When it comes to heritage churches, Mindanao can only show us a few structures sprinkled around the big island. There’s just a few Spanish colonial era churches. There are a few forts and some ruins, a cemetery and a few more watchtowers. But when I read online that there is a ruin of a belfry in Butuan City, I made it a point to visit it.
Butuan was first evangelized by the Augustinian Recollects with the first pueblo established along the banks of the river in what is known as Banza in 1622 by Fray Juan de San Nicolas. During the 18th century, Butuan was one of the towns heavily affected by the Muslim slave raids that the town was repopulated in 1757.
Although there were attempts to transfer the town to Baug (present day Magallanes), there is vague information about this but the marker in Banza mentions that in 1677, the town was transferred back to Banza. In 1865, Manuel Boscasa, Governor of Surigao decreed the forcible transfer of Banza to Baug. When the townspeople and the priest protested, Fray Matias Villamayor was arrested.
The present day Banza is a rural barangay where goats roam the grass covered land. Beside the river is a big balete (banyan) tree with a kiosk beside it which houses the marker. It’s interesting to note that inside this tree is the remains of the Banza Church belfry, now totally swallowed. A portion of this tree has been cut out to show the structure.