One man’s faith is reflected in his paintings


VISITORS who enter this four-century old parish church in Bolinao town are immediately in awe and will likely have deeper devotion after contemplating the inspiration behind the massive artwork painted on its ceiling.

Canonically erected by the Augustinian Friars in 1609, the St. James the Great Parish Church is recognized as the oldest church in Pangasinan.

It has already endured the test of time surviving earthquakes and other natural disaster even war. In May 2009, the church was heavily devastated during Typhoon Emong. Since then, it has undergone restorations and some renovations.

Local Bolinao artist Nestor Cañas views his artwork from the church’s aisle. (Punchphoto by Jojo Riñoza)

Last year, it received an artistic facelift through a grandiose mural on the church’s whole ceiling. The artist literally made the church’s ceiling a canvass of art.

The complete depiction of the five mysteries of the Holy Rosary were meticulously presented in huge murals created solely by a local artist, 61-year old Nestor Cañas, a well-known local artist in Bolinao, whose passion for painting is well known. 

It was in 1991, when he first single-handedly portrayed the 13 Stations of the Cross in oil paintings and he accomplished it in 45 days. These are currently displayed on the church’s walls. 

In 2013, Rev. Fr. Bayani Liguid asked him to paint a mural of St. James the Great at the entrance ceiling of the church. The impact of the painting gave him the idea to make the whole ceiling of the parish church a canvass of religious artwork.

It was in September 2017 when Fr. Liguid or Father Yannix to his flock, finally commissioned Cañas to have the whole ceiling of the church painted with religious scenes. 

It was in October 2018 when the mural was completed, in time for the parish’s hosting of the Cristo Rey celebration.

“The whole process was tedious,” says Cañas in local dialect, “I was afraid I could not finish the job,” he added.

Every day, for 13 months “I was up the church ceiling, on a scaffolding, painting in a strenuous position with my neck and back taking the heavy toll,” he said.

“Sometimes I cried, thinking that I might not finish it because my body might give up. Besides being old, I also have other illnesses. But my faith kept me going. I always prayed before I start painting. Slowly the task became very easy as the days passed by,” Cañas added.

For Cañas, it was a not just a work of art but an artwork for the love of God. “My family is all proud of this, especially my grandchildren. And even though I finished this alone, I know God was helping me paint,” he said.

He belonged to another religious sect and was only converted as a Catholic in 2005. “Faith in God is not about what religion you are with, but on how you build your personal relationship with our Lord. These paintings are my personal relationship with Him,” He said.

The church caretakers said the church has gained more parishioners because of the paintings. “They love coming here because the artworks are beautiful,” one said.

The parishioners speak of being inspired, belonging to the parish not only because of its historical value and now of its great artwork.

Tourists and guests always come to the church first to offer prayers, take photographs without fail before going to their resort or vacation destination. “It has already become another tourist attraction of the town,” they added.

Cañas continues to help in restoration of the St. James the Great Parish as a volunteer and plans to continue until his retirement as a government worker. (Jojo Rinoza)

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