Church Bells of Infanta
By Rudy Arizala
In December 1941 prior to World War II when I was still in the grade school in Infanta, province of Tayabas (now called "Quezon" province), we had a church made of wood and galvanized iron roof and a bell tower also made of the same materials. Atop the bell tower were the old church bells of Infanta. Inscribed on the side of the bells was the date they were minted in the 17th century when Christianity was first introduced in Infanta.
According to the history of Infanta then called "Binangonan del Ampon", the first Catholic priest who arrived in 1578 at the place was Rev. Fr. Esteban Ortiz, OPM, a Spanish missionary who planted a wooden cross. Then in 1696, a chapel was constructed and in 1736 a stone church with a bell tower was built. This was, however, destroyed by strong typhoon. Despite the destruction caused to our town by strong typhoons and earthquakes as well as by the war, the bells of Infanta were preserved and remained undamaged.
The church bells of Infanta were the pride of our town prior to the outbreak of the war. There were four of them. The first was the "campana mayor" (the biggest one); then the second largest; and finally, the two smaller ones. The sound of these bells was considered fatherly voice speaking for the whole town folks. They ring to express the collective feeling of the community in sadness or in joy, in prayer or in celebration. They ring merrily to bring glad tidings of town weddings, baptisms, processions, fiestas, or to announce emergency such as in case of fire or if strong typhoon is coming to our town. They toll with mournful sound when one of the town folks has died and being laid to rest; or when a disaster has visited the town. When we were kids, I fondly remember the church bells peal merrily during "Sabado de Gloria" or "Pasko ng Pagkabuhay" and we children jumped as high as we could with joy.
Aside from announcing glad tidings and sorrows, the church bells of Infanta served as time for doing the daily chores of the people. Most people then in our town did not have individual time pieces or clocks. So, the old church bells of Infanta wake up the people in the morning, reminding them of the early morning mass at 6:00 a.m. They also ring at noonday hour of rest (12:00 noon), at 6:00 p.m. to announce the "Angelus" and at 8:00 p.m. when people had to say their night prayers before going to bed.
In short, the church bells of Infanta served as the "time keeper" of the whole community reminding them not only what time of the day or night but also of their daily chores. Hereunder were the schedules of the ringing of the bells of Infanta:
6:00 a.m. Time to wake up and go to church
10:00 a.m. Time to cook lunch.
12:00 noon Time for lunch and rest.
2:00 p.m. Time to resume chores or work
4:00 p.m. Time to cook dinner or supper.
6:00 p.m. Time for "Angelus" and supper.
8:00 p.m. Time to pray and go to bed.
I remember during my youth, it was an old man called "Mang Ago" (Santiago) who dutifully rings the bells of Infanta every day and night as scheduled above. This is aside from ringing the church bells during mass, weddings, baptisms, fiestas, processions and emergencies. The only time the bells of Infanta do not ring is during Good Friday. And they resume ringing on "Sabado de Gloria" (now moved to Easter Sunday).
How did Mang Ago manage to ring the four bells of Infanta at the same time when he has only two hands? He used adroitly his two hands and feet. His two hands ring the two big bells alternately while his right foot step rhythmically up and down on a rope tied to the two smaller bells. When Mang Ago rings the bells loudly with rapid rhythmic strokes with his hands and foot to express joy or glad tidings, he look like a ballet dancer because of the movements of his body, hands and feet. But when he rings the bells with slow, regular strokes to express sadness, he look like a slow motion actor performing a pantomime. When Mang Ago died, nobody rings anymore the bells of Infanta religiously and adroitly as he.
The bells of Infanta could be heard by the people within three kilometers radius away from the churchyard. To me, the bells of Infanta have the most beautiful, melodious sound in the world. They remind me of what a poet (Cowper) wrote in "The Task": "How soft the music of those village bells, / Falling at intervals upon the ear / In cadence sweet, now dying away, / Now pealing loud again, and louder still, / Clear and sonorous, as the gale comes on / With easy force it opens all the cells / When Mem´ry slept."
Although I do not hear anymore the church bells of Infanta, and what remain are mere memories as described in the poem above, may I greet all of you "A Very Happy Easter!"