Friday, July 15, 2011

Padre Clemente's Bell

Since time immemorial, church bells have conveyed messages or announcements to the townspeople with the way they are pealed. Their sounds could mean summoning the faithful to hear mass, or telling you the time to pause for the Angelus, or maybe time for rejoicing with everyone on special days like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or Easter. Their ringing could also mean moments to grieve as a casket enters the churchyard that the final rituals for the dead could commence. But even bells of warm and glistening bronze grow old. After a period of time they must yield to newly hand cast ones that could offer more resonance and sweetness in their tone. The inevitability of change.

In a quiet garden at the back of the newly constructed St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary Church in Gasan a place that overlooks the entire town, you find a special niche where three bronze church-bells now permanently rest. You instantly know that in their days, those bells played an important part in the lives of Gasenos. There are inscriptions on each of them that declared the year they came into being and the name of the parish priest serving during the stated year. The oldest one with the following inscription significantly rang a distant bell to me: “ANO D 1871 CLEMENTE SAN YGNACIO SIENDO CURA PARROCO…”.

That name appeared in the Marche journals (read) that chronicled his travels to places in Luzon, Palawan and Marinduque in 1881. Marche was accompanied by his host, a Senor Berdote, to visit the parish priest. Berdote of Gasan helped him find places where he could excavate funeral urns and human remains.

Portrait of Padre Clemente from the Marche journal.

Marche wrote: “The priest was Fr. Clemente Ignacio, a native of the land, about 75 years old. An eminent collector, he had collected, I was told, so many shells that there was hardly any man in the Philippines who could compete with him…His house was a real shop of bricabrac. In a large room where the good old man hardly found a table corner to eat, one saw pell-mell statues of saints of wood, mechanical birds singing various tunes, old clocks of every shape, chandeliers, candelabra, reliquaries, pictures of Epinal depicting the history of the "Infant of the Forest"…I did not leave this good man with empty hands. He had the kindness to offer me a part of his insect collection, and among them, oh happiness! the superb euchirus dupontinus, which the Museum of Natural History of Paris did not yet have….”



Walking from the church gate facing the main street towards south you would notice a row of old and new houses, but before reaching Brgy. Matandang Gasan come across an old house with a marker that says: “This house is the oldest house in Gasan, built by Martina Luces-Luna, wife of Agaton San Ignacio many years before the Philippine Revolution against Spain, 1896…” (see photo)

The 19th century Luna-San Ignacio house

One might have begged to see what’s inside the house, to check if there might be any trace or stories sufficient to link it to the Marche description, but no one was there when I passed by yesterday. You really wonder if it’s the same house the French traveler and explorer so excitedly wrote about or if you’d ever find that interesting house someplace else. Or maybe just decide in the end that Padre Clemente’s bronze bell is all there is left of his earthly yet eminent existence.



The three bronze bells of Gasan.



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