Magdalena, Laguna, the Philippines
November 12, 2011
The Sta. Maria Magdalena Church is a shrine to a saint and a hero – St. Mary Magdalene and General Emilio Jacinto. Separated by centuries and geography, they are two vastly disparate figures in history. Yet their legacies are inextricably bound together in this church in the town of Magdalena, Laguna.
Established in 1820, the church used to be visita of Majayjay Church in the neighboring town, and was made of bamboo and thatched nipa. A decade later, the construction of a stone church was undertaken using taxes collected from townspeople.
Today, red is the color scheme of the church. From the outside, the church facade and belfry are of typical baroque masonry: stone, brick, and sandstone. The dark grey and earthen brown of the stonework are accented by the deep scarlet of the railings of newly-erected concrete balustrades enclosing the church facade, and a pair of stone tablets representing the Ten Commandments by the front steps.
Inside the church, a rubicund motif dominates the nave and the altar. The robes on the religious images, the wooden pews, the Greco-Roman retablo pillars, the flooring tiles, the wooden pulpit stairs, the ceiling latticework, and the window sills and bars are rendered in different shades of red. Darker tints of red are on the varnished wood of the confessional and doors. At the time of our visit, bouquets of blood-red poinsettias crowned the flower stands in the baptistery.
In stark contrast to the red, acanthus embellishments in gold signifying eternal life adorn the red pews, the Corinthian capitals of the retablo pillars and its periphery. Gilt crosses decorate the windows instead of stained glass.
In the baptistery, the floral ceiling painting forms a ring around the inscription Tures Davidica, Latin words associated with the life-giving womb of the other Mary, the mother of Jesus, who comes from the line of David.
Red is the traditional color of the town’s patron saint, St. Mary Magdalene, usually depicted in visual art swathed in red robes, or as a redhead. Presumed to have been a prostitute, Magdalene is described in the Bible as the sinful woman Jesus cleansed and healed. As such, red stands for both sin and redemption.
Magdalena Church is a historical shrine, and the red also stands for bravery and sacrifice. In February 1898, Gen. Emilio Jacinto, considered the brains of the Katipunan, was wounded during a battle with the Spaniards at nearby Maimpis River, and he sought refuge in the church convent. The brick tiles by the convent stairs stained with Jacinto’s blood are now preserved, encased in glass, along with his bolo and hat. A modest historical marker stands on the spot today, as a reminder for future generations of Filipinos to honor the heroes of our national independence.
Red is unusual color of the house of God, but it is one that embodies the message of Sta. Maria Magdalena Church. It speaks of sin and redemption, and of sacrifice and freedom. It is a message of a saint and a hero, of hope and salvation.
This article previously appeared in BluPrint Magazine, Volume 1, 2012.
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