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Cagsawa Church Ruins: Testimony to Mayon Volcano’s Wrath

by alvinwriter on 28/09/10 at 1:10 am

In the Philippines, people flock to Legazpi City, Albay in the Bicol region, to marvel at Mayon Volcano—perhaps the most picture-perfect volcano in Southeast Asia. Its name came from the local word for beautiful, maayon. On February 1, 1814, a powerful eruption of the volcano took place, burying the nearby Cagsawa Church under volcanic debris. That event is now regarded in history as the most devastating eruption of Mayon. The Cagsawa ruins are a mute witness today to the deadly beauty that is Mayon Volcano.

Old photo of the Cagsawa Church with the facade still intact.

Cagsawa village in Bicol was founded in the 16th century in Spanish times in a place that used to be called Budiao. Later, it was transferred to Daraga, in Albay, where the Cagsawa church was built on a hill. The church used to be a place of spiritual refuge, which was why, when Mayon erupted, the people of the area sought shelter inside the church, praying to be spared from the wrath of the volcano. But it was a move which was to be their last, as the molten lava and other debris from the volcano engulfed the church, burying all the people inside. After the disaster, 1,200 people were dead and the once pristine landscape was a wasteland of black lava and rocks.

The locals say that the 1814 eruption of Mayon Volcano was God’s way of punishing the people who lived around the volcano because of their excesses. It’s a myth, but it’s interesting to note that the name Cagsawa may have been derived from the local term, kagsawa, which means “excessive.” Others say the name came from a tale about a resident who owns (kag) a constrictor snake (sawa). It’s also possible that “Cagsawa” referred to the river which winds through the area like a snake. Whatever the real story, Cagsawa is now associated with the church ruins. And if you mention Cagsawa in the Philippines, it’s always Bicol that comes to mind. The ruined church has become in a way, a symbol of Bicol, together with Mayon Volcano.

An extremely old photo of the Cagsawa Church.

Old photographs of the Cagsawa ruins with Mayon volcano in the background show how the church appeared before the façade fell down. The design is similar to how the Paoay church in Ilocos Norte is built—massive and buttressed to withstand strong earthquakes. But, as history has shown, the structural stability of the Cagsawa church was no match against the fury of Mayon Volcano. Today, only the bell tower remains. Reinforced with modern concrete, it will likely remain a historical landmark for another couple of hundred years (maybe more) before it finally crumbles or another powerful eruption (Heaven forbid) destroys it completely. For now, it tells people to be wary, because Mayon can erupt again.

The Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte is similar to the Cagsawa Church.

The Cagsawa Ruins Park is perhaps the most visited place coming from Legazpi City in Albay. It’s just a few minutes ride from the city proper and is a very convenient first stop destination coming from the airport. The plane ride from Metro Manila is just over 30 minutes so it’s an ideal trip for just about anyone who can afford to stay for a day or two in a hotel in Legazpi City. At the local airport, you can hire a van or ask directions to the Cagsawa Ruins Park. But it is always best to plan a trip there with someone you know so you will not have to bother with guides.

The Cagsawa Church Ruins Park in Daraga, Albay. (Wikipedia image)

Mayon Volcano greets visitors flying into Legazpi City

Healing Church of the Kamay ni Hesus Healing Center in Lucban, Quezon

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Sep 28th, 2010

Very informative post


Sep 28th, 2010

a very educating post. nice photos too.


Sep 30th, 2010

Very informative post. Thanks

Luna Morena

Oct 1st, 2010

Great article. Wonderful pictures

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