Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Jesuit Clappers

photograph by Totomai Martinez

Jesuit Clappers

“Do not ask for whom the bell tolls--it tolls for thee.
--Ernest Hemingway.

I’ll never forget
              the weekend I spent in the 
                             town of Hilongus, on the southern
                                         end of Leyte, in the Philippines, facing
                             west toward the Camotas Sea,
               not far from where the Battle of Leyte Gulf,
perhaps the largest naval battle in history,
was fought in WWII.

I was fascinated with Hilongus,
because even in this day & age
                       it remains more of a large village, with
                       a spirited population of 50,000, more than
                       half of which seemed to be children, as
                                   the 38,000 Catholics enjoyed being fruitful. There are
                       no skyscrapers,
                       no shopping malls,
                       no big banks,
                       no big city amenities.

I happened to be there on the weekend
just before Christmas when they held 
their Annual Town Fiesta, lots
               of fire works wheels, fire crackers,
               parades, street vendors, & music everywhere;
                          with a lot of drinking, gambling, & cockfighting going on.

I came specifically to visit
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church,
a grand tourist attraction,
& an important symbol of civic pride. 
             They adore sharing the legend of Mama Mary, 
             whose apparition, they say, once stood holding
             a flaming sword to protect the church from the ravages
             of the pirates of Mindanao.

Actually, I am a church bell tower fanatic,
                 & the great octagonal church bell tower there,
                                constructed by the secular patron
                                 Don Leonardo Celis-Diaz, is now
                  re-plastered with Portland cement.      It stands alone,
                  separate from the other structures in the complex.

At three stories high, it is reputed
             to be the tallest bell tower ever built
                      by the Spaniards. The tower belfry sports
                                    eight narrow arches, some with doors
                                                    on them, as ivy & sapling trees sprout
                                     from the centuries old cracks.
                      The tall cross atop the tower dome,
             is but an outline of a crucifix,
its holy center open to the sky. 

The beautiful church itself was
completely rebuilt. Its huge front door
used to double as a gate to a bastioned 
Spanish fortification.               Behind the church, some of the 
                        old fort’s walls, & part of an ancient convent         is extant,
                        & it is now converted to a tourist’s Devotion Garden--

reminding me of the first time I visited the Alamo
                        in downtown San Antonio, surprised that it has
                        been converted into a book store & gift shop, finding
               myself much happier visiting the crumbling movie set
         constructed for the John Wayne movie, THE ALAMO,
located on a movie ranch outside Bracketville, TX., which
just somehow seemed more authentic,
                                     more interesting,
                                     more complete,
                                     more historical. 

Glenn Buttkus

Posted over on dVerse Poets Poetics

Would you like to hear the author read this prose poem to you?


Mary said...

I always enjoy the historical and cultural information you provide in your works, Glenn. Church bell towers are certainly beautiful structures and each so unique. And, I am sure, in some small towns still the highest structure.

Claudia said...

i love church bells too... i find it fascinating how they were made and the stories they carry... and i can understand that you found the movie set more authentic than the original turned into a gift shop... a place just loses its soul a bit when they reconstruct like this - however practical it might be

Brian Miller said...

these places are cool...I was rather disappointed with the Alamo as well...we commercialize our history to the point that they lose that sense of history...your stories astound me glenn...I feel at times as if you have been everywhere...and have a story for every place....old churches and their architecture and art always are a draw for me...

Gabriella said...

Bells give characters to a place. Glenn, you would love Belgium and the North of France where they ahve some interesting town hall bell towers, called beffrois. Ech location has a unique chime.

Björn Rudberg said...

Thanks for the warning on Alamo.. I have visited historical places, and those that are my favorites are those that function as they always had. Churches that are churches and stores that still are stores... wonderful memories you took us through here Glenn.

Glenn Buttkus said...

I love it when I can visualize a place in my mind after doing some research on it; never been to the Philippines, but Totomai's image just stirred up my interest, & gave impetus to the narrative.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Church bell towers are so beautiful, especially the old ones. This was an interesting read, Glenn. It must have been wonderful to visit there.

Wolfsrosebud said...

for sure visiting historic places brings about a nostalgia... many stories behind them... great opening quote

totomai said...

many we not know that cockfighting is part of filipino lifestyle.

thank you for reminding me about the life in the province, so simple yet full of life

Kathy Reed said...

What a gorgeous photo and a cool history of the bells in the church! My grandmother collected bells, many from missions and places in old countries..the history behind them is fascinating. I love the tale of the swallows that return to San Capistrano in California and the mission's bells. (I'm sure have seen it)...breathtaking~

Grace said...

I have not actually visited the place but I like the imaginative write Glenn ~ The history of the town is very interesting to me, with its old churches & old Spanish houses ~

Anonymous said...

I like it when you share knowledge with us through your writing. An enjoyable read. :-)

Delaina said...

So creative you are! Fantastic poem!

Prajakta said...

This is yet another piece where you have taken us on a beautiful journey of a place I have never been. You bring it alive and personal with your words. Lovely!

Marilyn B said...

So interesting! A real treat.

Truedessa said...

There is something magical about those bell towers and I wonder about their sound. What story would they tell from their perspective? You are such a great storyteller taking us on so many great adventures. I love to visit historical sites. I have a thing for lighthouses if I am traveling and there is one around you can be certain I will visit it. Always a pleasure to visit your places.

Marina Sofia said...

Bell towers always remind me of Hitchcock's Vertigo. You pack so much history, facts, social commentary into your poems.

Anonymous said...

When I was younger, I was on the board of church properties for a very old church, and an almost as old congregation. Someone asked me to go up to the bell tower as everyone else was too old to climb the rickety ladder.

I went up, came down and got a Smith and Hawkins spade and proceeded to pull 70 garbage bags of pigeon sh_t from the steeple.

All cleaned up, the rope freed, some chicken wire over the openings and the bell once again tolls.

Funny where poems take us Glenn - and how similar we all are at the core.