Have you seen the movie Heneral Luna?
Heneral Luna is deemed to be “one of the best films to come from the Philippines in years“, worthy of global audience. This movie is a historical biopic showcasing the leadership of General Antonio Luna of the Philippine Revolutionary Army during the Philippine-American War.
But I’m not here to talk about that film. I’m here to talk about one of its film locations – Magdalena.
If you are a fan of Fernando Poe Jr, known as the ‘Da King of Philippine Movies, then you must be very familiar with his movies. He has made a lot of movies and the town of Magdalena was one of his film set favourites. It was said that because the locals never bothered the actor and his crew when filming, he got attached to the town. The locals carried on with their usual business and treated him like a local unlike other places where fans travel in hoards, crowd the film sets and do everything they can to get a photo of their beloved actors. One example is the fictional town called La Presa created by the Filipino hit soap opera Forevermore. The TV show was such a success that the once sleepy town of Sitio Pungayan in Mt. Kabuyao, Tuba, Benguet, the real life location of La Presa, became an instant tourist destination. Sadly, that town is now suffering the effects of mass tourism. I just learned from a friend recently too that an ongoing soap opera by ABS-CBN, entitled Wild Flower, has chosen Magdalena as the film location of their fictional town, Poblacion Ardiente.
So the late action star became fond of Magdalena. Due to Da King’s influence, more actors and producers have chosen Magdalena as ideal film locations. In fact, so many films and TV crews frequent this place that it is dubbed as the Hollywood of Laguna.
But the moment you step in this place, you will immediately sense that it could be one of those sleepy towns in the outskirts of Laguna.
Magdalena, originally named Magdalena de Ambling, used to be a part of the town of Majayjay but after the petition of its local residents, Magdalena was proclaimed as a separate town back in the 1820s.
Upon entering Magdalena, you will immediately see how different it is from Liliw and its neighboring towns Nagcarlan and Majayjay. There’s a certain level of poverty in this town that’s quite shocking if you’ll base it on what your eyes will show you. Shacks will greet you upon approaching the town, which is an unusual sight considering how rich its neighboring towns are.
The main town is a different story though. Once you reach it, you’ll be greeted by a park filled with stone structures of different superheroes and other interesting figures.
Rumor has it that NPA rebels used to roam around this side of Laguna. This was what the tricycle driver whom we hired to tour us around town told us. But that was a long time ago he said. He assured us that the NPA rebels have long left Magdalena. I hope that’s true.
Magdalena Park filled with superheroes
When you reach Magdalena from Liliw, the park with the superheroes and all those other quirky structures you could imagine is your cue to alight the jeepney. This park is located behind the stone church. It won’t hurt if you stop by and have a selfie with them if that’s your thing – selfies. You can pose with your favorite superheroes or if you fancy pre-historic animals, make sure you get a photo with the T-rex or make that my-head-got-eaten-by-a-whale-shark pose. Ariel of the Little Mermaid is also there. I think it was her I saw. Or was it Dyesebel? 😆
Actually, seeing those action figures and animals were quite amusing. Who would have thought we’d see Superman, Thor, Spiderma, Hulk, Iron Man and more in there?
After boring ourselves with photo ops, we then started heading to the front portion of the church. It was our first time to visit Magdalena. I’ve never seen any photos of this place ever. So when we left the gates of the park and headed towards the front of the church, the sight of the bell tower took my breath away.
Seeing that magnificent bell tower from afar gave me that sense of feeling something wonderful was waiting for us at the end of that narrow pathway.
As we came closer, we got the chance to admire the beauty of Magdalena’s century-old bell tower more.
We’ll soon discover that Magdalena houses one of the most impressive baroque churches I’ve seen in the Philippines. St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church sits on a sprawling landscape facing the town’s plaza and residencia.
Magdalena Municipal Hall
Magdalena’s Municipall Hall is too pretty! I could only image how this building held parties back in the olden days. It’s such a rare thing to see a well-preserved residencia these days, you know, and I truly commend Magdalena for preserving historical structures like this one. If you’ll climb that grand staircase, you’d be awed by the intricate carvings on those wooden doors. Since it was a weekend when we visited, the town hall was close. Makes me wonder now how its interiors look.
Across the town hall, Dr. Jose Rizal stands tall on a pedestal. But this time, he’s accompanied by a woman, who is likely representative of Inang Bayan (motherland). It was said that having someone beside Rizal could be a mechanism to make Rizal less distant, less foreign.
While Rizal stands tall with Inang Bayan across Magdalena’s Municipal Hall, a prominent monument can be seen between Rizal’s monument and the Magdalena Church. Within the spacious lawns of the town plaza, you will find a monument in honor of Emilio Jacinto, coined as the Brains of the Katipunan.
Kataastaasan, Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or The Katipunan in short, was a Philippine revolutionary society founded by anti-Spanish Filipinos in Manila in 1892, whose primary aim was to gain independence from Spain through revolution.
History records tell that Emilio Jacinto died of malaria. However, this quaint town has a different tale on how one of the Philippines’ revolutionary heroes died.
During one of the revolutionary encounters, General Emilio Jacinto was wounded in a barrio in Maimpis in Magdalena, Laguna. A marker is even built to show the exact place where he was wounded. It was said that he then sought refuge inside the convent of the St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church. He died soon because of his wounds.
A small shrine was placed to mark where Emilio Jacinto was found inside the convent. A protective glass casing can be found on the floor of the marker to preserve the blood stains on the floor where he was found.
Had we not visited this town, we would never have known that this place holds vital information about one of the historical events that transpired during the revolution against the Spaniards. This bit of history was never mentioned in school.
I actually tried to squint my eyes and even tried to open them wide to check if there were really blood stains behind the glass floor casing but I couldn’t see it. I guess I’ll just have to take the historian’s word for it.
St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church
Trivia: If you’ve seen the movie Heneral Luna, the doors to that convent is where he entered before they murdered him.
The Santa Maria Magdalena Parish Church also known as Saint Mary Magdalene Parish Church is mainly made out of sandstone. The original church was said to be constructed in 1820 and made of cogon leaves and wood. After getting permission to build a stone church, construction began in 1829. To fund the church, people were forced to pay taxes. Sand and stones were sourced from the river nearby. Building the church was halted in 1839 but construction was continued in 1849 until its completion in 1855.
This Baroque church faces the spacious town plaza and it is elevated by a flight of steps. The four-storey bell tower, constructed in 1861, is fully functional and to those who are not afraid of heights, a visit to the top will give you a bird’s eye view of the town. The convent beside the church was built within 1871 to 1872.
the pretty door of the church is a stunner
When visiting during off peak hours, you may find the doors to the church closed. Fret not for the convent is always open, I suppose. You can use that gateway as your entry point to get inside the church.
Magdalena Church Interiors
When the main church doors are closed, stepping inside the convent will give you access to a side entrance to the church. Beside that side entrance is where you’ll see the obelisk made for Gen. Emilio Jacinto. There’s a staircase across that door leading to the convent.
This spacious hall of the convent screams well-preserved antique interiors. It was quite a sight to behold seeing that this place is such in perfect shape. When you walk towards the balcony, you’ll be treated with a nice view of the town plaza outside.
It was a Saturday morning when we visited Magdalena. And on a Saturday, a weekend that is, almost no one is out in the streets or in the town plaza. It made me wonder where the people are. Are they too afraid to go out and have a tan?
After checking out the convent, it was now time for us to move to the main church and check its interiors. Magdalena’s stone church has wooden ceilings painted in white. Thin wooden strips are used to decorate the ceiling. There’s none of those traditional ceiling paintings in here. It makes me wonder if paintings originally adorned the church ceiling and was just replaced with that modern design.
What’s good about the church interiors is that the stone walls can still be seen by any naked eye. Unlike other churches where they added cement or fiber glass to cover the walls, you will see that the parish retained the original look of the church.
I fancy confession booths. Although I’m not a religious Catholic and I haven’t confessed my sins for a very, very, very, very, very long time, I’m quite drawn to these booths because of their design. No confession booths are alike and it’s quite interesting to see how one booth differs from another one. So far, the confession booth at the Magdalena Church didn’t disappoint. It was pretty.
The church also has a separate chapel where baptisms are held, I guess. If you’ll look closely on the walls of this area, you’ll see remnants of fading wall art paintings. This area of the church can give us a better idea that the church ceilings might have well been painted in its former glory days.
Like any century-old Catholic churches, a pulpit should be expected. The pulpit at the Magdalena Church looks beautiful. It would be great if I could see one being used. But that practice has long been stopped though – using pulpits to deliver the priest’s sermon. In this particular structure, I can no longer recall if it was still safe to climb up those flight of stairs to reach the top.
The front view of the church from the altar shows how tidy everything looked. The church pews are adorned with carvings, painted in gold to highlight those beautiful decors.
St. Mary Magdalene sits at the center of the church where she rightfully belongs, being the town’s patron saint. Again, the intricate wooden carvings are highlighted on the altar with gold paint.
Another section of church houses one of their prayer rooms. More statues are housed here and the pews are made available for the pious ones.
The Bell Tower of Magdalena Church
A locked bell tower could indicate that it might not be safe to go up. However, whenever you see open bell towers, grab the opportunity to climb up. Extra caution should be considered, of course. Never climb up if you think, feel and see that the staircase leading to the top is no longer stable. Okay?
Having said that, Magdalena’s impressive bell tower should not be missed when you visit the town. The parish saw to it that the staircase’ foundation is stable and strong. The stairs may be steep but it’s just an easy climb.
Once you reach the top, you’ll find two small bells by the arch openings and one average-sized bell can be found hanging in the center of the tower.
the bells of Magdalena Church
This center bell has the writings N.tra Sra Del Carmen inscribed in it. I wonder if this bell came from a different parish. I was recently informed that you will know if a bell is in its original church location if the bell and the church name matches, or something like that.
These giant church bells are usually used on certain times of the day to signify that a mass is about to start. Ringing the bell calls people’s attention to attend mass. On certain occasions like weddings, funerals or town feasts, bells are also rung.
When you reach the top of the bell tower in Magdalena, you will be rewarded with a view of the quaint town below. From a distance, you can also see the famous mountain ranges of southern Luzon. I’m not quite familiar with these mountains but I guess one can see the enchanted Mt. Banahaw and Mt. San Cristobal, coined as the devil’s mountain due to the mystery engulfing it.
the town below
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the town plaza with General Emilio Jacinto’s shrine from the bell tower. The Municipal Hall and Rizal is hiding behind those greens.
For those who love churches and bell towers, it is imperative that you visit Magdalena. The church is beautiful and I’m positive you will love it here.
Enjoying nature at Magdalena’s rivers
When you see locals riding their horses and both the local and their horse gamely pose for you, you can’t help but fall in love with the place. There’s a sense of innocence in this quaint town and it’s a wonderful feeling that while some of us struggle to keep up with the daily grind, people in some parts of the country live a simple life.
If upon your visit to Magdalena, Laguna, locals are still nowhere to be found, just follow the river and you’ll see a few enjoying rural living.
This provincial town is also home to horses and carabaos. What makes seeing these hardworking animals extra special is that despite today’s technology, you can still see the locals depending on these animals to carry heavy loads like wood and bamboo. At a young age, some of these kids get to ride horses and help in their family’s daily chores. I just hope that these kids are being sent to school too.
White Water Rafting in Magdalena
The town of Magdalena in Laguna is gaining popularity with its white water rafting. During our visit, we’ve seen a few groups try out rafting. The 3-kilometer white water rafting activity will give you a scenic view of the Balanac River in Magdalena. Since this was one of those unplanned explorations in the Southern Tagalog region, and without researching beforehand the things to do in Magdalena, we didn’t know this activity exists. Had we known, we would have signed up to try it. That and tubing, which I’m guessing is equally fun.
Balanac River Irrigation Dam
care to guess what that guy on top of the roof will do?
The white water rafting ends at this irrigation facility in Magdalena. When we’ve reached this area, my question was finally answered.
Why is the town plaza empty on a Saturday??? All the kids are here!
I guess at a young age, the locals are being groomed to become daredevils with all those jumping we’ve seen at the irrigation dam. Kids, young and old have made this irrigation facility their playground.
During summer, this area becomes a haven for the locals who can’t stand the heat. River rafters would also use the dam’s steep elevation to slide down their rafts. Below, makeshift huts are set up by locals for those who’d want to hide the sun’s rays.
Another interesting place to visit in Magdalena is the Agarao Bridge or locally known as Tulay Agarao. When we visited 18 months ago, the suspension bridge was actually in a pretty bad shape. Some of the rusting walkway were replaced with wood. The interlink on the sides needs to be replaced. It’s a safety hazard most especially during rainy days when people can slip anytime on those hollow railings. I hope by this time they have done major repairs to this bridge.
For those who want to stay away from the Balanac Irrigation dam crowd, a picnic by the river bed below the Agarao bridge is an alternative.
This river flows straight into the dam and huts are also setup on the river banks for those who need a good shade for their family picnis. But who needs one when you can use the elevated river beds as your table?
With our quick tour of Magdalena, I came to realize that this town has done a great job in preserving their heritage. The laid back atmosphere here is perfect for those who aren’t chasing time. And with the different activities to do in Magdalena, one can simply use their imagination to find exciting things to do here.
P.S. All photos were taken using my handy iPad back then.