Friday, June 02, 2006

The Church of the Angry Christ

Inside the Victorias Milling Company (VMC) compound in Victorias, Negros Occidental, there sits a Catholic church unlike any other church in the whole world. Known to locals as the St. Joseph the Worker Parish Church, the VMC chapel has gained international renown through a Life Magazine article which dubbed it as the “Church of the Angry Christ.”

Long before Da Vinci Code, the Church of the Angry Christ in Victorias created a stir in conservative church circles for its depiction of Jesus Christ as an angry God and its singular rendition of Catholic saints as brown-skinned Filipinos. The architectural design and religious iconography of the Church of the Angry Christ is distinctively different from the host of old Spanish churches that can be found all over the Philippines. When it was first completed in 1949, many Catholics felt that the church decorations were inappropriate and not in line with traditional liturgical iconography. For one, most churches depict Christ not as an angry but a merciful God. Likewise, no other church in the Philippines has deliberately “Filipinized” traditional Biblical themes to give it a modern Filipino face.

The Church of the Angry Christ was constructed by Victorias Milling Co. (the largest sugar refinery in Asia) to serve the spiritual needs of its employees and their families who are living inside the sugar refinery compound. The Salesian priests of St. John Bosco oversee the parish while at the same time administer the Don Bosco Technical Institute located inside the VMC compound. The Belgian liturgical artist Ade de Bethuene was commissioned to design the decoration of the church’s baptism room while Arcadio Anore executed Bethuene’s designs for the baptisery and other parts of the church. Spanish-American creole artist Alfonso Ossorio, whose family owned Victorias Milling Co. then, painted the chapel along with local artist Benjamin Valenciano who did the images of Mary and Joseph, the crucifix and the Stations of the Cross. The Ossorio mural depicted Jesus Christ (God the Son) hands outstretched being received by God the Father, represented by two giant, red-orange hands. A descending dove (the Holy Spirit) with multi-colored wings hangs above while Sts. Joseph, Mary, John the Baptist and one unidentified brown-skinned woman (Mary Magdalene?) stand as witnesses to Jesus' resurrection.

I grew up going to mass in the “Church of the Angry Christ” every Sunday. I remember that as a small child, I would stare at the “weird” and scary murals from the beginning of the mass up to the end, not paying attention to the liturgy. I even remember attending one of the summer art workshops conducted by Benjamin Valenciano, the Filipino artist who helped Ossorio paint the church. As a child going to that church every Sunday, little did I know that I was face to face with avant garde art and an important landmark of our cultural heritage.

More than fifty years after its completion, the “Church of the Angry Christ” has become a touchstone in the development of Philippine religious art. Its principal architects, Ossorio and Bethuene have been given international recognition as pioneering proponents of Filipino religious iconography as an artform. When VMC fell on hard times in the early 1990s, Filipino art conservationists feared that the Church of the Angry Christ might deteriorate if the sugar refinery shut down its operations. But the sugar central has now recovered financially and hopefully will continue to preserve the church.

The Church of the Angry Christ heralded the birth of Filipino religious art in the Philippines. It is one of the few artistic landmarks in Western Visayas and it draws religious art aficionados from all over the world. It should therefore be declared as a Filipino Heritage Site to ensure its preservation for generations to come.


chYmera said...

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Chriseric said...

Hi there. Found your blog when searching for photos of the 'angry Christ' mural. My father told me about it when I was a teenager. He lived on the big island in Quezon City for a long time. Well, just saying Hello.
(Boulder, Colorado, USA)

Iloilo City Boy said...

Thanks for dropping by Chris.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I also lived in Victorias... and I also took a summer art class with Sir Valenciano! Maybe we can keep in touch... email me

Ella del Rosario said...

Hi, I recently visited VMC and this church and found your blog while researching on the Angry Christ. Hope you don't mind that I linked you to my blog post about it. Thanks.

pmvalenciano said...

Hi, it feels good to know that you had the opportunity to meet and be one of the students of "Sir Valenciano". I am just searching some info on Benjamin Valenciano and came across your blog. Guess just wanted to say Hi... and thanks. :)

the donG said...

very very informative post here. im posting in my blog about this church and i learned a lot from your post. thanks to this.

i was there days ago but now im back in manila. thanks for sharing this.

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Anonymous said...

Your summer art teacher is probably the son of Benjamin Valenciano Sr who is his junior. The senior died way back January 1963. Benjamin Jr who usually teaches summer art worshop is currently living in canetown subdivision in victorias city.

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Bing Sedonio said...

Just a correction on the article. Bethune and Ossorio were not its principal architects. The earthquake proof building was designed by architect Antonin Raymond of New York. Bethune was a liturgical art expert who decorated the mosaic outer walls and the mural at the back, while Ossorio was a leading modernist artist who was a friend and benefactor of the famous Jackson Pollack.

In their work, they used local craftsmen and assistants. For the sculptures, they hired Valenciano who until then, was not known to make icons. Anore's main contribution on the other hand is as an engraver of the the brassworks. Valenciano recommended Anore for the job, although he was already a hand in the construction.Bethune's main assistant in the mosaic was Romulo Sta. Ana.

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