Caleruega: A Beautiful Stopover In Life’s Journey
- Maida C. Pineda () - February 23, 2003 - 12:00am
There must be something holy in the air in Tagaytay. As of the last count, there are 39 Catholic houses tucked along the ridge, consisting of retreat houses, formation houses, seminaries and contemplative groups. This does not even include the over a dozen Christian lay communities and prayer houses. There must be something about the volcano and the cooler temperatures, quiet and soothing, making the city some religious call the "Vatican Village" a good place to retreat to.

The holy air seems to have blown further south into the town of Nasugbu, Batangas. Several kilometers away from Tagaytay are the hills of Batulao where I found serenity and beauty three years ago. Whispers about the place being a lovely setting for an out of town wedding made me curious, although I was not scouting for wedding venue.

I was not at all disappointed with what I had found. At the end of a long isolated road is an eight-hectare property owned by the Dominican Fathers. Before the entrance gate is a chapel perched atop an elevation. On weekends cars, catering vans and the bridal car cluster around a narrow staircase leading to the chapel on a hill.

Since its early exposure as the setting of Christopher de Leon and Sandy Andolong’s much-publicized wedding, it has become the favorite out-of-town venue for brides and grooms. Now even producers of movies and television ads have taken notice. A telecom company ends their ad with a couple standing in front of the chapel, clutching their cellular phones.

It is easy to fall in love with the place and in the place. Romance is in the air. The abundance of flowers, lush plants and trees, walk paths and viewing decks looking out onto Batulao’s mountains creates the perfect mood for love. The sun stages a stunning show as it sets between the two rugged peaks of Batulao. At this magical moment, the name Batulao– derived from the words bato or stone and ilaw or light–becomes truly apt. So enthralled was I with the splendor of Caleruega during my first visit three years ago, I almost fell head over heels in love with the man I was with.

Several years and several visits later, I return still smitten, not with a man, but with the same gorgeous retreat sanctuary. This time, I was treated to a tour by Fr. Jeffrey Balde OP, the director of Caleruega. As I walked around the house of prayer and renewal with the young priest comfortably dressed in a pair of shorts, a white shirt and running shoes, I got a glimpse of Caleruega through the eyes of a Dominican.

Caleruega was created in 1994 as a venue for retreats and seminars of the Dominican institutions. The collaborative efforts of architect Yolanda Reyes and Fr. Ed. Nantes op created a lovely convergence of Spanish, Moorish and Filipino architecture and artistry that is unique to Caleruega. While the beauty is hard to miss, the many signs and symbols of the Dominicans abundantly integrated into the architecture are not as obvious.

A fountain on the driveway not only provides a refreshing sight, but it also symbolizes the Dominic star. St. Dominic’s mother Joanna of Aza saw a star on her son’s forehead, a sign that the infant would eventually spread light to the world. The star and sun motif is consistently seen in the little details in Caleruega, in the capiz windows, grills and even inside cottages.

Steps lead up to the Dominicum, often mistaken for a church, with a facade teeming with signs and symbols. At the center is St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order, with his father’s coat of arms on the left and his mother’s coat of arms on the right. The statues of Thomas Aquinas and Catherine of Sienna, doctors of the church, stand guard on both sides of the door. Four pineapples on the façade hint at its proximity to Tagaytay, while two towering traveler’s palms bid welcome to weary visitors. This unique palm collects water in its stalks to quench travelers in the tropics. But in Caleruega they provide a beautiful metaphor for those thirsting for spiritual nourishment in life’s journey.

The Dominicum leads to a garden bursting with color and life. A pathway imitates the life journey of each person: It follows and accentuates the natural curves and slope of the hill. Just like life, the path can be steep and arduous at times. But the trials are not in vain as the path leads to the resurrection, with the stunning Transfiguration chapel at the peak. Quaint enough to fit only 150 people, it is big in details.

The brass sculpture on the door of vines and branches match the biblical images of the mustard seed on the lectern, the burning bush design of the tabernacle and the altar symbolic of the stomp of Jesus. Fronting the chapel is a metal sculpture with arms outstretched by artist Benhur Villanueva called "Thy will be Done". Even plants and trees surrounding the chapel are carefully selected. Pine trees were planted to mimic the Mediterranean setting where St. Dominic was born in Caleruega in Old Castile in 1170.

There are several other interesting structures that line the pathway alongside functional dormitories, cottages and conference halls for overnight guests. A gazekubo–marrying the elements of a gazebo and a bahay kubo–functions as a conference hall. Its walls are made of adobe stones, its roof made of pawid. Caleruega brims with so much life, seeds seem to have fallen on the once brown pawid now green with small plant growth.

St. Dominic’s Point is a beautiful vantage point where a statue honors the saint with a star formation of fushia plants lining his feet. Choosing just one spot to sit and be still is a daunting task, what with so many beautiful options. But somehow, I always find myself spending time at the Rosary Lane with a statue of the Mother and Child sitting in prayer, each clutching the rosary. On the park benches, I sit and gaze at the 180-degree view of the mountains and plains.

There, in the comforting company of nature, the signs and symbols of my own journey somehow become clearer. The holy air blows and soothes in this nourishing stopover that is Caleruega.

AS I BATULAO BENHUR VILLANUEVA CALERUEGA DOMINICAN FATHERS DOMINICUM JEFFREY BALDE JOANNA OF AZA ST. DOMINIC TAGAYTAY
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