Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Modernism catches up with the Baguio Cathedral, drawing mixed reactions

- by Joel Rodriguez Dizon

     Some people like it, others hate it. But one thing that the "new look" of Baguio Cathedral doesn't do  is leave you without an opinion.  For decades, this Renaissance-era Gothic cathedral has stood as the icon of Old World Gothic architecture in Baguio City. It's stained glass windows depicting many scenes from the bible are a treasured heritage. 
 
     The distinctive lines of its main structure, and its domed tabernacle, are unmistakably European. Its tall steel pipe organ  is the only one of its kind outside Manila. All the elements that make up the Baguio Cathedral complement each other to produce Baguio City's proudest example of the finest European architecture you can ever find.
     Then suddenly a beehive of work activity enveloped the Baguio cathedral for several months in 2006 and when the scaffolds and blinds came down, out emerged a new, "made over" Cathedral that was an eclectic--some say disturbing--mix of old and avant garde.
     Where there were live cypress bushes and semi-tall trees outside the church's windows before, now there is a cantilevered plastic canopy that wraps completely around the building. Tubular steel and plasticine panes combined to give the Cathedral a look not unlike a modern airport foyer, or shopping mall.  The parking lot on the west side of the church, just above Session Road, is now a rooftop parking lot. Perched above the Puso ng Baguio annex, it is topped by a strangely-shaped (like an ocean wave) steel-and-plastic roof. I saw this same design concept in a motorists' stop in Marilao, bulacan along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). While it looked good for a restaurant cluster, I don't know if it works as well embellishing a church.
     The garden in front of the Baguio Cathedral (it used to be called the "Gethsemane") is now a marbled plaza. Lots of benches all around for sitting, an outdoor aviary (although I only saw a few birds) and more of that tubular steel and plastic canopy work. It's now actually possible to make it from the corner of Patria de Baguio to the cathedral's main door in a downpour without getting drenched so much.  You dash  from canopy to canopy and slowly inch your way to the church, passing through what used to be the "Holy Trinity" square. The monuments of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are still there, but the other "Stations of the Cross" are gone.  All around the cathedral, cars now park for a nominal fee (free if sitting less than an hour, P20.00 for every hour after that).  A toll collection gate greets churchgoers driving into the churchyard and--oh, yes--taxis are no longer allowed to go inside the churchyard.
    
     Although I'm no longer a catholic, having embraced the evangelical tradition, I still frequently go to the Baguio Cathedral. Besides attending the obligatory best friend's wedding, or the baptism of a godchild you will hide from around Christmas time every year, I usually just sit around inside the cavernous chapel area.  I like shooting the stained glass windows from inside--they are really color slides, when you think about it. I've assembled a few shots here, see if they trigger some memories. They are quite tricky to shoot. You know how you're not supposed to shoot "against the light?" Well, when you shoot stained glass windows, you have no choice but to compensate for the bluish color shift and the expected overexposure.
     But my favorite spot inside the Baguio Cathedral is the front-left apse, where you can find the La Pieta--still probably by far the most moving sculpture by Michelangelo depicting Mary's deep agony at the death of the Lord Jesus after He had been hauled down from the cross. This is just a plaster replica, mind you, but if I raise the money and find the time, it's one of the first sculptures I would love to visit at the Vatican City in Rome.

     The left apse and the tabernacle have remained unchanged and still evoke a powerful spiritual experience everytime.
     Below are some of the stained glass windows of the Baguio Cathedral. Vandals have tried to destroy some of them in the past, hurling objects at them from a distance to test if the brass fittings are really as sturdy as thought by some. To be sure, the glass is fragile and the dyes used in the staining process have taken some beatng from the sun, rain and wind.  To help preserve them, wire screens were installed on the exterior side, causing a little bit of disturbance to the ornate design--but a price well paid to keep a treasured heritage intact 








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