SARIAYA, QUEZON: RELIGIOUS, CULTURAL AND DINING HAVEN

MAJAYJAY CHURCHSariaya, Quezon, July 30, 2003 By RUBY GONZALEZ (MALAYA) The van entered the church grounds and we got off. I had passed through the town at least a couple of occasions before but it was the first time that I had the opportunity to actually set foot on its soil. There was purpose in my steps as I entered Sariaya Church. Tina Decal, our host and owner of Fantasia Travel & Tours, had already briefed us about the town history that is very closely intertwined with the church.

Just past the main door hangs the replica of the church's original Crucifix of Burgos. The original was hanging at the back of the retablo. The church deemed it wiser to have a replica made because the original image, after many, many years of being handled and brought out for processional rites, was becoming brittle.


An exact replica

Just as Decal had warned us, it was a poor copy. From afar, it might have the right form. But up close, the feature and expression of the suffering face was quite distorted. And for the faithful thereabouts, it is again proof that commissioning a copy of the Crucifix of Burgos is not an easy feat to do. The carver was given instructions to be faithful in creating the replica but tried as he did, it was the best he could do. People who take photographs of the image behind the retablo likewise say that they never develop well. To get a good photograph, Decal said that pre-shoot prayers are required.

We reached the retablo and went at the back to see famed Crucifix. It was literally larger than life and portrayed Jesus suffering, hanging from the cross with a large wound gushing on the right side of his body. It was very hard not be moved by the experience of standing before the image. A woman who came ahead of us was kneeling in front of it, praying piously. Before she left, she rubbed the feet with her handkerchief and kissed it several times. The image is said to be miraculous.

Spanish gift

It was brought to the town, located 125 kilometers south of Manila, via the galleon trade. The present church and its predecessor which was felled by an earthquake in 1743 were built with funds from the King of Spain Felipe V. The Crucifix of Burgos was likewise his gift. El Cid , the Spanish hero, is said to have brought along with him the image of the original Crucifix of Burgos during his crusade against the infidels a thousand years ago. Sariaya also used to be attacked by Moro invaders but since the replica of the image was brought to the church, the attacks ceased. It was likewise noted that Mt. Banahaw has not erupted since 1743. The last eruption occurred in 1730.

Outside, the spreading canopy of a centuries-old acacia tree provided respite from the heat of the steadily rising morning sun. It was still an impressive sight considering that it was only half the size of what it used to be. One morning last October, the church-goers found half of the tree lying on the ground. It was pinned down to old age. A lively discussion proceeded on how to best utilize the hardwood. Not a few asked that it be given to them for some construction purposes. Eventually the best proposal was given a go. A Pieta was completed just in time for the observance of Good Friday last April.

Rizal Street, which is the address of some of the finest houses in town, is located within the church vicinity. The most prominent of these is the Rodriguez ancestral home. Completed in 1930, it was a joint project of Architect Juan Nakpil and furniture designer Don Gonzalo Puyat.

It is a very well maintained house and one gets to appreciate it even more when acquainted with its history, which is documented in flyers given to visitors.

Japanese hideout

It served as a Japanese headquarters during the WW II. Though the Rodriguezes did not have any choice regarding the decision, they elicited the ire of guerillas and it was said that when the Americans were set to liberate Manila, the guerillas sent them a map to drop a bomb on the house. But before the air raids took place, the townfolk were given a warning, which was not extended to the family.

They were afraid that the Japanese forces would track down the movement of the Rodriguezes since a Japanese officer had been very obvious in his interest with the family's eldest daughter. Fortunately, a kind-hearted friend warned them off and the family was able to evacuate as well.

The bombs were dropped. The first bomb exploded in front of the house. The second one hit the back of the house, creating a 20-foot gaping hole. The third one was direct hit as it went through the roof but for some reason - many would attribute it to sheer miracle - it got stuck in the stair banister and never exploded.

The bomb was removed and stored in the garage. A welcome party for the US forces shortly ensued and where else to hold it but at the grandest residence in town. At the height of the party one of the Rodriguez daughters mentioned to an American soldier about the bomb. The merriment was immediately put on hold as they checked the bomb.

A quick check indicated that it was still live. Only when the bomb squad pulled out the high explosive did people feel safe again.

None of the heirs live in the house these days, although they come in for regular visits. The merriment still continues though since they decided to open home's doors to wedding receptions, family reunions and other similar events. In the middle lies a swimming pool, the most practical thing to construct over the hole created by that WWII bombing.

A restaurant and souvenir shop has been built at the other end of the property. Interested parties could contact Decal at e-mail address fantasia_travel@yahoo.com.

Home for artifacts

For much older history, we dropped by the Sariaya Museum. It is housed in the town's oldest structure, which was built in 1703. It is so old that it provided accommodations for the Spanish friars who arrived in town to oversee the construction of Sariaya Church.

PIETAThe Pieta carved from the fallen half of the church's acacia tree is kept there, together with other artifacts and memorabilia.

The museum is maintained by the Sariaya for the Centennial Foundation, which was founded in 1999 to help the town preserve its culture and history. Decal is a founding member.

Among the major projects the foundation had undertaken is the re-invention of Agawan Festival in 1999. It is a May 15 thanksgiving festival, with San Isidro de Labrador as the patron saint, where the locals put on display their best produce and share this prosperity with visitors by encouraging them to grab whatever they like.

Fr. Raul "Puti" Enriquez, who is based in a parish several towns away but used to be the Sariaya parish priest, happened to be in the museum and he offered a very interesting insight. He said the Crucifix of Burgos is the twin of the Resurrected Christ and should serve as an inspiration that suffering is necessary to better one's life. He recently went on a pilgrimage to Burgos, Spain, to see the very same icon which accompanied El Cid in his crusade. Among others, he wanted to bring home a picture and he said it took him three days, celebrating masses thrice and several rolls of films before the photographer he had commissioned finally got one picture that developed well. He keeps a laminated copy in his wallet.

The sun was reaching its zenith when we headed for the province's most famous restaurant, Kamayan sa Palaisdaan in Lucban. The main attraction is the individual kubo kiosks floating in fishponds teeming with tilapias, which, incidentally, are included in the menu. Yes, they are that fresh. The verdant, non-contrived landscape finishes the bucolic atmosphere.

Be warned though that part of the enjoying the place is being prepared to wait for some time for the food to start streaming in. You can while away time by catching up with the community goings on, discussing politics or religion or simply dawdling about.

Majayjay Church was our final destination before we headed back for Manila. Decal, who, being Quezon born-and-bred, knows the province like the back of her hand, led us to the less trodden path. We passed through the Lucban-Majayjay Road, which cut across quiet farming villages with Mt. Banahaw in the background and zigzagged along verdant mountain forests.

Sidetrips

The church fašade was impressive. It started as a bamboo and nipa affair in 1571 had evolved into its current massive adobe structure. The improvements were necessitated by damages wrought by typhoons and fires through the centuries. The last major work was done in 1912. Sadly, though, this is not indicative that the church has been free from any sort of damage since then.

When we arrived just after four, the church doors were bolted. It was only after Decal coordinated with a church staff that we were allowed in. Later we found out that the doors are only opened during celebrations of the mass. Any time has become risky as the church interiors and its wealth of icons and artifacts have fallen prey to vandals and thieves.

Night had fallen when we were dropped at the exact location in Makati where the trip had started. Some 12 hours had passed but it seemed quite a short time considering the spiritual, visual, and gastronomical feasts we had had.

Fantasia Travel & Tours specializes in Quezon tours. What we had was a sampler of the heritage tour. Among the other packages available are tours focusing on churches, cuisine, farms, museums and crafts. Fantasia caters to both small and big groups.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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