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The Church of St. John the Baptist (San Juan Bautista) in Camalig is another imposing religious structure in the province of Albay. The church is built entirely out of solid blocks of volcanic rock from Mount Mayon. Christianity was brought to Camalig by Capt. Luis de Guzman together with Father Alonzo Jimenez, an Augustinian priest who came with the Legaspi expedition. Evangelization was started in 1578 by the Augustinian missionaries.
When the Augustinians left, the Franciscan Fathers Pablo de Jesus and Bartolome Ruiz continued their work. In 1579, Camalig was formally inaugurated as a town and as a parish. The original poblacion was placed in Binanua-an. The original church and “escuela Catolica” was established in this place in 1605.
The eruption of Mayon Volcano in 1814 devastated parts of Camalig and totaly destroyed the nearby towns of Cagsawa and Budiao. Although the church was unscathed, the eruption prompted the town officials to transfer the church and the town government to the mountains: first, to Palanog, then to Kitapunte and then to Baligang. After a fire razed the new settlement, the town government was restored to the original poblacion and the intact church was reoccupied.
The current edifice of the Camalig Church was built in 1842. Hundreds of stone-cutters worked under the supervision of Spanish priests to construct the church out of solid blocks of lava rock. The church was completed in 1848 and was considered one of the strongest, most massive and most beautiful churches in the entire region.
Affluent residents and families of the town vied with one another in providing the interior of the church with expensive furnishings, be they wood, in glass, in silver, gold, brass or copper, including the altar linens and ceremonial vestments. The people also generously contributed for the bells, except for the biggest one, which was donated by the Franciscan order, together with the Baptismal Font.
Camalig Church Interiors | Photo by Ariel Chua (Click here for more photos)
Two other marble holy water fonts installed at the entrance and two smaller ones on the west side door were donated by prominent families. Five capitanes each donated a crystal chandelier. The church sustained heavy damaged during the Typhoon Sisang in the 1980s but was lovingly restored by the citizens of Camalig.
Today, the Camalig Church is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved churches in the province and is a must-visit because of its immense cultural and historical value.
There are numerous jeepneys that regularly ply the Legazpi-Camalig route. All jeepneys going to the towns of the third district of Albay (Guinobatan, Ligao City, Polangui, Libon, Oas, Pio Duran) pass through the Camalig poblacion.
View St. John the Baptist Church, Camalig in a larger map
Source: St. John the Baptist Parish (Camalig) and its Church by Ida Marcelino