Barrio Longos, Kalayaan
Province of Laguna
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By: AJ Poliquit
Scaling up the belfry of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist) Church in barrio Longos was actually a crazy idea. It was a scene straight out of Vertigo, claustrophobia with acrophobia in one experience. But Stewart and Novak had the luxury of racing up the bell tower; we had to claw up in pitch-darkness, Sadako-style. The amount of dust alone told us no one had made it a habit to go up the tower in a long time. The circumference is not politically correct. Plus-sizes, mind your midsections and make this mental note: Winnie the Pooh stuck in Rabbit’s front door.
That was just the bottom third of the bell tower. There are three levels like the levels of purgatory. The second flight of winding stairs is a notch more precarious. Four horizontal metal bars make up a step; rung spaces are wide enough to send your leg a-dangling should you slip. Like a game show task, the last stretch was the clincher: an ancient-looking wooden ladder with either missing or creaky rungs – and look ma, no railings!
Once up, looking down can be Hitchcockian: your vision could zoom in and track out with a sensation I call a faux fall. Cue in swelling orchestral music in your head and you’d have an actual vertigo. The belfry is no larger than a parking space, almost wholly taken up by the humongous bell. We had to gingerly move around the bell on unstable plywood planks in slow-mo.
The aforementioned view was fantastic, but was the bell worth all the trouble? Suffice it to say that it is the third (other sources say second) oldest church bell in the Philippines. The Longos bell was cast in 1642 but is still formidably in one piece, and surprisingly green. I asked Meister to ring it – just softly so as not to alarm the entire barrio. Seeing an object from history up close and personal felt as if I had gone through a wormhole of time, but hearing a sound that reverberated through the centuries rendered the moment timeless.
Our guide was an altar boy with a cherub’s face. He was quite knowledgeable, dropping tidbits of information about the church and seasoning it with celebrity dish (he outed a famous child actor who filmed scenes of a primetime soap in the church).
Despite having a historic bell, this church is one of the poorest in the province – and it wears its poverty on its sleeve. Time and natural calamities have not treated it gently; its roof was blown away by a strong typhoon. A temporary roof (galvanized iron sheets, of course) had been in place too long it seemed permanent. Other parts were crumbling, blanketed by dust, and strewn with trash. Ongoing repairs had been protracted it looked abandoned midway through its renovation.
Still and all, it is a charming church set in front of ruined terraces that ascend to a stone grotto. Insulated from the bustle of the town plaza where most churches are at, the Longos church offers some peace and quiet associated with off-the-beaten-track chapels. Even its canine parishioner couldn’t resist dozing off by the main portal, oblivious to the inquisitive and camera-toting visitors.