Tuesday, June 17, 2008

FQS IN A BELFRY

San Beda to me was a high-end school and Raul Dancel’s college of my CEGP days. That was until eman59, a fellow traveler in the Lagalag project, asked me if I have photos of the San Beda church. A Google search confirmed that there is indeed a church and of the colonial era. So one stormy morning, I got up in my sleeping and tattered UNCRD shirt and a mismatched green walking short, tucked an unruly mass of hair inside a baseball cap, and dared the flooding streets in a pair of moldy Beach Walk slippers. I pleaded with the church guard who would not let me in because I looked more like a santo thief than the photographer I claimed to be. My case was brought to the parish secretary who hesitantly relented. But no flashes please.

It is a beautiful church. A Swedish architect, George Asp, designed the church that was built until 1925. Fr. Peter Celestine Gusi (OSB) later added the side chapels and galleries between 1947 and 1958. The church is renowned for its murals and paintings that were done by Fr. Lesmes Lopez (OSB) and Bro. Salvador Alberich (OSB) from 1930 until 1939.

eman59 confided that as a child and a young man, he used to stare dreamily at the murals. The top of the twin bell towers was where he watched the "Battle of Mendiola" raged in January of 1970 pitting militant students against the state’s security apparatus. The police lines were breached, a fire truck was commandeered then rammed into the gates of the Malacanang Palace. The First Quarter Storm has began. Martial Law was declared on 23 September 1972 and a new chapter in Philippine history unfolded.

eman59 asked me to take lots of photos of the San Beda Abbey Chapel, “the nooks and crannies of it, the golden light, the gilded retablos, the black Lady of Montserrat… the sacristy (if I can sneak into it)… the gilded and bronzed doors”. He told me of the cemetery at the back and the Roman garden, and the main church entrance doors made by Eduardo Castrillo, “the fountains, hedges, cloisters and entryways in the courtyard” where he played and grew up. I would have happily obliged him. “Bawal pumasok sa loob ang naka-shorts lang,” said the guard. The storm raged. Wet first communers and their excited parents ranted at the weather.

I will be back. eman59 must have his photos. It is my own little way of saying thank you for the friendship and the amazing connections we shared even if we are thousands of miles apart and have never met. I find his photos powerful and provocative from which I am learning much.

In one of our email exchanges, he gave me what is the ultimate compliment I have ever received as a photographer: “There is no Filipino photographer's stream on flickr that make me more nostalgic about the things I love best about the Philippines than yours (and Maleldo's). For me your pictures are not about Catholicism or religion but, perhaps by default, the fabric of our identity. I especially admire the documentary style that you use to photograph them. You don't comment or editorialize. Very simply, here they are, pictures of your heritage, love them or hate them but never forget them”.
Just the way I wanted it. Maraming salamat, kaibigan!

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