It was no one’s fault but my own when I left Manila for a trip to the province of Batangas shaded in gloom. The sky was thick with cloud all grey and dark, and without so much as a single wink for two whole days, sleeplessness was finally taking its toll on my body.
Somnolent in ways only insomniacs understand, the nearly two hour ride—even while framed by sprawling fields of rice and pineapples—didn’t do much to enliven the day. Until we reached the narrow roads of Taal, with its old Spanish-inspired houses, and that sense of old-world grandeur that seemed to sizzle on all but our modern-day van, that things started to look expectantly brighter.
My first stop was the Basilica of the Parish of St. Martin de Tours, one of the oldest Catholic churches in the province, and undoubtedly the biggest church this side of Asia. I have heard of the old Basilica in past conversations with the folks back home, how it rises majestically amid patches of ancient ruins and a row of residential houses still aglow with old-fashioned splendour. Time was at a standstill, it seems, in this corner of Batangas, scarcely moving save for the flank of cars and vans that litter its wide parking space.
Breathtaking even at first glance, the Basilica St. Martin de Tours is an imposing figure, a clear testament carved in stone of both the imperial power of Spain and its unwavering faith in its Church centuries ago. The belfry still looms like the giant of a structure that it was back then, while its façade, a sprawling vertical expanse of aesthetically hewn and whittled stone, rises with a colonnade and several windowed archways like in the days of Rome’s Constantine and Caesar Augustus.
Basilica, or basileios in Latin, began in Rome. It means kingly structure or a beautiful hall—literally the Hall of the King. The public basilicas were first used not for worship but transactions in trade and business, the oldest of which is the Basilica Porcia built by Cato the Elder in Rome at 184 B.C.
The ecclesiastical basilicas came much later, the first having been occupied by one of the first bishops of Rome, St. John of the lateran. Basilicas were structures that exuded power and dignity, a reminder to the people that faith in government and its church must remain as unwavering as its symbols.
Its parish priest, Monsignor Alfredo Madlang Bayan said St. Martin de Tours is the biggest church this side of Asia, and one of the oldest in the Philippines. The basilica is roughly 200 years old, quite young in relation to the churches of Balayan, Balaca, Bauan, San Jose and San Juan (my hometown), which are approximately 400 years old. Restoration of the Basilica St. Martin de Tours is now ongoing, with the aim of bringing back the glory of its old-world charm.
(*Read the full story in Batulao View magazine, published by Sandari Batulao.)
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.