Philippine church gets its very own 'Sistine Chapel'

Ceiling mural in Bantayan Island parish church was literally a 'neck-breaking task' for the artists
Philippine church gets its very own 'Sistine Chapel'

Part of the mural painted on the ceiling of the Saints Peter and Paul Parish Church on Bantayan Island in the central Philippines. (Photo by Charlie Saceda)

On the island of Bantayan in the central Philippines, artists were adding the finishing touches to a mural on the ceiling of the island's old church days before Holy Week.

The church's priest, Joselito Enriquez Danao, said the idea of God is so "profound" that he thought of using visuals for people to "comprehend and understand the love and the forgiveness of God."

So in 2016, when he was assigned to the Saints Peter and Paul Parish on the island, Father Danao started the concept of “dibuho kisame,” which literally means "ceiling painting." 

It was also when the government's National Heritage Commission was in the process of restoring the old church and convent that date back to the 18th century.

"While I was watching the restoration, I noticed that the ceiling was bare and plain," said the priest. 

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He started doing research and even asked long-time residents on the island what the ceiling looked like in the past, but came up blank.

He then sought permission from the Commission on the Cultural Heritage of the Church and its government counterpart to paint the ceiling.

After permission was granted, the priest scoured for artists. He found one from a mural in a local bar.

"When I looked at [the mural], it was really impressive. The people had realistic eyes," said Father Danao about the artwork of Aris Avelino Pastor.

When told about the project, Pastor said "the hair all over my body stood on end." 

The Saints Peter and Paul Parish Church on Bantayan Island, in the central Philippines. (Photo by Charlie Saceda)

 

An artist's childhood dream

Pastor said it was his dream since childhood to paint murals on a church "like what Michelangelo did with the Sistine Chapel ceiling."

"When I was a kid, my mother often bought us children’s books with drawings of Jesus’ life and the lives of the saints."

When he was informed of the Bantayan church project, the artist said he was "eager to do it no matter at what cost."

Pastor, a native of Palompon, a town in nearby Leyte province, led a team of 12 other artists to do the giant mural that measures 1,130 square meters.

"I didn’t even think how hard the task was, but I really wanted to do it," he said.

Painting the mural was literally a "neck-breaking task." The artists had to climb scaffolding and had to be looking up the whole day.

"It was dangerous for us climbing the scaffolding because we didn’t have any experience doing it, but we had to trust that the Lord would take care of us," said Chino Encarnacion, one of the other artists.

Ana Nikolai Mendoza, the only woman in the group, said she was scared but had to conquer her fear to do the work.

"I feel blessed. It was the opportunity of a lifetime," she said. "I am happy I am leaving a legacy to the people of Bantayan."

Pastor said the mural is divided into sections, starting with the story of the arrival of Christianity 500 years ago to the islands that later became known as the Philippines, the foundation of the parish, the arrival of the missionaries, raids conducted by pirates, and other historical events that would remind people of the history of their church.

 

Students look up the mural on the ceiling of the Saints Peter and Paul parish church on Bantayan Island in the central Philippines. (Photo by Charlie Saceda)

 

Visual catechism

An image of Jesus and scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul will also catch the attention of anyone entering the church.

The last panels of the mural leading up above the church's altar depict scenes from the life of Jesus from his birth to his Passion and Death on the cross.

"The concept is visual catechism," said Father Danao. He expressed hope that people will be reminded of the Holy Scriptures when they visit the church and see the mural.

"I hope the visuals, the mural, will touch something in the lives of people and give them hope," said the priest.

Established in 1580 as the "Convento de la Asuncio de Nuestra Senora" or the "Our Lady of Assumption," the parish on Bantayan Island was the first parish to be established in the southern part of the Philippines.

The old church, which is under the care of the National Heritage Commission, was built 1839 and was completed in 1863.

The painting of the church's ceiling was made possible from donations given by the people. Father Danao said a local resident initially donated about US$9,500.

When the first panels were completed and people saw them, other donors came forward and even beefed up the funds by setting up social media accounts.

"We want people to be really involved so that they will own the project," said Father Danao. "When they look up, they can say they were a part of it," he added.

"It wasn’t only the project of the priest, but the project of the entire community," he said.

The mural at Saints Peter and Paul Parish not only tells the story of Jesus and the two saints, it also tells the story of Christianity in the parish. (Photo by Charlie Saceda)

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