The first Spanish missionaries or doctrineros in the region, Fr. Juan de Torres and Fr. Gabriel Sanchez, first settled in Baclayon in 1595. Shortly after their arrival, a visita was erected on the spot.
Although Baclayon was the first seat of the Spanish Jesuit missionaries, fear of Moro marauders soon forced them to move their headquarters more inland, to Loboc.
It was only in 1717 that Baclayon became a parish, and construction of a new church commenced. Some 200 native forced laborers constructed the church from coral stones, which they took from the sea, cut into square blocks, and piled on to each other.
They used bamboo to move and lift the stones in position, and used the white of a million eggs as to cement them together. The current building was completed in 1727. The church obtained a large bell in 1835.
In the Baclayon church is a dungeon, which was used to punish natives violated the rules of the Roman Catholic church.
It is one of the best preserved Jesuit build churches in the region, although in the 19th century, the Augustinian Recollects added a modern facade and a number of stone buildings that now surround the church.
A major tourist attraction of this church is the image of Padre Pio, or Saint Pio, which is imprinted on one of the pillars of the church.
Padre Pio was born on May 25, 1887 in Italy. He had poor health but despite that, he was able to finish his studies due to strong will and soon enough, ordained as a priest in the year 1910. It was on September 20, 1918, that his simple life as a priest changed when he became the first stigmatized priest in history. All 5 wounds of Jesus appeared on his body, marking his deep love for God and the Eucharist and beginning his life of apostolic activity for the many that flock to his confessionals.
After a devotee found the image on the photos of tourists taking pictures against the wall, Ramon Rodriguez, who had been healed through the intercession of Padre Pio of his half-blindness, called on Fr. Antonio Pompilio, an Italian priest to evaluate and confirm the image.
Right next to the church is the old convent, which also houses a small museum with centuries-old religious relics, artifacts and other antiquities, dating back to the 16th century.
Included in the collection are an ivory statue of the crucified Christ looking towards heaven; a statue of the Blessed Virgin, said to be presented by Queen Catherine of Aragon; relics of St. Ignatius of Loyola, old gold embroidered ecclesiastical vestments, books with carabao skin covers, and librettos of church music written in Latin on sheep skins.
Here you can also find the cuadro paintings made by the Filipino painter Liberato Gatchalian in 1859.
In Baclayon cantorals (large handwritten music books) was found the Misa Baclayana, a musical setting for the Mass which has been revived and is part of the repertoire of the LobocChildren's choir. Permission from the parish is needed to see the museum, which is generally locked for security reasons.
In 1835, a large bell was installed and in the 19th century, the Augustinian Recollects added the front facade of the church with its three arches and a number of stone buildings which now surrounds the church. All these are still standing at present making it the most preserved church in Bohol.
The church may have avoided getting totally destroyed during the Second World War, but it remains vulnerable from forces of nature. The occasional typhoons made it impossible for caretakers to protect its walls from moss patches. Moreover, the coral stone walls are susceptible to breaking when exposed to mists.
There were supposedly several attempts to repaint the church ceilings but no one knew of any preservation technique that would protect the original paintings. Another probable sentiment is that the church may not be able to afford the professional fees of restorers like those in Italy.
Be that as it may, Baclayon Church has been a significant aspect of Philippine history, not just in its attempts to propagate Christianity in the archipelago, but in serving as the political backbone of Spanish colonial rule, when Church and State were regarded as one.
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