Forming the Camalig Poblacion streets in a grid pattern, the present location of the church is located in a strategic site along with the municipal hall, park, national highway or calle real, houses or casa real and cemetery or campo de santo highlighting the system of Spanish Culture called reduccionas a means for achieving their comprehensive program on evangelization.
The design concept of the church of the St. John the Baptist are characterized by the combination of Renaissance and Gothic with a little touched of of Romanesque.
It was oriented at 65 Northeast of the longitudinal axis. It’s facade faces southeast direction. Bounded on the northwest by residential houses, on the southwest by a park, Municipal hall, Camalig Birthing Home and St. John Academy (now Dominican School) on the Northeast.
Just like other churches old Baptistry was then occupies the ground level of the Bell tower. Based on an interview, there were two baptismal fonts. One bigger than the other. As number of Catholics grew, one of these fonts (The bigger one, they say) was transferred at the rear of the church based on the neo-catechumenal rite of the liturgy of the Eucharist and Baptism. The other one was stored in the chapel.
The Dome and Copula were placed over the crossing of the transept and the nave on the shaped of quadrilateral. It transformed into octagonal shape and diminishing size which admits a great amount of natural light, resting on four walls. The ceiling under the dome was more than not hemispherical. It posses an inner gallery running through its circumference. Carved paintings of the four evangelists on its corner. The two small windows on its side admitted light into the interior. From the time this church was constructed the dome and copula was kept as it was. Only thick cement material were plastered on it.
The Main Entrance opens to the nave, at the end of the nave was the sanctuary variously called presbiterio, sanctuario or capilla mayor. This area was marked off from the rest of the nave by a large arch, which stretched across the distance between the two front corners of the apse. The single nave with two side aisles on each sides characterized the main body of this windows at its left side, cross ventilation is provided at the apse.
The church is visible from the national highway. A narrow street will lead you to the church complex from the right side are the Nuyda Park and the tennis court while on the left side are the tourism office, the gymnasium and gateway mall.
The ecclesiastical complex is surrounded by an old fence made of concrete stones believed to be constructed in 1840s. The station of the cross is attached within the fence. The church complex has four (4) entrances: the main entrance where the structure of the Tuntunan is located, the right-side gate near the Dominican School, the left side gate near the Barangay Hall and other left side gate near the ossuary.
Religious statue of St. Francis of Asisi is erected in a garden fronting the bell tower. Also, two (2) Immaculate Conception grottos are visible within the church complex. On the façade of the church three (3) statues are mounted: the statue of St. Peter the Baptist (a saintly Franciscan priest who did a lot in the conversion of the natives) on the right, the statue of St. Claire of Assisi on the left and the St. John the Baptist, the patron saint, on the top-center area.
The Church Facade has an ornamentations. The balustrade was used attached to the square – headed window on the second level of the façade or triforium. The carved niche of the patron saint placed above the main entrance. The church facade was the original form from the time when it was constructed. It took another six years before the whole structure was completed in 1848.
There is an 1848 inscription on top of the main door of the church indicating the year the whole church was completely built. A historical marker of the NHCP is attached on the left side of the door. Mason’s marks can be seen at the different parts of the church. In scripted on the stones were different signs and symbols of Masons who labored for its construction.
The Bell tower varying in height of 25 meters, was built adjacent the façade, located at the left side of the church, octagonal in plan and made purely of volcanic rocks. Just like other churches old Baptistry was then occupies the ground level of the Bell tower. It is crowned by a small dome chaplet and with the decorative device, a wrought iron cross and wind vane on it.
Capt. Luis de Guzman with Father Alonzo Jimenez, an Augustinian priest who brought christianity to Camalig. The Augustinian missionaries started evangelization in the year 1569 to 1578. When the Augustinian friars left, the Franciscan missionaries, Fr. Pablo de Jesus and Fr. Bartolome Ruiz evangelized the settlement or rancheria found by Capt. De Guzman in 1569. These two missionaries continued the work stated by the Augustinian chaplains of the early Spanish expeditions to the region. Captain Pedro de Chavez who was left to take charge of the new settlement gave a favorable report to the adelantado which resulted in a decree ordering the establishment of the town of Camalig and making it the Capital of Ibalon, under the jurisdiction Otong- Panay Island. The plan for the poblacion was designated to form three lots: the first, for Datu’s dwelling, the second, for the school and the church and the third, for the cemetery. In the summer of 1579 high officials from the Adelantado in Manila formally inaugurated the town of Camalig.
In the year 1579, Camalig was formally inaugurated as town and as a parish. The original poblacion was placed in Binanua-an. The original church of Camalig was made of light materials: nipa, cogon, and bamboo materials is constructed. In 1583, Franciscans founded an infirmary in Camalig, it remains in the church area until its transfer to Naga in 1660.
In 1605, Camalig gains government permission to build a church of stone. It is built by vagabonds and criminals kept in the local prison. Evidently this is the church that lasted until its destruction in the eruption of 1814. As of now existing wall made of stones can still be seen at the backyard of the Church.
In February 14, 1814, Mayon Volcano erupted and totally destroyed Cagsawa church and parts of Camalig. This prompted the town officials to transfer the church and the town government to the mountains. First, to Tondol, then Quilaponte (two years) and then to the Baligan (Baligang). In the episcopal report in 1816 when the bishop arrived in Camalig for a visit two (2) years after the destructive eruption, stated that the church made of lime and stone somewhat in bad condition (maltratada) due to the frightening eruption but was abandoned because of the danger posed by the volcano and as such has only a modest wooden hut (camarin decente de tabla) where the divine is decently preserved. A fire destroys Camalig, in its resettlement site in Baligang. After this disaster, the residents obtained a government pertmit to return to the original site abandoned in 1814. A new church and convento are built, under the direction of Frs Francisco Latoba and Manuel Brihuega in 1837.
A great surge of economic progress brought prosperity to Camalig. In 1842, a huge edifice built as the new church consumed all the volcanic stones of the town. Hundreds of stone cutters worked daily under the supervision of Spanish Engineers and Parish priest. In 1845, the façade and bell tower of the church are finished, and a roof of tiles is out in place. The church and convent are also redecorated, and of a school for girls is established. It took another six years before the whole structure was completed in 1848.
The church glory outlasted three big wars; the Spanish-American War, World War I and II. It was has weathered a braved several eruptions of Mayon Volcano, strong earthquakes and typhoons. It has seen good and bad days. It has lived over the different historical periods of the country – the Spanish-American Japanese era- up to the present.
Camalig…Cabecera of Christian Evangelization
by Danilo Madrid Gerona, 2013
St. John the Baptist Parish (Camalig) and it’s Church
By: Ida N. Marcelino
Treasured House of Faith: Historical Development and Architectural Analysis of Three Selected Spanish Churches in Albay, March 2001
Profile of Significant Cultural Heritage – Municipality of Camalig
Article by: Camalig Tourism