the Iberian Peninsula. This Iberian Peninsula is now Spain. It was in the geographical resemblance from this certain place that the early Spanish conquistador in Pampanga named the place as Betis.
At present, Betis still retains the old traditions such as celebrating the fiestas, commemorating the departed loved ones through a 9-day novena every month of November, attending the ritual dance during Kuraldal and parading through a mile-long Limbun Nang San José during the month of May. These are just a few of the many traditions that are still being celebrated in Betis.
On the other hand, the carving tradition or what the natives call as dukit still remains an art and industry and serves as a source of livelihood for many Betis residents. Other industries are emerging within the community such as the making of pastillas and tarts, fish culturing and the making of chicharon.
Declaration as a National Cultural Treasure
Betis Church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum and the National Commission for Culture and Arts under Republic Act 4896 as amended by Presidential Decree 374 and Republic Act 8492 on November 5, 2001.. In 2009, the National Museum installed a marker of its 2005 Proclamation.
The main attraction of the church is the original ceiling mural done by the famous painter Simón Flores (1839–1904). Not to be missed are his original painting of the Holy Family, the artesian well (dug in the 1800s) in the patio – the first well in the country to be so situated, and the rare betis tree nearby donated by sociologist Randy David, a native of the town. A two-minute walk from the church is the restored David House, ancestral home of the sociologist, which they christened as Bale Pinauid or Bahay Pawid.
The unique design of Betis Church reflects the integration of Spanish and Latin American architecture to indigenous architecture, including elements of Oriental style during the Spanish colonial era. The Church's political power of that period manifests in the architecture. It had been designed to withstand attacks during revolts and rebellions, giving the church the appearance of a fortress. The blending of religion and military portrays the manner Spain saw its situation in the Philippines. The church was also designed to withstand earthquakes that occur often in the region. This unique architectural style became known as Earthquake Baroque.
The retablo, a classic altar, is ornately decorated with carved designs. The religious frescoes in the ceiling and murals on the wall with its intricate sculpture and paintings in gold dust are reminiscent of the Renaissance age of European Art. One can behold the majesty of its ceiling, walls and the altar from the aisle near the main door. There are paintings and murals of the Holy Family, selected Biblical scenes, Catholic saints and cherubs. No wonder, it is dubbed as “the Sistine Chapel” of the Philippines.
The church was built by Augustinian priests from 1660 to 1670. The initial structure was composed of wooden materials. However, the Church was destroyed by several fires, which justified the consequent use of non-combustible concrete materials in 1770.
The artworks of the interior were extensively done in 1939 under the last Spanish friar who served as parish priest, Fr. Santiago Blanco, OSA. Native painter Macario Ligón was later commissioned to paint the ceiling of the church. Later in the 1970s, Ligón's assistant and nephew Victor Ramos restored 80 percent of the ceiling and mural paintings. The floor of the Church is remarkably made of tough native wood. The main entrance to the church features some heavy details. The carvings portray the “Gates of Paradise”.
A museum (Museo Ning Betis) stands on the right side of the Church which shows some vintage photos and the history of the church.
Outside, sculptures could be found including the monuments of Santiago de Galicia, St. Joseph the Carpenter and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Also in front of the church is the Betis Artesian Well known to be the oldest deep well in the province.
Standing at the nave of the church, one can see the ceilings, walls and the retablo styled with paintings and murals of the Holy Family, selected scenes from the bible, Catholic saints and cherubs.
Victor Ramos and the ceiling paintings
To be associated with a top caliber artist such as the famous painter Simon Flores active during the late 19th century would be a compliment. And to be rated as great and of the same level as Simón Flores would also be an honor. Almost every amateur artist these days might long for this kind of comparison. But to have the masterpieces you have created mistaken for a work by a Master such as Simón Flores, that is another story. Neglecting the role (or contribution) that you had to a particular work of art is a totally disenfranchising thing that should not be forgotten.
This is the case of the painter Victor Ramos y Gozum (1922–1986) who repainted almost 80% of the ceiling and mural paintings in the interior of the Betis church which most contemporary writers mistook for Simon Flores originals. Victor Ramos, together with Daning Henson from San Fernando Pampanga and a certain Mr. Pangilinan reworked the ceiling paintings in the early 80’s, commissioned by the Betis Fiesta Committee under Tatang Emias Roque. It was a flagship project for the town which was then headed by former Guagua Mayor Atty. Manuel Santiago. Based on Macario Ligón-originals (Ligón was an uncle and teacher of Victor Ramos in painting), repainting was done due to the decaying panels infested by termites and to avoid a more devastating effect on other parts of the church’s ceiling. Photographs served as guides for the painters in the restoration process which simulated the original ones especially the trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) effect of the vaults, frames and arches. The original ones were painted in the pre-war years by Macario Ligón of Barrio San Agustín Betis which was headed by the last Spanish friar of Betis named Santiago Blanco. Victor Ramos never had a hard time repainting the ceiling in the late 1970s to early 1980s since he was also the apprentice of Macario Ligón when the latter started painting it in 1939. He was only in his teens then.
Victor Ramos nurtured his painting skill despite being born in an impoverished family in Betis. Working as an apprentice under his uncle Macario Ligón, he became so interested with ecclesiastical painting which became his specialization. He entered the School of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and after a year, made his way to work with Maximo Vicente, a well-known sculptor, in the post-war period. He became an encarnador, one who paints the skin of rebultos, and had several side jobs along Mabini and Hidalgo Streets in Quiapo before he came back to Betis and married his longtime sweetheart Ester.
His important works include “The Genesis and Apocalypse“, Betis Church Dome,1985, “The Four Evangelists”, Betis Church pendentives,1985, “St.John Baptizing Christ”, Betis Baptistry, 1972, “The Four Evangelists”, Guagua Parish Church,Undated., “The Four Evangelist”, San Guillermo Church of Bacolor Pampanga, “Fourteen Stations of the Cross”.,Obando Parish Church, Obando Bulacan, 1982.
Betis church bells
In the bell tower, there is a big bell and 4 smaller ones. One of the small bells bears the inscription of Fray Manuel Camañes, 1891 and Fundicion de Hilario Sunico (who had a famous foundry in San Nicolas, Manila). Sunico is a well-known bell caster and metal master (metalsmith) of old Manila. Hilario Chanuangco - Sunico y Santos, the renowned 19th-century bellcaster was born in 1848 to the Chinese Chan Uan Co and his Spanish mestiza wife Trinidad Santos of Gagalangin, Tondo.
Around 176 church bells were attributed to him and the Sunico foundry. Among these bells are the principal bells of the Binondo Church and its nine chimes and the principal bell of the Malate church. The foundry is located along Jaboneros St., The first Sunico bell was cast sometime in 1865 by Chan Uan Co, the Chinese father of Hilario Sunico. The foundry started as a shack. But in the 1880s the shack was torn down to give way to a foundry that cast those huge church bells that hangs today in old Spanish churches- some of them declared as heritage sites.
Aside from bell casting, Hilario is also responsible for the grill workers of old Spanish churches and some civil works including the old Puente Colgante in Quiapo and the Tutuban Railway Station in Tondo.
Betis artesian well
In the last quarter of the 19th century, 1886-1894, Father Manuel Camañes dug an artesian well on the north-side of the church which served as a source of potable water not only for the Betis townsfolk, but to the other nearby towns as well (Jorge, Catalogo, P. 530-531). It was buried in mud and debris until it was unearthed in 1976. It was rehabilitated on July 14, 2006.
The present-day concrete fence with caryatids was built in the 2nd quarter of the 20th century.
The idea of renovating and restoring the ground floor of the church’s refectory to convert it into a historical mini-museum was one of the major projects of the Betis Town Fiesta Committee 2007. The Committee which was spearheaded by comité de festejo president Florentino Torres saw the need of a specific place which will serve as an exhibition room where the collections of Betis Church’s artifacts, important historical data, old photographs and memorabilia, antique valuable pieces of the old families of the town and other significant documents pertaining to the celebration of its annual fiestas and traditions in the past and of the present will be showcased. The goal is to ignite awareness, interest and sense of pride among the townspeople especially the new generation Betisenos. After several considerations and consensus among the committee’s member, it was decided that the refectory of the church will be converted into a museum.
The whole refectory which housed several precious art pieces of the church remained undeveloped for several years since its renovation in the early 20th century; after it was accidentally burned down in 1908. Since then, it has become a storage room for baptismal and wedding records of the church and it was where the valuable 17th century relief wood sculpture of “Matamoros” was hanged on one of the brick posts of the ground floor; the two “Sagrada Familia” oil paintings believed to have been painted by Simón Flores Y de la Rosa which are still found on the south-side of the wall at the second floor; the “Monstrance of Santiago de Galicia” and the few remaining mural paintings of the original ceiling painter of Betis, Macario Ligón Y Nulud. Today, through the support and generosity of the Betis people and the burning passion of the whole Committee of 2007 to relive the crowning glory of the past, the ground floor is now transformed into “Museo Ning Betis”.
The renovation of the ground floor took five months to complete. The addition of several interior designs and furniture were actually recycled from a pile of old wood and broken furniture stocked in the refectory’s ground floor. Instead of buying new materials, the committee made use of these debris, some were restored and some were converted into brackets of the wall lamps on every post, the base of the chandeliers, the doors of the façade of the museum’s entrance, the architrave of the arched windows and even a couple of utilitarian tables which are now located at the secretary’s office. The conceived ambience for the whole ground floor was to make it look like the interior of a bahay na bato house.
Today, the collections inside the museum are “Matamoros”(17th Century relief sculpture), “San José Macaquera”(Attributed to the Sazon Family), 1800’s original icons of the Betis’ church retablo, a relief sculpture by Juan Flores Y Culala, “Salangsang Ning Ilog Betis” by Victor Ramos Y Gaza, “Madonna at Anac” by Willy Layug Y Tadeo and “Inventario de la Parroquia de Betis” (an old notebook which gives account to the 1939-1957 inventory of Padre Santiago Blanco(1939) on the renovation of the church).
The consultants in the restoration procedure were Prof. Armando Burgos of the University of the Philippines Diliman and Prof.Regalado Trota José of University of the Philippines Diliman. Assistant to Prof. Burgos in the research and documentation process was Prof. Ruston Banal Jr, an alumnus of the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Fine Arts and a native of Betis. The consultant to the interior design was Ms. Imelda S, Torres, proprietress of FurnitureVille Inc.
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