Bamboo Organ Church gets ‘historical’ recognition

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Sr. Joseph Church

LAS PIÑAS City, March 1, 2014—The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) led by its head Dr. Maria Serena Diokno unveiled a historical marker at the Saint Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas on Friday bolstering the church’s reputation as a leader in Philippine arts and culture. 

The NHCP cast-iron plaque also formally designates the St. Joseph Parish Church as a Philippine national historical treasure, St. Joseph Parish secretary Miles Bustamante explained. 

The church received its first NHCP historical marker in 1995 which officially recognized the building as a “historic structure”, Bustamante shared. 

Also present to witness the occasion were Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar, Las Piñas first lady Imelda T. Aguilar, who represented her husband Mayor Vergel Aguilar; NHCP deputy director for administration Carminda R. Arevalo; St. Joseph Parish priest Msgr. Mario Josefino F. Martinez; and Vicar General Msgr. Felipe Ocol of the Diocese of Parañaque, who represented Bp. Jesse Mercado. 

Home to the world-famous “Bamboo Organ”, the only musical instrument of its kind in existence, the church also hosts the yearly Bamboo Organ Music Festival which attracts musicians and concert aficionados from the Philippines and elsewhere. 

St. Joseph Parish Church was established in 1795 by the Spaniard Fr. Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen, a talented Augustinian Recollect friar who, like many other friars of his time, doubled as a natural scientist, community leader, chemist, architect, organist, and organ builder. 

Cera had been transferred to the then village of Las Piñas from Mabalacat, Pampanga when the Manila archbishop reassigned Las Piñas under the care of the Augustinian Recollet friars on November 5, 1795. 

Originally made of bamboo, the stone church was completed in 1816 in the “Earthquake Baroque” style, after which Cera started building the organ that made him a legend in Las Piñas. 

Cera served as parish priest of Las Piñas until May 1832 when he could no longer carry out his duties after a severe illness. He died on June 24, 1832 in Manila. 

A major thoroughfare in the city now bears Cera’s name.

Three earthquakes hit the area from July 18 to 20, 1880 which flattened several buildings and churches between Nueva Ecija to Cavite including the St. Joseph Church and the bamboo organ inside it.

A super-typhoon in 1882 blew off the church’s roofs which worsened the condition of the organ.

The church was reconstructed in 1888.

From 1971 to 1975, the church was restored back to its 19th-century look by future national artist for  architecture Franciso Mañosa  with architect Ludwig Alvarez, and the help of Las Piñas residents and neighboring communities.

The restoration event coincided with the return of the bamboo organ on March 13, 1975 after three years of rehabilitation work in Bonn, Germany which aimed to return it to its original state.

On May 9, 1975, the bamboo organ made its inaugural concert within the newly renovated church and surrounding buildings. (Raymond A. Sebastián)

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