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Philippine church holds first Mass in 204 years

Budiao church was only unearthed recently after being buried when Mount Mayon erupted in 1814

Rhaydz Barcia, Albay

Rhaydz Barcia, Albay

Updated: September 18, 2018 04:31 AM GMT
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Philippine church holds first Mass in 204 years

Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi leads the celebration of the Eucharist at the ruins of Budiao church in Legazpi province on May 11. (Photo by Rhaydz Barcia)


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Under towering centuries-old trees, Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi led a celebration of the Eucharist in the ruins of Budiao church, in the town of Daraga on May 11.

It was the first time in 204 years that Mass had been celebrated there.

The church ruins were unearthed only recently, after being buried by ash during a catastrophic eruption of the nearby Mount Mayon volcano in 1814.

The celebration gathered people from all walks of life and descendants of early residents, back to the centuries-old church, which was the center of community life before the tragedy that killed more than a thousand people.

In his homily, Bishop Baylon emphasized the need to understand the "story of the past." He said there were previous attempts to excavate the church, but the diocese did not allow it.

"We finally allowed the excavation … for us to know the history of the church and how it was built by Franciscan friars," said the prelate.

The ruins of Budiao church, which was buried by a volcanic eruption in 1814. (Photo by Rhaydz Barcia)


During Spanish rule, and before the 1814 eruption, the village of Budiao was reputedly a go-to place for people for its hot springs and for bullfighting.

The village sits 20 kilometers from another buried church in the village of Cagsawa.

The muddy road between the two villages crosses six river channels filled with volcanic debris that have tumbled down from the volcano's slopes during past explosions.

The walls of the church in Budiao stand as silent witnesses to the wrath of nature in years past.

The aim of the excavation, which is being led by archaeologists from the University of the Philippines, is to look into the structure, study the stone chambers, the building materials, and the building techniques, as well as to learn more about its furnishing and fittings.

Lee Anthony Neri, the excavation site director, said his team has not yet recovered any valuable materials because they haven't reached the floor of the structure, including the altar, yet.

He said Catholics around the village would be the beneficiaries of the research because the church is a "heritage of faith."

Researchers have so far dug up and recovered limestone used for the building, shells, and volcanic rock believed to have been used in the construction of the church.

Seashells were among the raw materials used for the cementing agent used in the construction. The shells might have been heated and finely crushed before being added to the mixture.

The extent of the damage to the church remains unknown, although the northern, eastern, and western walls have remained intact. 

Based on historical accounts, the first Franciscan missionaries arrived in Manila on June 24, 1577, and stayed with the Augustinians in the walled city of Intramuros.

From 1578 onwards, the discalced friars set off for the Bicol region, to Budiao and Cagsawa, to evangelize the local people and build places of worship.

The early chapels and churches were made of palm leaves and bamboo that were later replaced by wood, bricks, limestone, and pebbles.

The church in Budiao was a former visita, or village chapel, of nearby Cagsawa before it separated on Nov. 29, 1786 under the patronage of a certain Asuncion de la Nuestra Senora.

During the 1814 eruption, the stone church of Budiao was buried and the village abandoned. Stories said only the parish priest survived by clinging on to a coconut tree.

An account by a friar, Francisco Aragoneses, said "rivers of fire, thick smoke and ash" covered the village while people were shook to the core by violent earthquakes.

The friar wrote that on Feb. 1, 1814, at about eight o'clock in the morning, Mount Mayon began throwing up a dense column of rocks, stones, sand and ash followed by "a great river of fire."

The 1814 eruption was one of the two biggest Mount Mayon eruptions in history. It was heard as far away as Samar province in the central Philippines, so the story goes.

Ash and debris from the eruption buried villages around Budiao and Cagsawa, where some 1,200 people who took shelter inside the church were buried alive.

While the Budiao church was totally buried, its facade, bell tower, and roofing being destroyed, the belfry of the Cagsawa church survived and has become an Albay province landmark.

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