August 4, 2013, Las Piñas City, Metro Manila. A priest’s stole, yellowed with age but otherwise completely preserved, bears images of two easily recognizable treasures of Philippine culture and heritage that are strongly identified with the City of Las Piñas. For history buffs and automobile aficionados, these are a dead giveaway to what we were up to that day. Yup, we were in this city to do a bit of history sleuthing! And nothing could be more historical in this part of Metropolitan Manila than the famed Las Piñas Bamboo Organ and Sarao Motors, Inc., the original maker of the Philippine Jeepney.
St. Joseph Parish Church, which houses the bamboo organ, was our first destination for this trip. And boy, did all roads lead to this church that Sunday afternoon when we paid it a visit! Traffic was unusually heavy! Only when we were able to get past the traffic-clogged area did we realize that two funeral processions were also making their way to the church.
The processions were interestingly instructive of the great divide between the rich and the poor in this country: the first one was decidedly spartan with a few members of the bereaved family walking behind the hearse while the other one had a brass band in front of it! Death, they say, is the great equalizer. But maybe not until after the rich and the poor are both six feet under!
The heavens seemed to disagree with me though. It soon opened up and unleashed a huge torrent of water which made everyone scamper for cover. How’s that for a dose of heavenly justice and equality?
Our group made a quick escape to the Bamboo Organ Museum and Souvenir Shop where our volunteer tour guide, Gani Ditan, was waiting for us. The very first thing that I noticed was this beautifully-preserved church bell (one of the originals, I suppose) which stood guard at the entrance. “Exactly for how many requiem masses did this bell toll during its active service?”, I wondered.
Fortunately, Gani soon started his spiel which broke my morbid thoughts.
He ushered us next to the museum which was relatively small. And humid. With only electric fans for cooling, I cringed at the thought that some of the precious artifacts in the museum (including that ancient stole I featured above) are deteriorating faster than we could say dust, molds and insects (three of the most common enemies of museum pieces)!
The museum has some very interesting and educational items on display. These include this model of the bamboo organ that museum guests can play.
And if you did not outgrow your childhood predilection to deconstruct a toy to closely examine its design, then this museum has something for you too! This section offers a closer look at the insides of the bamboo and metal pipes (the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ is 90% bamboo and 10% metal).
But what piqued my curiosity was the bust sculpture and photos of Saint Ezekiel Moreno. This Augustinian priest served as the parish curate of Las Piñas from July 1876 to mid-1879 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1992. Surely, only a few parishes in the country have that distinction of having a saint who walked amongst them!?
After walking us through the history of the Las Piñas bamboo organ, Gani next ushered us to a stone staircase which led to the choir loft where the over-a-century-old bamboo organ is located.
At around this time, a funeral liturgy was being celebrated down below us.
I was actually hoping to get my hands on the organ’s keyboards. But apparently only the church organist can go beyond this passageway leading to the console of the organ.
Fortunately, Gani was able to arrange for the organist to play for our group.
And just like that, the somber atmosphere left by the two funeral liturgies was replaced by the melodious sound of the organ which filled the entire edifice.
Thank you Claire Madarang of iamtravelinglight.com for the invite!