Bacolor is one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. Its church, the San Guillermo Parish Church
stands on the lot owned by Don Guillermo Manabat, a rich landlord believed to be the founder of Bacolor. It is believed that it was named not only after the hermit saint, San Guillermo but also after the church lot’s donor and founder to the town.
The church’ construction was led by the Augustinian Friars in 1576 – also the town’s founding missionaries – with Fr. Diego De Ochoa, OSA, as the town’s first parish priest.
In 1880, the church was destroyed by an earthquake only to be rebuilt during the term of Fr. Eugenio Alvarez in 1886.
Again, an earthquake destroyed the church in 1897 and its rebuilding was led by Fr. Manuel Diaz. The San Guillermo Church is typical of old Spanish churches. It has a central nave and well-lighted transept with high windows. The main retablo
, two side retablos and pulpit were gilded with gold leaf. The richness of the decoration of Bacolor church depicts the advanced stage of baroque
designs of its era.
Months after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo on June 15, 1991, destructive lahar started flowing into Bacolor. On September 3, 1995, the most destructive lahar flows from the slopes of Mount Pinatubo, buried the church at half of its 12 meter height forcing its more than 67,000 town residents to evacuate to resettlement areas located outside of the town.
Housed within the parish church and what used to be the convent is a museum which contains the history of the church. It also contains paintings of the Pinatubo eruption and the destructive lahar episodes from 1991 to 2003.
In spite of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo
, which half-buried the church on the structure is still being used as place of worship. Only half of the original facade of the church can be seen today. After the volcanic eruption, the town’s people painstakingly excavated the altar and the retablos. The church dome ceiling was stripped so that the main and side retablos can be relocated under the dome. The retablos niches are filled with centuries- old statues which were saved from the lahar. The citizens of Bacolor take pride in their rich heritage which is why they carefully excavated the ornately carved main and side retablos and restored them in their original condition.
The church is already a world famous tourist destination prior to the lahar tragedies and at present remained being so. The choir area used to comprise the second floor of the church. Through the choir’s loft, one can access the bell tower and a private door leads to the nun’s convent. The choir has one big window and two smaller ones. Today, they have been converted into doors of the church.
The San Guillermo Church has been a venue for various media productions. Foremost of these was the use of this heritage church as the main venue for taping of ABS-CBN primetime show May Bukas Pa
from February 2, 2009 to February 5, 2010. The church was allowed to be used for the filming/taping since the concept of the story is of a religious type and it was a big helped for the repair & maintenance of the whole church compound. During the entire production of the show, many foreign & local tourists came visiting the church because of its exposure.
The San Guillermo Church is now known as the Sunken Church of Bacolor. It has become world-renowned tourist destination. Tourists who flock to the church are not only awed by its remaining features that were being preserved and maintained but more so as a living manifestation of the town residents’ resiliency and undying faith in God.