Nestled in donated land at Hacienda Binitin, Murcia, Negros Occidental is the compound of the Congregation of Saint John the Baptist (CSJB), a religious organization founded 90 years ago in China by Belgian missionary Fr. Vincent Lebbe.
The congregation set foot in the country in 2004 and established its local house in Murcia in what used to be a former military detachment used during the late 1980s to early 1990s.
The centerpiece of a 12-hectare compound which has an integrated farm of rice fields, piggery, poultry, fish ponds, cow ranch, rambutan orchard, gardens and the Catholic Ming Yuan College established in 2013 is the St. John the Baptist Oratorium.
Designed by architect Andy Reyes, the domed structure was consecrated in December 2014 by Most Rev. Vicente Navarra, then bishop of the Diocese of Bacolod.
Inside the building that will eventually become a church are stained glass (actually painted glass panels) decorating the Epistle and Gospel sides of the church, the façade (which also has a muted rose window) and the walls at the altar area.
These painted glass panels were designed by Chinese nun Sr. Agnes Dang who made the initial drawings in 2016 and executed the paintings together with four other Chinese nuns and a priest from March to September 2018.
Sr. Dang has a number of fresco paintings in the churches in her hometown of Xiangxi province and some impressive sketches of religious figures.
The motifs of the glass panels are the mysteries of the rosary; the four evangelists Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and the Eight Beatitudes executed in Chinese characters.
Every panel is framed with decorative laces, which were made according to the mysteries.
The congregation notes, “It is not only for the reason of beauty but also for the auxiliary explanation of the mystery corresponding to it.”
The four of Eight Beatitude panels, meanwhile, have added features of plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum flowers that symbolize the four highest virtues of fortitude, simplicity, humility and spirituality.
Our Lady of Sheshan
Since the congregation was based in China and now in Taiwan, they are pushing for the devotion to Our Lady of Sheshan, also called the Mary Help of Christians, to whom protecting the Diocese of Shanghai during the Taiping Revolution of 1850 to 1864 is attributed.
Its iconography is particularly interesting.
The standing image of the Lady of Sheshan’s figure is raising the Child Jesus above her head and tramples upon a dragon which symbolizes immorality.
The Recollects founded the town of Murcia in the 19th century under the advocation of the Inmaculada Concepcion.
Murcia is famous for its American-era Ishiwata Bath House in Barangay Minoyan, now part of the Mambukal Mountain Resort.
This neo-classical structure was constructed in 1927 and designed by Kokichi Paul Ishiwata.
Aside from this, there are also at least two Gabaldon-type school buildings in town – in the Murcia East Central School now being converted into the municipal engineering office and at the back of one of its market buildings.
Its municipal hall building also dates back to the American period.
The only remaining Spanish colonial structure in Murcia is the arched stone portal of its cemetery which is made of cut river stones.
Inside is an Art Deco mausoleum of the Rojas family, one of the prominent land owners in town.
The Montelibano family, the owner of the Hacienda Binitin, also has a mausoleum inside their hacienda. It was said to have been designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin.
Text and photos by Edgar Allan M. Sembrano