Friday, June 22, 2018

The Unintentional Spiritual Significance of the Bataan Chapel

Wazzup Pilipinas!

Filipinos have always been a spiritual people, guided by their devotion to God and a constant desire to integrate wholeness and integrity into their lives. While more than 86% of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic, non-conforming spirituality has become a big influence in modern day life in the Philippines. An increasing number of people are turning to spirituality in a bid to reach self-actualization that will lead them to live the best life possible. There are countless places of spiritual significance situated across the country such as the Kamay ni Hesus Shrine, the Regina Rica Queen of the Holy Rosary and the recently-completed Bataan Chapel that is attracting spiritual dwellers from across the world to the grasslands of the Philippines.

Built with a purpose
In April 1942 approximately 76,000 Filipino and US POW soldiers were ordered by a victorious Japanese army to commence a 100km walk towards Camp O’Donnell, an event that would eventually become known as the Bataan Death March. Barely 54,000 soldiers were fortunate enough to survive this terrible ordeal. It is near this spot that Swiss artist Not Vital chose to build a chapel that has become a refuge of spiritual serenity. 

Situated in the immense grasslands of Bataan, the 141 square-meter tall concrete chapel makes for a striking figure as it towers over the surrounding prairies.

Despite the historical significance of the chapel’s location, Vital has been exceptionally careful not to brand it as a memorial in honor of the massacre. The chapel is also not meant to be sacrosanct only to the Christian faith, despite the clear references to Christianity being depicted in a mural inside. 

Vital had infact, carefully countered this notion by the inclusion of a wooden statue of the rice goddess Bulol that hangs on one of the interior walls of the chapel. The real purpose of the chapel? To house Vital’s interpretation of the Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Where art is usually commissioned to fit a space, in this instance, the space was created to house a piece of art, and unintentionally create a haven for spiritual well-being.

Walking on water
As you enter the chapel through a door that is only big enough to allow one person to enter at a time, you will notice that the whole chapel is filled with water, giving the impression of walking on water as you head towards a mural of The Last Supper. 

According to Vital, the water also pays homage to the countless rice fields of the Philippines, starting at a depth of 20cm at the entrance and slowly decreasing as you continue up the slope towards the far wall. The light that streams into the chapel during the day creates striking patterns on the water and wall surfaces, generating an ambiance that is indubitably surreal.

Spiritual significance in abundance
The Bataan Chapel is not easy to reach where it stands on a hill in the rural region of Bagac, a wind-battered town with less than 30,000 residents. The installation’s remote location contributes greatly to its spiritual significance, making the journey there a pilgrimage of sorts. The Bataan Chapel is proof that art, even in its most abstract form, can be used as a way to express spirituality. Diana Campbell Betancourt, an American curator working in the Philippines is in awe of the structure and was quoted as saying: 

‘Bataan is a place with a very charged history - and the chapel is a beautiful attempt to heal scars from a painful past and contemplate space for a more peaceful future’.

Whether you plan to visit the Bataan Chapel for spiritual enlightening or merely out of curiosity, the trip is guaranteed to be well worth the effort. Being able to experience one of Vital’s masterpieces firsthand is bound to stir some emotion in everyone faced with its unapologetic presence. There are some pieces of architecture in the world that simply exudes spirituality, whether intentionally or not - the Bataan Chapel is undoubtedly one of them.

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