Albay province has now three national cultural treasures to be proud of with the declaration of the 202-year-old Cagsawa Ruins in this town as one by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP).
“A national cultural treasure is defined as a unique cultural property found locally, possessing outstanding historical, cultural, artistic and with scientific value, which is significant and important to the country,” the NMP said.
It is distinct and of a higher category than a national cultural property, it further said.
The Cagsawa Ruins stands as the mute witness of Mount Mayon’s deadliest explosion that took place on February 1, 1814.
Albay Governor Joey Sarte Salceda said the site has become a symbol of the people’s resiliency to survive the adverse effects of calamities as well as climate change.
The NMP declared Cagsawa Ruins in December 2015 as a national cultural treasure.
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines also considers Cagsawa Ruins as an important protected area due to its significance in the cultural history of Albay.
Following the NMP declaration of Cagsawa Ruins, Albay province has now three national cultural treasures: Cagsawa Ruins, the Church of Our Lady of the Gate in Daraga, and the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Tabaco City.
Similarly, the symmetrical Mount Mayon, the world’s perfect cone-shaped volcano, and the Cagsawa Ruins have been tentatively included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, which is now awaiting confirmation.
Historically, Mayon’s worst eruption to date was on Februay 1, 1814 when she vomited blazing rocks and lava.
The volcano expelled so much of her innards that it covered the former settlements of Budiao and Cagsawa.
About 1,200 fear-stricken villagers crammed into the Cagsawa church which later served as their grave when steaming volcanic debris buried the structure.
The February 1, 1814 eruption covered the villages around it with ash and lahar.
An estimated 15,000 people died, including 1,200 who sought shelter inside the Cagsawa Church.
Subsequent eruptions further covered the church until only the bell tower remained above ground.
The belfry has become one of Albay’s most famous landmarks and is one of its most popular tourist attractions.
The eruption that buried the Cagsawa Church was the fifth and the strongest, based on accounts of recorded previous eruptions since 1616.
Besides Cagsawa, a neighboring town, Budiao, was laid to waste by Mayon’s fury.
Only the walls of Budiao’s church remain today.
Three other towns — Camalig, Guinobatan and Ligao (now a city) — also suffered death and destruction.
The Cagsawa belfry is the remains of an 18th century Franciscan Church built in 1724 but was severely damaged by the 1814 eruption of Mayon Volcano.
History said the parish priest of Budiao was the lone survivor of catastrophic eruption.
He saved himself through a bent coconut tree.
The Cagsawa Church was buried gradually by volcanic deposits from subsequent eruptions.
Sand, gravel and boulders were washed down the slopes by rains and got lodged along the banks of the river near the church.
Today, the church belfry stands as the only man-made object left visible in the aftermath of the eruption.
On November 30, 2006 when typhoon “Reming” hit Bicol, Cagsawa Ruins was miraculously saved.
The Bicolanos believed that it was protected by the Divine Providence as thousands of souls were buried under the earth of Cagsawa Church in 1814’s historic Mayon Volcano’s deadliest eruption.
When Mayon sleeps, farmers and tourists conquer her heights and slopes to plant vegetables, which gives the volcano a green mantle most of the year.
When she awakens, villagers run to the evacuation centers to escape her fury.
When the volcano erupts, this historic site draws thousands of foreign and local tourists — including scientists, media and kibitzsers — to the province to view her spectacular giant fireworks.
And while media look upon Mayon as news, volcanologists treat her as a science project and tourists admire her for her fireworks.
The people on her slopes make her their way of life.
For them, her children, Mayon is their hope and their life — the symbol of their living and their dying.
Today, the Cagsawa Ruins Park is among the most popular tourist destinations in the province of Albay wherein tourists may also meet the traditional “herbolario” (faith healers) during their gathering and witness the trail run, cross-country bike race, a chicken-eating contest and an on-the-spot “pamaypay” (fan)-making competition, handicrafts being one of Daraga town’s main products.
The park boasts of a modest-sized swimming pool with plenty of lounges where visitors can relax and gaze at the majestic vista of Mt. Mayon.
Inside the park are restaurants where tourists and local residents can feast on native food and delicacies.
The Cagsawa Park is managed by the municipal government of Daraga, Albay. (Rhaydz B. Barcia – PNA)