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Ilocos Tour » Sinking Bell Tower and McDonalds’ Rising Golden Arch

Laoag was still slumbering when we arrived at around 5:00 am. We made a quick stop at the Laoag City Central Plaza at the foot of the magnificent Don Mariano Marcos Bridge also known as Gilbert Bridge and the third longest bridge in the Philippines. The only restaurant open was the ever-present McDonalds. It’s a good thing this McDo branch has free WiFi - literally our one hand was holding our smartphones updating status on Facebook and Twitter, the other hand was doing the most important thing in the morning, which is breakfast. (Seems crazy because Facebook and Twitter are now vying for the most-important-thing in the morning category.)

With full stomach and Facebook status updated, we are now ready for a quick plaza tour. We first checked out the St. William the Hermit Cathedral and the Sinking Bell Tower.

Defying time - St. William the Hermit Cathedral

According to the church’s historical marker, St. William the Hermit Cathedral, was first built in 1580 as a wood and thatched nipa palm chapel. The present Italian Renaissance and Baroque-style church was built between 1650 and 1700. It has stood the test of time, while silently witnessing the unfolding of Philippine history during the Spanish era. It was seriously damaged during the November 14, 1707 earthquake, partially destroyed by fire in 1843 and then completely restored. It was again damaged during the July 18, 1880 earthquake and repaired again. In 1891, the roof of the church and convent were replaced with galvanized iron.

Alpha & Omega symbol at the church entrance
The church was occupied by Pedro Almazan in 1661, revolutionaries in 1896, American forces in 1899 and Aglipayans in 1901. It was the scene of the 1932 diocesan Marian Congress and was slightly damaged during the September 7, 1983 earthquake.

The painted Cathedral
It was totally damaged when they PAINTED it. Old church walls have a quiet faded beauty, but in the case of this church, it is impossible to see now because of the modern paint. The paint obscures the architectural details and history of the church.

They should’ve leave the bullet holes and cracks on the church walls to remind us that Ilocanos have fought a war and died to save Ilocandia. I say they should’ve think twice before repainting the church that has achieved lovely old walls after many centuries.

By re-painting this cathedral, they hide its century old beauty and erased the mark of hardships of the early Philippine revolutionaries fighting for independence.

Unto Earth returnest – The Sinking Bell Tower

Around the corner, at the back of McDonalds right across Bonifacio St., in the northern end of Don Mariano Marcos Bridge and meters away from the St. William the Hermit Cathedral is the immemorial Sinking Bell Tower also called the Bantay Bell Tower. The tower is located about 85 meters away from the cathedral, a colonial church feature described as “earthquake baroque.”

View of the Sinking Bell Tower from the Cathedral
The cathedral’s Bell Tower, was previously one of the most massive and tallest in the country. Built even before the foundations of the cathedral were laid (around 1660). It is made of bricks, joined by molasses and the juice of sablot leaves mixed with lime and sand. I think that is more economical than using egg white just like what they did in constructing the Baclayon Church in Bohol.

The belfry now leans slightly to the north and has sunk half a storey since its construction, allegedly due to the 1957 earthquake and its being built on a sandy subsurface.

According to the locals, a man and a horse can go inside the tower before but now a man can no longer pass through its gate.

The new belfries

This place makes me think back about how times have changed. Commercial and modern establishments are now drowning the Bell Tower making it out of sync with the new world. You can no longer take a nice clear photo of the bell tower because electric posts are blocking the view. Aside from the fact that it is sinking, it seems like disarrayed webs of electric wires are also strangling it. Hmmm, melancholia nostaglia.

While the belfry is bidding its final farewell, slowly sinking every year, McDonalds’ golden arch and tower is happily rising, as if mockingly saying “you’re history, get lost!"

The church must stop politicking and instead exert extra effort in evangelizing because more people are having salty French fries more often than taking the bland holy bread.

Nowadays, McDonalds’ towering golden arches are the new belfries.
What do you think?


Fact Sources and Citations: 
» Grele Dominique, Jouve, Lily. 2001.100 resorts in the Philippines: places with a heart “Loag and its environs” Asiatype, Inc.:96
» Peplow, Evelyn.1997.The Philippines.Sinking Bell Tower of Ilocos.McGraw-Hill: 156
» Coseteng, Alice M. L., 1931- “Eartquake Baroque” Spanish churches in the Philippines.UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines, 1972
» Wikipilipinas. “St. William's Cathedral” [10 April 2011]

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