Why Sto. Nino Basilica’s belfry crumbled

The Santo Nino del Zebu bell, primary bell of the church which is located and hangs at the center of the belfry. it is the biggest of all bells of the basilica

The Santo Nino del Zebu bell, primary bell of the church which is located and hangs at the center of the belfry. it is the biggest of all bells of the basilica

The Bohol 7.2 earthquake was very much felt in Cebu and the biggest casualty, in terms of damage to heritage sites was the toppling of the belfry of the Sto. Nino Minor Basilica at the height of the tremor.

For an edifice that was built for durability, it has weathered several earthquakes from 1739, the year it was finished till that fateful day in 15 October 2013, how come the belfry toppled? Was it a structural weakening, the action of centuries bearing down on the structure or the belfry was weakened by an internal force? Both?

I was fortunate to have visited once, with my friend Arnold Carl Sancover, when in 2007 we were able to go up to the belfry and take a few photos of what’s inside. Like most heritage churches, Sto. Nino Minor Basilica had lots, as can be seen at the belfries window, hanging. From the photos that I have, although not complete, these bells range from the late 19th century to 1929 and I’ve seen the names of Hilario Sunico as well as that of another bell caster, Fabrica de Herreria in Calle Jaboneros.

But at the central part of the belfry, is the biggest and heaviest, the patron’s bell and baptized Santo Nino del Zubu which was ordered cast by the prior that time: Fray Andres Puertas and dated 1750. It is tied to two planks of crossed hardwood with bagon, wild vines and metal wires. Because of its size and weight, it is not something that is turned when used. Instead, the clapper, that protruding metal is moved. How did the belfry topple?

While this is just a hunch and based on the video (below), the first to give way was the middle part of the belfry followed by the top which slid down. There is only one possible thing that can happen:

During the earthquake, at 7.2, the horizontal force of the earthquake agitated the bell that it moved sideways. Because of its size and weight plus the whiplash effect (see NOTE below), the vibration at the belfry was greater and the bell probably hit on the smaller bells and the coral stones which are soft, just gave way. The back of the belfry was spared as there was a wooden staircase between the coral stone wall and the bell.

The Augustinian Fathers have vowed to rebuild the belfry.

Note: Thanx to Architect Richard Tuason-Sanchez Bautista for the input in a comment in Facebook:

…it is just part of it. The location of the tower is one of the reason. It is located at the corner which catches the whiplash of the tremor, similar to what happened to San Agustin church in 1880.

This is also the reason why most of the damages in Cebu, like in Carcar, Dalaguete, Cebu Cathedral, Pardo and Fort San Pedro are mostly on the belfries or protruding parts.

Detail of the 'bagon' (vine) ties and iron wire that ties the bell to the wooden frame

Detail of the ‘bagon’ (vine) ties and iron wire that ties the bell to the wooden frame

Bell 'baptized' as the Santo Nino del Zebu

Bell ‘baptized’ as the Santo Nino del Zebu

The lower part of the Santo Nino del Zebu bell, primary bell of the Basilica

The lower part of the Santo Nino del Zebu bell, primary bell of the Basilica

Inscription on the primary bell: "Hizose esta campana siendo prior de... (unreadable text)... ector Fra Andres Puertas, Ano de1750"

Inscription on the primary bell: “Hizose esta campana siendo prior de… (unreadable text)… ector Fra Andres Puertas, Ano de1750″

View of damaged portion of belfry as viewed from the north east side

View of damaged portion of belfry as viewed from the north east side

Youtube screen grab. Edited for clarity. Check below for embedded video

Youtube screen grab. Note that the middle part of the belfry first gave way followed by the top. Edited for clarity. Check below for embedded video

Related Posts with Thumbnails

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Earthquake damage on Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral | Simbahan

  2. Estan, according to Architect Melva Java and some of the experts, the lantern or farol at the top of the belfry’s dome may have contributed to the destruction too.

    Prior to the war, the farol was hollow in order to serve its purpose akin to those of lighthouses. Sometime after the war, the farol was filled with concrete thereby increasing its weight and putting much pressure to the dome.

    Compare this with the farol of the nearby cathedral which was not filled with concrete.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>