Friday, November 4, 2011

Las Piñas (Saint Joseph) Church: Home to the Bamboo Organ

In so far as my several travels around southern Luzon area are concerned, I have learned that the constructions of churches coincided with the emergence of towns through the efforts of the Spanish conquistadores. And it was not different in the case of the town (and now city) of Las Piñas.

* façade of Saint Joseph Church, Las Piñas

“Las Piñas or Las Peñas?”: The Origins of the Name of Las Piñas

Translated as “pineapples”, the name was allegedly derived from the pineapples which came from the areas of Batangas and Cavite being temporarily transported to the town before they are distributed to the markets in the vicinity. But one refutal for this is the inscription on the bell now found in the museum adjacent to Las Piñas Church: SIENDO CURA DEL PUEBLO DE LASPEÑAS EL M.R.P. PADRE DIEGO CERA SE FUNDIO ESTE EQUILON ANO DE 1820” something that was taken by some quarters to mean that the town’s name was derived from the quarrying in the place at the time.

In any case, tracing evidences on either this pineapple activity or quarrying is engaging. Perhaps someone has already written something or someone is doing a research right now about them. It is only left for us, history enthusiasts, to go and look for the research outputs.

* a side entrance to Saint Joseph Church, Las Piñas

* some altars found inside the Las Piñas church

* candle stand

* a possible Las Piñas resident interned inside the Las Piñas Church,
one sign that the people there during
the Spanish times were of wealthy background

A Brief History of Las Piñas Church

Las Piñas was established as a pueblo in 1762 but was later separated from the parish of Parañaque in 1775. It was about 20 years later, on December 26, 1795, that Las Piñas’ first resident parish priest was designated to the place: Fray Diego Cera dela Virgen del Carmen. He spearheaded the construction of the town’s first stone church from 1797 to 1819. The famed Bamboo Organ was made from 1816-1824 which was composed of around 902 pieces of bamboo and around 129 tubes made of tin. Two earthquakes, one in 1828 and 1863, partially destroyed the church.

* view of the Las Piñas Church’s interior and main altar

Due to the series of earthquakes that happened 1880 [there were 5 catalogued strong earthquakes in the year 1880 (see reference below)], the church was no longer used for mass. Repairs were made in 1883 but it was never fully restored. The marker in the church is silent about the years from 1883 up to the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines during the World War II. During that time, it was used as camps for the hostages and as a makeshift hospital during the liberation period.

Through the joint efforts of the parochial community and the Historical Conservation Society, the church was restored to its former state from 1962 to 1977.

* behold, the Las Piñas Bamboo organ (front view and rear view)

The Bamboo Organ, the Bamboo King

The Bamboo Organ of course has its own story. Quoting from

“Padre Diego Cera began work on the organ in 1816, while the church was still under construction. Having previously built organs in Manila with some organ stops made of bamboo, he decided to built one using only bamboo for the pipes. Bamboo was abundant in the area and used for hundred of items. The organ was first heard in 1821 yet without the horizontal trumpets. He completed the work in 1824 after finally deciding to use metal for the horizontal trumpets whose character of sound he could not get with bamboo resonators. These bamboo resonators now stand as the rear facade pipes of the organ.
The final result conforms very closely to the classic Mediterranean organ, built in a style that essentially looked backward to the eighteenth century. It has one manual, divided registers with separate knobs for the bass and treble, horizontal trumpets in the facade, a few short pull-down pedal notes plus of course a few of the favorite effects: Pajaritos and the Tambor. It is a curious fact that the sound of many Spanish and Italian organs built quite late in this tradition have a unique charm, only emphasized in the Bamboo Organ by the choice of the material.

* entrance to Las Piñas Adoration Chapel

* possibly the first bell of the Las Piñas Church;
the second phot
o shows an close up view of the bell
with Fray Diego Cera’s name inscribed on it

Down through the years, earthquakes and typhoons damaged both church and organ. The first repairs were still done by Fr. Cera and later by locals who were trained by the builder himself. At the start of the 20th century, the organ is hardly playable. Several attempts were made just to keep it playing until an inevitable restoration is badly needed after the Second World War.
In 1972, through the efforts of the CICM priests of St. Joseph's Parish, Fr. Mark Lessage and Fr. Leo Renier, a contract for restoration was awarded to Johannes Klais Orgelbau of Bonn, Germany. The entire instrument was disassembled and shipped to Germany in 1973 and was restored under climatic conditions simulating those at Las Piñas. While the restoration of the organ was taking place in Germany, the church and grounds were restored to their original state with the help of the entire parish community. The restored organ returned home in March 1975 to a joyous welcome by the people of the Philippines. Since then the scene of many concert festivals, the Bamboo Organ is described by international organ masters as one of the finest old organs in the world. Its construction of bamboo is noted as being one of the major factors that gives it a truly unique and lively sound.”
* inside the Las Piñas Church museum

The Bamboo Organ is indeed a site to behold in the Las Piñas Church’s interior. Lodge up near the church entrance, the Bamboo Organ enthralls the visitors with its unique design and appearance. Combined with the ambiance of the place, reflection is very conducive for visitors, believers and non-believers alike.

* a statue of Fray Diego Cera found outside Las Piñas Church

* view of the patio in front of the Las Piñas Church

- Maso, Miguel Saferra, SJ. “Catalogue of Violent and Destructive Earthquakes in the Philippines with an Appendix: Earthquakes in the Marianas Islands 1599-1909.” Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1910.

[How to go to Las Piñas Church: Anyone wishing to go to Las Piñas Church and see the Bamboo Organ (whether you’re coming from Metro Manila or from the South Luzon provinces) can start from the Star Mall in Alabang (formerly Metropolis). Then board a jeep bound for Zapota Bayan and ask the driver to drop you off at the ‘Bamboo Organ.’ From Alabang you’ll find the church on your left side.]

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