Pursuits

This Restored Photo Could Prove Cagsawa Church Was Not Buried by Mayon Volcano Eruption

The photos came from a collection of nitrate negatives, which were restored and developed by the American Geographical Society Library.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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During our childhood years, we learned in school that Mayon Volcano was so destructive when it erupted in the 1800s that pyroclastic flow buried the nearby Cagsawa Church, leaving only part of its belfry as a testament to the volcano’s most powerful eruption in recorded history.

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), Mayon Volcano’s most powerful eruption occurred on February 1, 1814, which was supposedly the time when the Cagsawa Church was buried.

However, photographs in 1934 by Robert L. Pendleton show the Cagsawa Church façade was still intact and clearly not buried by ash or pyroclastic flow.

Old Daraga townsite, Albay. May 14 '34. Buried church. Glimpse of Mayon [Volcano] through clouds.
Photo by UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE LIBRARIES | PENDLETON, ROBERT LARIMORE.
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Pendleton’s of photographs are now part of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries’ American Geographical Society Library (AGSL). The photos came from a collection of nitrate negatives, which were restored and developed by the AGSL under a project that aims to restore and share the library’s historic nitrate images.

In the photograph of Cagsawa Church by Pendleton, it can be seen that the bell tower is the same height as what can be seen today, providing further evidence that the church was not buried.

If Cagsawa Church Wasn’t Buried by Mayon Volcano's Eruption, Then What Happened to It?

After the 1814 eruption of Mayon Volcano, residents vacated the area and relocated to the town of Daraga. Daraga church’s historical marker installed in the '70s also points to the destructive eruption of 1814 and how that destroyed the Cagsawa Church.

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.
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It is plausible the church was severely damaged during the eruption of 1814. Today, you will still see dozens of volcanic boulders as large as small cars lying around the ruins—horrific reminders of the site’s dangerous history. If you look closely at the photograph, you will see these dark boulders surrounding the church.

As seen in photographs from the 1900s, the site was likely abandoned, based on the overgrowth that surrounded and grew on the church itself. Cagsawa Church became a forgotten relic that fell into eventual ruin, which is likely the result of frequent volcanic earthquakes in the area.

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.
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Today, Cagsawa is now a tourist attraction, but when you visit the site, you will hear the same story of how Mayon, during her most powerful eruption, buried Cagsawa Church in ash, leaving only its bell tower protruding above ground.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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