Laag-Laag sa Cebu (Part 5): The Mysterious Church of Lilo-an

Legend says that in a place called Silot, there is whirlpool created by the flow of the water in and out of the bay. Lilo is the Cebuano word for whirlpool thus the town which surrounds Silot Bay is now called as Lilo-an, which means a place where there’s a lilo.

I thought that that legend is all there is. There is nothing mysterious about a bay with a whirlpool. I even mused that the Bagacay Point Lighthouse was erected by the Spaniards to warn galleons of the whirlpool in the area.

However, everything turned bizarre when I researched about the old church in Lilo-an. The legend of the whirlpool, it turned out, has a deeper mystery and the old church is at the center of it.

San Fernando Rey Parish Church in Lilo-an, Cebu

The church of Lilo-an was built in 1847, which is two years after the establishment of the town as a new parish.

Lilo-an Church is unique because it was built not facing the sea. All of the churches in Cebu built during the Spanish Era are facing the sea like the churches in Danao City, the Cebu Cathedral, and the Minor Basilica of Santo Niño.

Door of Lilo-an Church in Cebu

Many speculated that the church was built not facing the sea to avoid the heat of the sun during morning masses. Another speculation was that the church was built towards the direction of Spain, which is the home of the town’s patron saint.

Piratical attacks by Moros is a common narrative in the early history of old towns in the Visayas. These Moro pirates raided Christian settlements, looted and destroyed churches, and enslaved their victims. The piracy was so severe that it lasted all throughout the Spanish Era. It was estimated that pirates enslaved around 500 people every year.

It is not surprising then why the people of Lilo-an chose San Fernando Rey as their town’s patron saint and intercessor.

Ferdinand III of Castilia
San Fernando Rey (painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo).

San Fernando Rey, officially known as Ferdinand III, is the king of Castilia from 1230 to 1252. He initiated the Reconquista, which is a military and diplomatic campaign against the Islamic caliphate in Southern Spain. His Reconquista was so successful that he liberated the whole of Spain from Muslim invaders.

Inside Lilo-an Church (Lilo-an, Cebu)

The church’s interior is quite simple. It is not as grand as the Minor Basilica of Santo Niño. Its ceiling is bare. The walls are bare. Even the altar is almost bare save for the tabernacle, the holy table, and the lone image of San Fernando Rey.

Altar of Lilo-an Church (Lilo-an, Cebu)

Don’t let the simplicity of the altar fool you because, according to a legend, the altar wall is hiding a secret entrance to an underground cave. It is believed that the secret cave runs under the foundation of the church and has an opening to the channel connecting Silot Bay and the sea. They say that if you will feel that the ground is hollow if your jump in the area behind the church.

Bell tower of Lilo-an Church in Cebu

If I just knew about this secret during my last visit to Lilo-an then I will make sure to jump like a fool behind Lilo-an Church. I might even try to locate the said mysterious cave entrance.

ImmortalUndead and Swerver of Liloan Trippers investigated the mystery of Lilo-an Church but they got inconclusive information. They even interviewed the parish priest but they failed to get an authoritative answer.

Legend also said that the underground cave is inhabited by a mysterious creature. Some said that the cave is inhabited by a kugtong. Others say it’s a giant squid. A few says it’s a mermaid. I say it’s the Loch Ness Monster.

Kugtong is a lapu-lapu that grew to a size of a car. Apparently, this fish is not mysterious since some fishermen of Antique caught one last year.

Silot Bay in Lilo-an, Cebu
Channel of Silot Bay where the lilo is said to occur.

Whatever it is, people blame the mysterious creature for the drowning of many people in Silot Bay. They say that this creature creates the lilo whenever it opens its mouth to suck in its victims.

If the legend is true then Lilo-an Church’s mysterious creature is older than the town itself!
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