Keeping heritage churches in focus

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WHAT DOES it mean to take photographs of our churches and then exhibit them? Beyond nostalgia, the ongoing exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila called Up Front: Encountering the Sacred, which features pictures of church facades, wants the audience to look at, and then ponder over and appreciate the structures that make up such a big part of the nation’s heritage.

On view until June 9, the exhibit is part of the ongoing celebration of National Heritage Month, and is presented by the Metropolitan Museum, the Filipino Heritage Festival, Inc. (FHFI), and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

The photographs were taken by the members of FUNtastic Philippines, a group of photography enthusiasts, and feature churches recognized as either a National Cultural Treasure, a National Historical Landmark, an Important Cultural Property, or a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aside from the more popular churches — like Barasoain in Bulacan, the Basilica Menor de Sto. Niño de Cebu, Miag-ao in Iloilo, and Daraga in Albay — the show also features the less well-known churches like Tumauini Church in Isabela, Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur, and San Vicente Ferrer in Nueva Vizcaya.

“Heritage and its importance is part of our group’s primary objective of promoting the Philippines as a prime destination. This year’s exhibit focuses one of the most important aspects of our culture and history: our heritage churches. These churches, which survived numerous political, social, natural, and historical upheavals, provide a deep insight of our country’s history, especially that of the community where they are situated,” Jun Bucao, one of the members of FUNtastic group who participated in the project, told BusinessWorld.

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The exhibition looks at engaging the audience in a discourse about heritage churches which goes beyond their facades. From the significance of the unrecognized Filipino craftsmen whose brilliance is seen in the intricacies in their designs and their functions, to the present condition of the structures following efforts at rehabilitation and numerous interventions, the exhibition encourages people to contemplate on the underlying issues that surround the sacred structures.

“Each church has a unique story behind its architecture, its facade, and the every brick that makes up the structure. By understanding the significance of these churches, we gain a deeper understanding of who and what we are as a people,” said Mr. Bucao.

The photographs let the audience not just appreciate the form and ornamentation of the facades, but also the subtexts of political interests, the impositions and persistent resistance that marked Spanish colonial rule and also the acceptance of Christianity in our narrative as Filipinos.

I can raise questions like: What could have happened if we did not embrace Christianity? Could you imagine praying for miracles from the gods and goddesses of trees, flowers, and wind? What would the Philippines look like if it were a Muslim country?

The photographs of the centuries-old structures also let the viewer ponder on the present and the future: How many more earthquakes can they survive? Are they still significant to the modern generation whose definition of “churches” mean religiously going to shopping malls?

Special commemorative stamps that feature the colonial churches were also launched by the Philippine Postal Corp. during the exhibition opening on May 10.

For more information on the exhibit, visit www.metmuseum.ph. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

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