The Bato Church restoration: NHCP funding for project credited to masteral thesis of young priest
Bato, Catanduanes  ·  
posted 10-Mar-2019  ·  
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RESTORATION WORK. has unearthed exquisite details of Bato church’s design (bottom photo) that could not be well appreciated in the old church (top photo).

What many Catholics on this deeply religious island are unaware of is that the restoration project would not have come to fruition had it not been for Rev. Fr. Roberto Sanchez.

The boyish-looking 41-year old member of the Diocese of Virac clergy was into his final year at the University of Sto. Tomas for his masteral course in Cultural Heritage Studies when he decided to use the island’s oldest church for his final requirement for graduation - a thesis that would bear the title “Pag-ataman: Developing A Conservation Management Plan for St. John the Baptist Church, Bato, Catanduanes.”

His study was aimed at establishing the cultural significance of the church; identify the threats, weaknesses and opportunities to its significance; develop the CMP; and, present significant findings and recommendations for the improvement of Bato church.

In citing the need to preserve the church’s heritage, Fr. Sanchez said the “Lumang Simbahan,” as Batonhons and people from other towns referred to it, is an expression of culture that constitutes an extension of community and stimulates the pride in a sense of place and identity.

He also said that apart from the novena as commonly practiced in the locality, one expression of faith that arose from the church is the “Pa-decenueve”, a novena held on the 19th of any month by residents of San Jose in anticipation of their birthday.

For over 165 years, Fr. Sanchez wrote, Bato church has become not only a cultural symbol but a cradle of faith of the community, an instrument in promoting evangelization and, in times of disasters, a literal refuge for believers and non-believers alike.

“Constructed in 1852, the church, with its walls made of rubble stones (exterior and interior walls) and coral stones (façade, window and door jamb), is constantly under threat of extinction because of direct exposure to the elements and extreme weather (discoloration, damaged stone details, weakening of plaster and mortar stone, rusting of the roof covering and grills), structure defects (cracked and weakened shear walls, sagging and weakening of floors), and natural calamities,” he stated, citing other written sources on the subject.

During the research for the study, he gathered data from published and unpublished information obtained from books, journals, articles, maps, old pictures, canonical books, fiesta programs, coffee table books, newspapers and bells.

Since the Bato parish had no floor plan of the existing church, Sanchez sought the assistance of Engr. Dexter Toyado of the Catanduanes State University’s College of Engineering, which supervised the effort to produce an as-built plan with the help of 5th year civil engineering students.

Ocular inspections and initial assessments were made in May 19, 2016 of the church’s exterior and interior by the researcher, his adviser Associate Professor Eric Zerrudo, and Engr. Toyado. In November 2016, electrical inspection was conducted by Engr. Dennis Tadoy of the Institute of Integrated Electrical Engineers of the Philippines, Inc. (IIEE), followed by the structural assessment done by Architect Ma. Luisa Valerio of the NHCP on January 2017.

To collect community knowledge, survey questionnaires in the Bicol dialect were distributed to over 300 Bato parishioners, the clergy and religious sisters, while interviews were conducted with old parishioners, bishops, priests who served previously at Bato church, structural and electrical engineers, architects and cultural workers and other professionals.

The survey was intended to find out the respondents’ perception on the significance of the church, their evaluation and assessment of the development of its structure, and their intention to preserve and enhance the church, address its immediate conservation, and suggestions for the declaration of Bato church as a national landmark.

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