The Golden Hour

Taal, Batangas, the Philippines

April 30, 2011

And he had learned to love, I know not why, for this in such as him seemed strange of mood. But thus it was and though in solitude’s small part the nipped affections have to grow, in him this glowed when all beside had ceased to glow. 

Taal Church (Basilica de San Martin de Tours) at Golden Hour

When the day is dying, it bleeds in crimson. This is called the “golden hour” – when the sun hangs low over the horizon, casting its refracted rays horizontally through the atmosphere. The stately Basilica de San Martin de Tours, its massive coral stone facade squarely facing the afternoon sun, is the perfect canvas for this painting of light. Gazing at the church through this rose-colored shimmer, I remembered you, my first love.

Taal Church in B&W

The Transcendental Tourist at Taal Church

You opened my eyes to Beauty. I remembered you said, “One sees not with his eyes but through his eyes. One sees with his mind.”

That trip to the town of Taal one September day in my youth was an eye-opener. I sat at your feet like a groupie, gazing at the largest church in the Far East contained entirely within the rims of your round spectacles.

Taal Church Interior

Painting at Taal Church

You saw the church through a prism of art and history. Taal Church was not merely a massive edifice built from a formidable mass of coral stone. Its magnificence was a defiant stance against the persistent threat of Taal Volcano that had demolished the church’s previous structures through the centuries. Walls and windows, columns and ceilings were not merely architectural features; they were designed by Spanish friars to steal the thunder from the fearsome volcano and the bothersome Moro invasions. Contrasts between parallel columns and rows of arches, solid mass and niche spaces, sturdy stone walls and shattery shell windows demanded more than eyes to see, as you had said.

By the time you led me to the top of the belfry with the view that reached up to the azure sky and stretched down the verdant valley, I had fallen for the first time. You had opened not only my eyes.

Taal Church through Rose-Colored Sunlight

Twenty-five years thence, I would be gazing up the church again, this time at the golden hour, its coral stone facade painted by fingers of light. That first glimmer of love, so tenderly unrequited, was fleeting, but the afterglow would last forever.

In retrospect, perhaps you were not my first love after all. It was Beauty that seduced me and would eventually redeem me from the mundane existence that had inexplicably taken over my life. It had only been in recent years that I would see the beauty of the world again not only with my eyes but through them. As the golden light streamed through my wistful remembrance, I was a student again scanning the horizon on the belfry of Taal Church with you. I realized I had not fallen; I had flown. I became a teacher like you.

Taal Church by Night

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49 thoughts on “The Golden Hour

    • Go lang ng go! :) There are lots of beautiful churches in Laguna and Batangas, all within a few kilometers from one another. You should do a cultural visita iglesia there.

  1. What, who is that first love??

    My friend from Taal would always invite me to visit this place. I just don’t know why the trip is always cancelled at the last minute. Anyway, will try to visit this soon. :)

    • Sorry Jolo, but I have to protect other people’s anonymity. :D I don’t divulge their real/full names in this blog. Anyway, I did say that my first love is not a person. It’s a metaphor for art. :)

      Oh, and while you’re in Taal. do visit Villa Tortuga. I’ll be featuring that heritage house soon. Watch out!

    • @MJ: Let’s just hope there won’t be a devastating Taal eruption anymore. Fingers crossed.

      @Idol Ian: Naku kaw pa nag-envy. The night shot was taken when I arrived. The tryke dropped me off in front of the church which was all gloriously lit up like that. Awesome sight!

  2. Everytime I come to your blog, I find time feel the words you have written because it brings some emotions as I read it. How I wish I can also write as poetic as you do.

    Btw, I believe this church has a connection to the Taoist temple in La Union and the story on how this RC church is connected to a Taoist temple is really interesting.

    • @Unsugarcoated and Edmar: Maarte lang talaga ako magsulat. :D

      First time to hear about Taal Church’s connection with…of all things, a Taoist temple…and of all places, in La Union pa. You know what that’s about? Very very curious. There’s a good story angle in there.

  3. So how would you like to be called? Saint AJ or Angel AJ? As usual, this piece says more than the words I am reading. Beautiful piece or I must say post. How I wish I could write with so much beauty and abundance in words as this one.

    • Almighty AJ? Nah, that’s blasphemy and idolatry! :D Thanks Enzo. I guess looking back at one’s first love is an excuse to wax poetic.

  4. I may not be a catholic, but I greatly admire the structure of this church. The exteriors and interiors, makes you think na this has been well planned. Aesthetic and structural wise.

  5. transcendental pictures:-) i am not even sure with the term but it sounds good and so are your pictures. excellent ones.

    • @James: I’m also not Catholic, but I visit churches for the art. Yes, it’s been well-planned in terms of aesthetics. There really was an intention to make the church an awe-inspiring one. And the Augustinians succeeded!

      @Germz: I hope they transcended the photographer’s lack of training. :)

  6. I loved how you wrote your journey in a very poetic manner. More so, how you enlightened your love for this certain church. I haven’t been to this church. But your post has encouraged me to see this exquisite beauty real soon. =)

    • @Athena: I think they’re mesmerizing cuz they’re about as old as our country as we know it.

      @Mai: It’s a must-see for church architecture enthusiasts. The facade alone contains many architectural elements not common in other Spanish era churches, such as the classical columns and the nipple-shaped belfry. :)

    • Right on the money, Pala-lagaw. The facade does look like a European mansion with its classical touches. That element sets this church apart. And it’s ingenious for the Augustinians to build it facing the afternoon sun. The romance of the play of light at sundown could make the hardest of hearts fall in love here. :)

  7. beautiful post…I passed by Taal a long time ago when I was still in university there in Manila. I caught glimpses of it beauty but never really looked because I was busy looking at something else. I hope to visit one day. Taal and my town share something in common: history and heritage. You might want to visit my other blog My Silay Heritage.

    • I’m intrigued what could have detained your attention away from Taal Church. It’s such an imposing structure in this small town; it’s practically attention-grabbing. What else could you be looking at?!

      Btw, I’m also Negrense. I’ve been to the Hofileña House recently and featured it here too.

      • heheh…I was engrossed with somebody. But I did take a second look at this church, thought it was beautiful, rising majestically from the earth but we did not stop as we were on our way to a forgettable resort. I wish we did though. But Taal is on my bucket list. I know someone from there but he married an ilongga and last I heard he is back in Bacolod. I will look for your Hofilena post. BTW, how about the Bohol churches? I’ve been there several times and always I feel transported in time when I visit the churches.

    • Oh my, don’t get me started about Bohol churches. They’re just mah-velous! I’ve written about 3 of them (Dauis, Panglao, and Baclayon) in the post titled Lights and Shades.

      I’ll check out your My Silay blog later. You’re a kindred spirit, I think, when it comes to our love for heritage and history. :)

      • AJ, since you’re also a Negrense, you should join Negros Bloggers. If you’re in town, contact me and I’ll tell you all the chismis I know. hahaha

    • I live in QC now, but yeah, I should meet you when I’m in Negros. I’ve not been a member of any bloggers group so it would be nice to feel like I belong somewhere. :) Oh, and the chismis I like are of the historical kind, hehe.

    • Postcard pretty ba? I wish! :) Yes, this is the trip with Joel and another blogger (singular lang, haha). Only Ian the Brownman made it. No-show si Darwin and someone else.

  8. great photography you have there AJ! been to Taal twice to do the crater tour but i haven’t really gone around the place yet! Didn’t know there’s a stately church there!

    • Marri and Mheanne: It’s amazing how the largest church in the Far East has eluded you both! Time to venture further than Tagaytay and explore Taal, the town. :)

  9. Oh my!!!! goosebumps naman ako sa post na to! ang ganda! ang ganda ganda!

    I love this – “One sees not with his eyes but through his eyes. One sees with his mind.” and this – I realized I had not fallen; I had flown. I became a teacher like you.

    … God must be smiling at this post! because I am!

    P.S.
    replied your comment at my site.. thanks for checking it out!:))

    • @Doc Deo: Thankee much!

      @Gemma: I wrote it in my notebook when my teacher said that. That was 25 years ago, and I still live by those words. :) Scooting over to your site now.

    • Ooooh lala! The church really looks awesome, not merely photogenic. I’m not a photography enthusiast. I just use a point-&-shoot (with Leica lens).

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