Province of Pampanga
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The Betis Church or the Parish Church of St. James the Apostle is a Baroque church located in Guagua, Pampanga (Betis Area). The church,established in 1607, was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines and the NCCA (under R.A. 4896 as amended by P.D. 374 and R.A. 8492), on November 5, 2001 (one of only 26 churches in the country bestowed that honor). It is part of the Ecclesiastical Provinces of the Archdiocese of San Fernando. In 2009, the National Museum installed a marker of its 2005 Proclamation.
The Church is dedicated to Saint James (Aramaic Yaʕqov, Greek Ιάκωβος, died 44 AD) or “Saint James the Moor-slayer”, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Apostle. He is also called James the Greater to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus, who is also known as James the Less).
The main attraction of the Church is the original ceiling mural done by the famous painter Simon Flores (1839-1904). Not to be missed are the original his painting of the Holy Family, the artesian well (dug in the 1800s) in the patio – the first well in the country to be so situated, and the rare betis tree nearby donated by Prof. Randy David, a sociologist and native of the town. A two-minute walk from the church is the restored David House, ancestral home of Randy David, which they christened Bale Pinauid or Bahay Pawid.
The Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has designated the conservation and protection of more than 30 other Spanish-era churches to be of utmost importance. These were registered as National Cultural Treasures. These churches were given priority status not just due to their historical value, but also based on the geographic representation of various regions across the nation, and include Santiago Apostol Parish Church in Betis, Guagua, Pampanga.
The retablo, a classic altar, is ornately decorated with carved designs. The religious frescoes in the ceiling and murals on the wall with its intricate sculpture and paintings in gold dust are reminiscent of the Renaissance age of European Art. One can behold the majesty of its ceiling, walls and the altar from the aisle near the main door. There are paintings and murals of the Holy Family, selected Biblical scenes, Catholic saints and cherubs. No wonder, it is dubbed as “the Sistine Chapel” of the Philippines.
Betis is used to be a town before it was merged with other sitios now forming Guagua. The church was built by Augustinian priests from 1660 to 1670. The initial structure was composed of wooden materials. However, the Church was destroyed by several fires, which justified the consequent use of non-combustible concrete materials in 1770.
The artworks of the interior were extensively done in 1939 under the last Spanish friar who served as parish priest, Fr. Santiago Blanco, OSA. Native painter Macario Ligon was later commissioned to paint the ceiling of the church. Later in the 1970s, Ligon’s assistant and nephew Victor Ramos restored 80 percent of the ceiling and mural paintings. The floor of the Church is remarkably made of tough native wood.
The main door, the entrance to the Church features some heavy details. The carvings portray the “Gates of Paradise”. It’s like a grand welcome to heaven!
A museum (Museo Ning Betis) stands on the right side of the Church which shows some vintage photos and history of the Church. However, I do not find it very satisfactory. They must try to improve the museum as part of the cultural heritage of the Archdiocese of San Fernando and of the Philippines.
Outside, sculptures could be found including the monuments of Santiago de Galicia, St. Joseph the Carpenter and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Also in front of the church is the Betis Artesian Well known to be the oldest deep well in the province.
In the town of Guagua in Pampanga, one can find a church like Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, Betis Church. Inside the Baroque-inspired church, one can be transported back in time by the ceiling paintings and wall murals that are comparable to the frescos of Sistine Chapel’s ceiling done by Renaissance masters.
Standing at the nave of the church, one can see the ceilings, walls and the retablo styled with paintings and murals of the Holy Family, selected scenes from the bible, Catholic saints and cherubs. According to oral tradition, Betis used to be a town before it was merged with other sitios now forming Guagua.
Betis was named after Madhuca betis a huge tree (species of plant in the Sapotaceae family). It is found in Indonesia and the Philippines. It is threatened by habitat loss (Bassia betis merr). – from wikipedia.org