Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The historic Boac Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)

Fray Estevan Ortiz, a Franciscan missionary planted the first cross on Marinduque island in 1579. A year later, the first visita, Monserrat de Marinduque (now Boac), was established with Fray Alonzo Banol as its minister.

In 1613 the Franciscans ceded the administration of the island to the Archbishop of Manila, Miguel Garcia Serrano who then entrusted the island to the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits assumed the spiritual administration of the island in 1621.

By 1756 the church was laid out facing east with its rear overlooking the lower town, called labak by the natives. It was to be an enduring structure for worship and for serving as a refuge for the townspeople during piratical attacks rampant in in that era.

Oral tradition survives up to the present day as to how Moro pirates in those days frequently invaded the shores of Boac through the mouth of the river in Brgy. Laylay. The townspeople would take refuge in the fortress of the cathedral and fervently pray for the intercession of their patroness, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception to save them from the attack.

In one particular attack, the raiders seemed to have persisted, killing many native defenders, so the story goes, when suddenly a powerful storm came. At that point the people saw a glowing apparition of the Lady with arms outstretched standing atop the fortress wall on the southern side of the church. She was in the act of driving away the intruders. The amazing apparition drove away the Moros who fled in their sailboats.

This episode, according to the story inspired the creation of a new name for the Lady as Birhen ng Biglang Awa.

The cathedral was dedicated to her, the 'Mother of Instant Mercy', (Pronto Socorro), in 1792. A marker on the church's front wall declares thus: "naniniwala ang mga tao na siya ang nagligtas sa pagsalakay ng mga moro noong ika-18 dantaon."

Her feast day falls on May 10. A canonical coronation of this miraculous object of veneration took place in Boac in 1958 to mark the 100th anniversary of that feast day. It was attended by thousands of pilgrims from the nearby provinces in southern Luzon and Bicol.

Photograph showing the interior of the old Cathedral. Lower photo courtesy of shows how it looks today.

When the Americans landed on the shores of Laylay on April 25, 1900, to control the island initially with a battalion of the 29th U.S. Volunteer infantry, they proceeded to Boac and set up their quarter in the citadel-like Boac Cathedral. They effectively took possession of the church throughout their pacification campaign on the island.

This old photo shows mass being celebrated. But closer look reveals that the devotees are sitting on the floor, said to be made of hardwood then.

Lower photo from shows the church pews and ceramic tiles today.

With the creation of the Diocese of Lipa in Batangas on April 10, 1910, the island of Marinduque was attached thereto as a suffragan diocese. In 1950 the Diocese of Lucena was created with the ecclesiastical province of Marinduque under its supervision.

Then, by virtue of an Apostolic Bull issued by Pope Paul VI on April 2, 1977, the Diocese of Boac was created. It was carried into effect on May 10, 1978 with Bishop Rafael M. Lim, D.D. of Boac installed as the first Bishop of Boac.

As of Dec. 31, 2008, the Boac Diocese recorded 193,585 baptized Catholics or 84% of the population of 229,636 (2007 population). The rest are members of the other Christian denominations such as Protestants, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Iglesia ni Kristo, and others.

Old photos showing the changing altar decorations for seasonal or religious festal events.

Thanks to Mr. Noel Cruz for the old Boac church photographs.