Boljoon Church: Stolen Panels from the 1980s Resurfaced

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This is the Boljoon Church, also known as the Patrocinio de Maria Church.

Many Catholic Filipinos, especially from Cebu, are familiar with the Boljoon Church. 

This is one of the only Spanish colonization era parishes still standing, with its centuries-old architecture and design. It is also one of the oldest Augustinian churches in Cebu.

In 2024, the Boljoon Church gained widespread attention nationwide.

Pulpit panels from the church were donated to the National Museum of the Philippines – Cebu, surprisingly not by church officials, but by private collectors.  

A town resolution confirmed that these exact panels were stolen from the church in the 1980s, and had been missing for many years. These panels–depicting St. Augustine of Hippo–were taken from the pulpits by looting. 

This has caused an uproar among locals and officials, requesting that they be returned to the Boljoon Church. As they were primarily built as part of the parish, they are considered religious artifacts. 

Cebu archbishop Jose Palma confirmed that no request to have these panels removed was ever recorded, and if such a request was made, it would have been rejected since the panels could be considered sacred objects

The Archdiocese of Cebu formally requested the National Museum to return the panels to the church. These sentiments were also echoed by Cebu Provincial Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and Boljoon town mayor Jojie Derama. 

In response, the museum has mentioned that they are open to having “constructive dialogues” with the officials regarding the return of said panels. 

With the National Museum’s mission of “preserving, curating, and exhibiting cultural historical artifacts for the Filipino people,” this questions their ethics of preserving history through artifacts. 

The National Museum in Cebu has reiterated that the panels were acquired legally between them and the collectors, but many Cebuanos have voiced that accountability has to be expressed regarding how these items were collected. 

An article on Cultural Accountability published on the Freeman stated that the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 prohibits the “importation, sale, distribution, procurement, acquisition, or exportation of cultural property that is stolen or otherwise lost against the will of the lawful owner.”

Subsequently, the National Museum of the Philippines Act also reiterates the steps that the museum must take to ensure the legality of acquiring these cultural artifacts. One step confirms that the museum must certify that the items were not trafficked or stolen. 

As of writing, investigations will continue to determine the possible outcome of the situation. 

This therefore begs the question: Why is the Boljoon Church important to the cultural heritage in Cebu?


The Boljoon Church has been a historical landmark within the town for over 400 years. It was listed as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2001.

It is also a candidate for one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites under Baroque Churches in the Philippines. 

The Boljoon Church started as a visita or chapel of ease, which is a separate structure from a parish dedicated to people who live far away. It was originally allocated to the patronage of the Virgin Mary. 

It was then elevated to a parish in 1690 by Father Francisco de Zamora, the Provincial of the Augustinians, as the number of Christians grew within the area. 

When the Augustinians left Boljoon in 1737 due to a shortage of priests, they transferred leadership to the Jesuits. The Augustinians regained the Boljoon Church in 1747, and the order continues to manage it to this day. 


The earliest version of the church was destroyed by pirates in 1782, but the church that we know today was built in 1783 by Father Ambrosio Otero, then continued by Father Manuel Cordero 11 years later, before its completion by Father Julian Bermejo. 

Father Bermejo built other structures within the church grounds, like the blockhouse and watch towers. Each of these structures served as the first line of defense against foreign invaders.  

With Moro raids prevalent, the Boljoon Church served as a fortress against attacks from the sea. Its location on top of a hill, which is a stone’s throw away from the ocean, offered a strategic view of incoming ships.

It has terracotta roof tiles, with 28 pillars supporting the two-meter mortar and lime walls. 

The bell tower still stands, previously housing seven bells inside. It is believed that this was used as a prison cell for pirates, as seen on the drawings on the walls. 

The church is known for its Filipino Baroque design that is commonly seen in other churches, preserving overhead choir screens and pulpits. The ceiling features unique patterns and paintings by Boljoon native Miguel Villareal.  

There are other structures around the church, offering visitors a glimpse into the lives of the early Cebuanos. The church plaza, locally called the Muraya, is used mainly for large church activities. 

It was formerly a burial ground during the Hispanic era, which was proven after the University of San Carlos unearthed coffins and antiques around the area. 

A gold earring that was found within the church grounds was considered the first of its kind, and was believed to have been worn by a person of high status.  

These artifacts are stored inside the Boljoon parish museum, which also has several liturgical objects on display, like books, images, vestments, etc.  

On the left side of the church entrance stands the blockhouse, which currently serves as their bell tower. 

It is also referred to as “Dakong Balay” (big house), which previously served as a bunker to store artillery. 

On the right side of the church is the entrance to the cemetery, which has a stone arch gateway. 

Inside, there are several statues and images of saints, a well, and the image of the Patrocinio de Maria. 

As you can see, there is much to learn about the Boljoon Church. After all, a Catholic church in the Philippines is not just a place of worship, but also a significant part of Filipino culture and history. 

The Boljoon Church is located near the town plaza. You can take a bus going to Boljoon at the Cebu South Bus Terminal

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