I was fascinated when I first learned about the sunken church in Lake Reschen in Italy which was submerged along with many other houses and buildings when a hydroelectric dam was created in the 1940s. What remains above the water is the church steeple which provides a haunting yet picturesque sight and is quite popular among tourists.
It’s no surprise that I was even more fascinated to learn that we have something similar here in the Philippines: the sunken church of Bajaoen in Mapanuepe Lake in San Marcelino, Zambales. Though the Bajaoen church’s modern architecture does not quite match the visual impression of the church in Lake Reschen, the sight of a sunken steeple in a lake in Zambales is still impressive.
Mapanuepe Lake was formed in the aftermath of the cataclysmic 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Lahar flows along the Marella River on the volcano’s southwest slopes blocked the confluence with the Mapanuepe River. This resulted into a natural dam that flooded the Mapanuepe River basin. Among the villages that were submerged were Aglao, Buhawen, and Pili. Only the church steeple of Bajaoen Church remained out of the water. (I suspect that “Bajaoen” is another name for “Buhawen”.) Fortunately, the flooding was gradual so the residents were able to resettle along the shores of the new lake.
While most people prefer to go hiking towards the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo, I think a visit to Mapanuepe Lake and its sunken church would prove to be equally as exciting for adventure seekers, especially since it is not as well-known as the popular Pinatubo crater trek. While scuba diving to explore the submerged villages might seem exciting, I think this is inadvisable due to the poor water quality of the lake because of nearby mining operations.