The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the island of Luzon in the Philippines, in June 1991, is considered the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. Its massive discharge to the atmosphere is said to have cooled the planet for a few years.
Yet despite volcanic ash and mud burying whole towns, one structure remained standing, the San Guillermo Parish Church in the town of Bacolor, Pampanga.
When one approaches the church, it is not too obvious that half of its original 12-meter height is submerged in mud; only the low roofline may be a little give away.
When you come closer to its facade you notice that the doors are too small. It’s because they used to be the windows of the choir area at the second floor.
When you come inside you notice that the new floor is now level with the arches of the original windows of the church.
In a collective show of faith, the townspeople painstakingly dug up the altar and retablos. They had to put them under the dome which is the only part of the church high enough.
They were also able to save some of the old church bells dating from the 1800s.
Further exploring the grounds shows how high the volcanic mud has covered the structure.
Behind the church is a cemetery. These graves are new ones on top of the old which are now literally 6 meters below the ground.
Fortunately the church has been successful in making new gardens grow as well.
It also houses a museum that shows its history and story of restoration.
Today it remains to be a place of worship. An inspiring symbol of a people’s faith and resilience in the face of tragedy and disaster, perhaps it is also their wellspring of hope.
The human spirit is tested often, and its hardest test comes in those rare times of great tragedy, when it also shines the brightest.