Silent Guardian of Shoe Town

Seeing the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery was a treat!

But that wasn’t why the group left the resort. With my mother at the helm, she directed the driver to take us to the Footwear Capital of the Philippines: Liliw, Laguna. The municipality is a mere 3.79 km. away from the crypt. While it has other claims to fame, like cold water spring resorts and the native sweet delicacy called uraro, it’s the thriving shoe industry that reels in tourists.

A sandal that probably fits no one in town
A sandal that probably fits no one in town

While I could personally attest to the sturdiness of their sandals, footwear wasn’t the reason I tagged along.

I’m unfamiliar with the streets of Liliw, which was why I was surprised that the driver stopped at my destination of choice: the St. John the Baptist Parish Church. For the countless times I’ve remembered us visiting Liliw, I’ve never been able to enter the church compound on the count of a festival happening. Luckily, the day we were there was just a regular Sunday.

St. John the Baptist Parish Church of Liliw, Laguna
St. John the Baptist Parish Church of Liliw, Laguna

For years now, I have always wondered what it would be like to see the red bricks up close. The color reminds me of the ramparts of Intramuros in Manila.

Predictably, I was drawn to the marker. And for a second, the name confused me. I couldn’t help but wonder why it bore the name Lilio. So, I looked it up. There are no official records but the only existing explanation is this: during the Spanish reign, the place was called Liliw. But, when the Americans arrived, they couldn’t pronounce the name so they dubbed it as Lilio instead, hence the name on the marker that was unveiled in 1939. Forward to 1965, when the municipal council made it official that Liliw is the name of the place. Strangely enough, the name Lilio could still be found in a few local brands or stands.

Liliw Church Marker
Liliw Church Marker

As I wandered around the front of the Baroque-style church, I noticed that there are reconstructed areas. Also, there were curious tiles that had hand and foot imprints of adults and children. There wasn’t anyone who looked like an authority so I could only guess what those were for.

The avenue facing the door is lined with statues of saints, some of which no longer have their name plates. Other saintly figures could be found atop the arches of the side gates. There were also two gazebos found in front of the church, with one smaller than the other; one was in the middle of grassy lawn and the other in the middle of the parking lot.

Upon entering the church, I expected to see a mass being conducted. But only the first 10 pews were occupied. It didn’t seem like a private event because other people – even groups and families who were not part of the ceremony – came inside and sat themselves at the back of the church, like I did. My sight soaked in the red walls and the white ceiling; my eyes darted from the three intricate golden retablos up front to the simple creamy crosses in frames above me. With a few more statements from the priest, I realized what I wandered into: a baptism.

Because I don’t know how long a baptism lasts, I decided to explore the inside of the church. I sat closer to the figure of the crucified Christ. Then I walked in to the adoration chapel found at the right of the church, which was actually the base of the bell tower. Just a second after I took my first shot of the golden monstrance, which was the centerpiece of the chapel, I felt someone behind me. So I stopped with the shots and slowly exited.

The golden monstrance
The golden monstrance

To the left, I entered and found a small shop. But further it was another chapel called the Capilla de San Buenaventura.

Capilla de San Buenaventura
Capilla de San Buenaventura

I returned to the main church, just in time to see the baptism end. When the priest and his assistants disappeared into another room, I boldly went up aisle and got as close as I could get to the pulpit and the retablos. Even in the dimness, the pulpit’s gold paint shone. The retablo mayor (main retablo) found in the middle, was impressive with its height, width, and intricacy. Had I been much bolder and no other people inside the church, I would’ve looked into the details of the dome just above the retablo mayor. The other two retablos were small but just as magnificent. I imagine that the figures found outside the church are the same figures found inside the three retablos.

With people entering the front door, I decided to exit at the right. Once outside, I noticed that a couple of the blind windows.

My exit timed with the end of mother’s shoe shopping. That was when we headed back for the resort. Every step away from the red-bricked church was a step away from something so familiar and yet new. To finally see it close, to touch palms with the silent guardian of shoe town, is amazing.


This is Part Two of a Two-Part Post.


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