Last August 2, 2015 we began our Week of Culture with another lecture from Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, but this time in the form of a cultural trip to Taal, Batangas whom he described as ‘muy preciosa’. It was day of historical knowledge of the province where the seminary is located.
Brothers venerating the centuries-old Cross of Alitagtag.
Alitagtag and the Krus. Driving from Lipa, we first went to the town of Alitagtag. This town is known for its Church where the Cross of Alitagtag is venerated. The four old towns of Tanauan, Lipá, Taal and Bauan were first built in a site near a bay, at the foot of a volcano.During one its eruption in the 18th century, one part of the volcano flew from its peak (Malaking Binti) and arrived at the entrance to the bay, forming the present Taal Lake (although it has turned into freshwater, seawater fishes adapted to this new condition). These four old towns were submerged under the lake. This caused the citizens to move to higher places, but some have to relocate four times (as in the case of the city of Lipa) when the water level started to increase. The people, to stop further eruption, planted a cross in front of the volcano. This cross became miraculous, which is now known as the Cross of Alitagtag and Bauan. Since the barrio Alitagtag (which became a town in 1910) belongs to the parish of Bauan, the cross has to go to Bauan. To avoid conflict, the cross was divided into two so that the parish and the barrio both possess the miraculous cross whose feast is celebrated every 3rd of May with a remarkable prayer in form of dance, Subli.
The brick made from corals that forms the present ruins of Taal Church in the town of San Nicolas.
San Nicolas. “Estamos en el siglo XVIII”. After learning of the history of the Alitagtag and its venerated cross, we drove to the San Nicolas, a town by the Taal Lake. Since it was raining, Señor Rivera took advantage of the weather to explain to us that this lake was moody, it gets darker when it rains and of a ‘kingdom of mermaids’ believed to be found there. Anyway, it would still be hard to dive this lake because of the sulphuric emissions from the floor of the lake that at 7 meters deep one could be swimming in the midst of dark waters. San Nicolas used to be a barrio of Taal and in this small town, we saw the ruins of the old Taal Basilica, the structure itself very close to the lake. After the eruption, the town has to be moved to a higher place leaving behind the ruins of the past, which has been miraculously preserved for the future generations to see.
The topic went to the polo y servicios. Were the Filipinos forced to work? No, polo is not slavery (otherwise, the fierce Tagalogs could have slashed the ‘arrogant frayle’ into two). Faith and the catholic culture of that time made the townsfolk magnanimous, building enormous churches, monuments of the Faith, monuments of the triumph of Christ the King. Polo is not slavery, it is the bayanihan. It is also interesting to note how the Tagalogs did not know the art of using stone to construct a building. The Chinos cristianos did taught us this wonderful art and they themselves have contributed largely to such beautiful old churches.
Here we also learned how Taal was connected with the renowned Galleon Trade. When Salcedo arrived in this area, he saw chinese men tied to bamboo post, about to be skinned by babaylanes. Their skin would later be used as body covering (like clothes) pierced with feathers. The conquistador rescued them and sent the freed Chinese men to Manila, where they were helped to return to their country. Months later, they returned with hundreds of Chinese ships, loaded with porcelains and silk. Governor General Legazpi thought that these products be better sent to Spain. Here started the Galleon Trade, where ships would travel from Manila to Acapulco, Mexico. When it returns to Manila, it brings a lot of gold and silvers which turned the Philippines to a prosperous state.
Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine.
Caysasay and the Sta. Lucia Well. We spoke about the volcanic eruption, of how it formed the lake. The lake is still connected with the see through the Panisipit river, where the centuries-old venerated image of our Lady of Caysasay was found. Similar to the Lady of Lourdes, one can encounter a miraculous spring at the Sta. Lucia Well marked by a colonial arch built by the chinos cristianos (as can be seen with the design of the arc). This, according to Senor Gomez Rivera, is a testament of faith of the Filipinos and their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We drank from the water and went to Taal Basilica where Senor explained to us the Filhispanic architercture (a combination of Spain, China and Philippines), the prominent families of the town and the beauty of the town of Taal, all under the shadow of the the biggest church in Southeast Asia.
We thank God for this wonderful opportunity to appreciate Philippines with all its ancient grandeur. We, as members of the Institute of the Incarnate Word therefore pray that we may become missionaries of this ‘pearl of the orient’, the ‘light of Asia’, restoring the Catholic Culture that once abounded in this land.