I've always been fond of Pampanga as a place I go to annually for the Hot Air Balloon Festival and I never thought of exploring it outside of the event (which I've come to realize that I'm not attending this year).
I think it was a blessing in disguise of me not being able to go t the Hot Air Balloon Festival next week because I was lucky enough to join the Pampanga Cultural and Heritage Tour hosted by the Pampanga Tourism Board last April 5, 2014. The itinerary was mainly about churches so I got hooked because I've always been fascinated with intricate church interiors in general.
While on our way to Pampanga from Manila, Drew Cortez (who is the nephew of Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) was telling us that the Pampanga Tourism Board hosted this tour on that day for 2 reasons: 1) the upcoming Holy Week and 2) it was Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's birthday that day. That's good since Pampanga is not really top of mind when it comes to pilgrimages for the Holy Week. I was impressed with this efforts of the Pampanga Tourism Board since not a lot of provinces go out of their way to introduce more tourist attractions aside from those they're already known for.
We stopped first at the Heroes Hall at San Fernando, Pampanga to get some breakfast.
They served lots of kakanin and bread for breakfast. Here were my favorites:
Suman! I'm fond of this since my grandmother makes this at Batangas
Tamales! It's the first time I tasted tamales and it tasted great. I think I should have brought some home.
My breakfast plate with ensaymada and tsokolate batirol. Their chocolate drink was very nutty since they always mix it with extra nuts to differentiate it from the tsokolate batirols of the other provinces.
What was really interesting to know is the door in front of the church was actually the entry to the upper choir loft since the church was sunk into lahar back at the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. The people of Bacolor wanted to preserve what was left of the church after the disaster.
I love that the ceiling of the church was not made of paintings but of wooden trusses. It was something different from the usual church interiors.
There was also a museum where visitors can take a look at the memorabilia stored at the church.
I don't think the parishioners planned it this way but the photographs really compliment the rustic feel of the walls.
The parish also holds an exhibit of painting from various artists which the subject is about the Mt. Pinatubo incident. The paintings were really heartbreaking and were all beautiful interpretations of the subject.
When we stepped out of the museum, we saw the grounds where Santino usually talked to Bro before. This is where you can really see that the church lost 3/4 of its original height.
What also caught my attention was this stack of rosaries at the souvenir shop of San Guillermo Parish Church. I think this is a good way of encouraging the youth today to pray the rosary since they are more visually-inclined with everything.
Our next stop was Betis Crafts which is the best wood carving company in Betis, Guagua, Pampanga. I was really impressed with Ms. Myrna Bituin, the owner of Betis Crafts. She said that the quality of her workers' outputs cannot compete in price with other furniture from other countries but they did not want to lower the quality and so they retained their standards and targeted a higher market. They wanted to be of export quality and also to showcase the Filipino craftsmanship to the world.
Ms. Myrna Bituin of Betis Crafts
You'll be in visual paradise once you enter her showroom (or at least, I felt that way!). Everywhere you look was just awesome furniture everywhere. I couldn't even believe they were all made of wood. The details were so intricate.
Ms. Universe Chair at Betis Crafts
My fellow female touristas that day all got their photos taken at the Ms. Universe chair that Betis Crafts made when the Philippines hosted the Ms. Universe Pageant in 1994.
Angel chair at Betis Crafts
The chair designs at Betis Crafts was so whimsical. I'd love to take one home.
You'd always be on work mode at an office like this with Betis Crafts' furniture
I want a bed like this (which happens to be in my favorite color too!)
Now this is really a queen-size bed.
The production house was not that busy that day since the workers were on day-off.
The place was lovely!
Next up was the Betis Church which is also known as the Sistine Chapel of the Philippines. That's no wonder since the interiors speak for themselves.
This is the only church in Pampanga that has a wooden floor. I really thought it would so hard to maintain this especially during rainy season so they're really doing a great job on this.
Bro. Chris Amante telling us the story about the Betis Church
It took 100 years to construct this church (1660 - 1770) so that's why it looks this great.
Just a tip for female visitors here: The parish is really particular with women wearing sleeveless tops inside the church so better bring a jacket or scarf when going here.
The first thing that captured my attention at the San Agustin Parish Church was the red brick facade. This is definitely not the usual look of the churches here in the country and it looks really nice.
San Agustin Parish Church at Lubao, Pampanga
One thing I learned from this church is that one way to know that an Augustinian priest put up the church is when there are Augustinian images that are put on the altar.
This church also happens to be the oldest church and the 1st Augustinian church in Pampanga.
Altar of San Agustin Parish Church
This church also houses 2 first class relics (images with actual body parts of the saint) of St. Agustin and St. Monica which came all the way from Vatican.
St. Agustin and St. Monica relics at San Agustin Parish Church
The Sta. Rita de Cascia Parish Church was our last stop.
I especially loved the ceiling paintings of the parish. It was refreshing to look at white and blue paintings after stating a prayer. It gives a calm feeling after.
The church's construction was put on hold before due to jurisdiction problems but was resumed immediately after this was resolved.
And also, the structure of the church today is the same as the original structure it had when it was built. Talk about resilience, this church is a testament to that.
It really seemed like I had Visita Iglesia 2 weeks before Holy Week but it was a refreshing break away from the city plus I got to see the other side of Pampanga.
If you want to have a tour similar like what I had or a tour at Pampanga custom-made for you and your family or friends, you can contact the Pampanga Tourism Board here: