MANILA, Philippines – The National Museum (NM) has given Albayanos a new symbolic gift for the new year.
It has declared the Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga, Albay as a national cultural treasure, the country’s highest designation for a cultural property.
A national cultural treasure is defined as “a unique cultural property found locally, possessing outstanding historical, cultural, artistic and/or scientific value, which is significant and important to the country.” It is distinct and of a higher category than a national cultural property.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said national cultural treasures are priority assets for protection, preservation and promotion by the state.
“The NM’s declaration as such of a cultural asset is an important step toward higher level designations,” he said.
Salceda said the Bicol region now has three national cultural treasures, all of which are in Albay: the Cagsawa Church Ruins, Daraga Church and Tabaco City Church.
The region also has two national cultural properties – Barit Bridge in Barangay Santiago, Iriga City, Camarines Sur and the Mataas shell scoop, a neolithic artifact from Cagraray island, also in Albay.
The Cagsawa Ruins is what remains of the old Cagsawa community when the near perfect cone-shaped Mayon Volcano erupted early morning on Feb. 1, 1814.
The historic eruption claimed over 1,200 lives and buried under rocks, sand and ash the entire community, including an old baroque church, leaving only the upper portion of its bell tower and tall coconut trees above ground.
Recorded accounts of the event said columns of rocks and stones shot high into the air and killed fleeing residents as the volcanic debris fell down to earth. Even houses offered no protection as the stones were hot and set residences on fire.
One recorded incident indicates that the parish priest of Cagsawa ordered the ringing of the church bells to warn the local people of the eruption.
About 200 people took refuge in the church, but lava stream flowed into the structure, eventually killing them.
Today, only the blackened church tower remains to remind succeeding generations of the catastrophe.