Photo exhibit of Bohol churches' ceiling murals at Ayala Museum

Blessed images on ceiling 
By Walter Ang
June 23, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

A flurry of white shingles suspended in mid-air leads visitors' eyes skyward and onward to Ayala Musuem's photo exhibit on the ceiling murals of Bohol churches. "Kisame: Visions of Heaven on Earth" aims to generate greater awareness of the historical and aesthetic significance of these large-scale murals and ceiling paintings.

Kisame is part of the Filipino Heritage Festival's many activities for this year's Filipino Heritage Month (which is held annually in May). "With the corrosion caused by bat droppings, rain water on roof ruts, and subsequent repair and repainting of corroded ceilings, these treasures are in great danger," warns festival director Bambi Harper. "It is high time for Filipinos to have a good look at these living museums, our mementos of the Catholic faith that blossomed through ages."

Out of twenty or so Spanish-era-built churches under the care of the Diocese of Tagbilaran and Diocese of Talibon, twelve boast of painted ceilings in various stages of preservation including those in the parishes of Alburquerque, Baclayon, Cortes, Dauis, Dimiao, Lila, Loay, Loboc, Loon, Maribojoc, Panglao and Tubigon.

Presumably commissioned by the first Filipino Bishop of Cebu, Monsignor Juan Gorordo in the 1920s, several young painters were responsible for these enduring works of art. Two featured artists in this exhibit are Canuto Avila and Raymundo Francia, considered Cebu's Michelangelo.

Francia is credited with painting an estimated 80 percent of Bohol's churches and, despite the lack of formal training, developed a paint mixture that has retained its original brilliance and color through the passage of almost a century.

"This exhibit highlights the church's use of art for the enlightenment of the faithful. Artists worked lovingly, but arduously, to bequeath us these treasures. We must strive in equal measure to show future generations of Filipinos the richness of our church heritage," museum director Maritoni Ortigas says.

Aside from exposure to the elements, circumstances in the past such as whitewashing of ceilings have already erased a number of these sacred visual art works. To address the need to document the extant oeuvre, the ceiling murals were photographed by Atty. Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa, Jr.

Selected shots of whole paintings and close-ups of details were then printed on panels that comprise the display curated by Fr. Milan Ted Torralba, executive secretary of the Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church-Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. The different images in the display "symbolize the various themes that highlight aspects of divine realities," he says.

Kisame has actually undergone a first incarnation last year. "Back then, it was titled Kisame: Touching Heaven. With the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, we mounted it at St. Peter the Apostle Parish, in Loboc, Bohol," Fr Torralba says.

Afterwards, the exhibit pilgrimaged to different parishes of the Diocese of Tagbilaran. "Some of its parts, now separated from the main body of the exhibit, were installed in a number of parishes," he says. An agreement was eventually established between the festival organizers and Ayala Museum to remount Kisame on a more substantial scale.

Regardless of scale, "a bare ceiling is a reflective of minimalism, or even nihilism. Ceilings with ornaments, ceilings with murals, ceilings with fresco and secco paintings become a medium of different human aspirations," he says. "The artists' images give forms to the longings of the human soul to be able to share, not only in the divinity of the Godhead, but to be immortal, to be eternal, to be like God?in Heaven."

Kisame runs until July 20, 2008. For details, call Ayala Museum at 757-7117 to 21 ext. 28 or Filipino Heritage Office at 892-5865.

Also published online: