St. James the Apostle Church
Betis, Guagua, Pampanga
“The BETIS CHURCH”
Guagua has a lot of cultural treasures. One is the famous Betis Church, also known as the Saint James, the Apostle Church. It was built around 1660 and its construction was headed by a Catholic priest named Father Jose De La Cruz. The preliminary structure was made out of light materials composed mainly of wood and stucco. Fire broke out inside the church several times because of the light materials so it was eventually rebuilt in the 1770’s using concrete materials. During the Spanish-Colonial period,
Betis was an independent town which had its own autonomy as a municipality. But due to migration of its inhabitants to the nearby Guagua town in the American Period, it was merged to this town in 1904 under the Act 943. Today, although part of the municipality of Guagua, the Betis church has its own parochial priest and patron saint – Saint James the Great who is also known as Saint James de Compostela. He is popularly called Santiago de Apostol or Apung Tiago by the townsfolk.
A story relates that the name Betis was actually a specie of a tree named Bassia betis merr. It was said that the tree was so huge it could shade a wide area of land. Due to old age, when the tree is damaged due to economic reasons , its wood was used to make the “retablo” (main altar wooden backdrop) and carvings of various church icons.
Betis Church has intricately-painted ceilings, painted in a way that would make them look 3-dimensional,
shows various biblical scenes and reminds us of the power of faith in God to influence and inspire people from all walks of life. The ceiling paintings were originally done by Simon Flores and repainted by a native of Barangay San Agustin, Betis named Macario Ligon. His assistant Victor Ramos, who was in his teen years then, was the one who restored these paintings in the 1970’s.
The Bell tower of the church. Although a huge fire almost swallowed major sections of the church in the
early 1900’s, the bell tower that still arises today is still the same tower that the church had when it was erected in the last quarter of the 1700’s.
The Gloriettas. There are two of these octagonal gloriettas on the north side of the church patio. Each serves as a stage for the “Serenata” activity where musical bands perform during the annual Fiesta celebration.
The “Santo Lago” in Latin or Santiago as called by the Betis people is the patron saint of Betis. There were sayings that the sculpture has mystical powers and had several times moved from its location during the occasional rampage of Lahar in the mid 1990s, protecting the town from being buried by it.
The Artesian well in the 19th century by Fr. Manuel Camañes is believed to have pre-dated all the artesian wells made in the Philippines during the Spanish period. The historical well could be seen in front of the Betis Church, and it is widely believed that it’s the oldest deep well in the region.
“No amount of descriptive words could accurately present the real beauty of the Betis Church.”
Immaculate Conception Church
Brgy. Plaza Burgos, Guagua, Pampanga
Historical records indicate that by May 17, 1590, the convent of Guagua has been established by the Augustinian Friars, with Father Bernardino de Quevedo and Father Juan de Zabala as resident priests.
Its first titular patron is the Nativity of Our Lady. The construction of the present-day church structures would have been started in year 1641, when the convent of Guagua has been relieved from paying its rent to San Agustin Monastery in Manila.
Such exemption from dues has been attributed to the monetary need of the parochial leaders in supervising the building of a parochial building. Father Jose Duque, a prolific church builder, was assigned parish priest of Guagua in 1661. The present church is attributed to him. Father Duque is said to have been influential in the pacification of Kapampangan rebels in 1660. Another notable figure in the history of the church of Guagua is Father Manuel Carrillo.
Father Carrillo, during his term as parish priest around 1762, signed a loan covering some of the properties of the local convent for the renovations of the church. The current stone convent is attributed as one of his works. Several significant improvements in the church structure followed. In 1862, Father Antonio Bravo has the church interiors painted while in 1886, Father Paulino Fernandez installed the church dome.
It was also during the late 19th century that Doña Carmen Macau had an organ installed in the church, an organ that was once dubbed as the best in Pampanga. In the 1990s, the stone convent was razed by fire.
The Lopez Mansion (Bale Matua)
Brgy. San Nicolas 1st, Guagua, Pampanga
One of Pampanga’s most spectacular and most photographed landmarks is the Lopez Mansion, an imposing concrete residence and office built by the sugar magnate, Don Alejandro Lopez (b. 16 May 1883) of Guagua.
Alejandro was a product of the Philippine Normal School in 1911, and was for a time, connected with the Bureau of Education until 1920. But with the burgeoning sugar industry, Lopez became a successful planter, establishing the Lopez Rice Mill, Co., and becoming the Vice President of Pampanga Sugar Mills Planters Association.
For his wife Jacinta Limzon, Lopez built a spacious multi-storey mansion fit for a queen in the early 1930s. Constructed of APO Cement, the mansion also doubled as his office. Done in the Greek Revival style, the façade is dominated by Grecian columns accented with reliefs of foliate swags flowing down from the column’s capital. Sandwiched in between are glass-panelled openings that lead to individual room balconies.
Concrete balusters line the building perimeter as well as the the 2nd floor protruding balconies where one can stand to watch the world go by. These were topped with eaves with simple geometric patterns, a design that recurrs around the house. Mini-pediments, evenly spaced out, crown the imposing structure, with cast-cement Grecian urns
The landing features a short flight of steps that leads to the main arched double doors. Two narrower doors flank the main portal, protected from the elements with a gracefully curving concrete canopy.
A spiral staircase linked the ground level to the upper rooms. The mansion was furnished with the latest styles from Puyat Furniture, the leading furniture and woodworking company of the day. Gonzalo Puyat, also from Guagua, established the factory that manufactured cabinets, bedroom suites, sala sets, tocadores, vegillas, sillas and even billiard tables of tangile and narra that became staples in wealthy Philippine homes.
The grounds were beautifully landscaped with flowering trees, small plants and shrubs. The perimeter is defined by a simple concrete and wrought iron fence. In its time, this mansion was an object of awe and attention, meriting write-ups in the Pampanga Social Register and Pampanga Directory, two who’s who books about Kapampangan high society.
It is fortunate that the Lopez Mansion still stands today, well-preserved after over 75 years. Indeed, the magnificence of this mansion would rival even some opulent residences in Europe, a singular showcase to the lifestyle of wealth and splendor as lived by Pampanga’s self-made men.