Church of the Angry Christ. The name invokes a sense of wonder. Perhaps because anger is one of the seven deadly sins and it’s strange that a Catholic Church would associate Christ with it. The St. Joseph the Worker chapel is different among Negros Occidental churches, or perhaps even among the churches in the Philippines.
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN FROM THIS ARTICLE
- 1 St. Joseph the Worker Chapel
- 2 Alfonso Ossorio: Painter of The Angry Christ Mural
- 3 Antonin Raymond: Architect of the Church of the Angry Christ
- 4 Ade de Bethuene: Artist of the Mosaic
- 5 Local Artists: Untrained but Not Untalented
- 6 An Artistic Landmark in Western Visayas
- 7 How to get to the Church of the Angry Christ
St. Joseph the Worker Chapel
St. Joseph the Worker Chapel, commonly known as the Church of the Angry Christ is located inside the Victorias Milling Company (VMC) compound in Negros Occidental. The company built the church to serve the Catholic employees and their families living inside the VMC community composed of seven barangays.
Roman Catholic Churches in the Philippines usually have an icon or image of Jesus Christ that has a gentle and merciful expression. However, the Church of the Angry Christ defied tradition by portraying Jesus Christ with a fierce expression in its very famous mural.
Another uniqueness of the church is that it depicts Mary and Joseph to have brown skin in traditional Filipino attire and the characters in the Fourteen Stations of the Cross were wearing Filipino attire.
Victorias Milling Company, the biggest sugar refinery in Asia was established in 1919. When VMC was in a financial crisis in the 1990s, most people feared that if ever the sugar refinery would be closed, the church would eventually be neglected. Fortunately, both did not suffer such a gloomy fate. VMC has recovered and the Church of the Angry Christ continues to draw art aficionados and Catholic faithful from around the world.
Alfonso Ossorio: Painter of The Angry Christ Mural
The centerpiece of the chapel is the 60-square-meter mural by Philippine-born American artist Alfonso Ossorio featuring a frowning image of Christ with a flaming heart. The church apparently got its now famous name Church of the Angry Christ when a foreign journalist described the mural as The Angry Christ in an article featured in Life Magazine.
Alfonso A. Ossorio was born in Manila, Philippines in 1916. He was the fourth of six boys of Don Miguel J. Ossorio, a Spanish sugar baron who founded North Negros Sugar Company in 1917 and Victorias Milling Company in 1919. His mother, Maria Paz Yangco descended from a rich Filipino-Chinese shipping clan. He studied Fine Arts at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachussets, U.S.A. and continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Prior to coming to Victorias to do the mural, Alfonso Ossorio was already known in New York as an artist and as an art collector who became friends with famous abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet. In fact, Ossorio was a patron of Jackson Pollock. Ossorio was a prolific artist but his wealth overshadowed his talent and was not as famous as Pollock.
In 1949, his family asked him to do a mural for a church being built as a memorial after the war. The church was built inside the Victorias Milling Company whose mill was destroyed during the war. Ossorio left for the Philippines in December 1949 and spent 11 months in Victorias City doing the mural.
The mural is Ossorio’s interpretation of The Last Judgment. It features Jesus Christ (God the Son) with hands outstretched being supported by the hands of God the Father, represented by two giant, red-orange hands. A descending dove (Holy Spirit) with colorful wings hangs above while Joseph and John the Baptist looks on one side and Mary and John the Evangelist on the other side.
Just imagine the reaction of the townspeople and church officials when they first saw the church mural when it was completed in 1950. Many conservatives probably raised their eyebrows and considered it inappropriate for a church. The combined imagery, vibrant colors and the size of the mural makes it an overwhelming image to look at. It was understandable that since it was his family financing the building of the church and his brother Frederic was in charge of the project, the bishop and parish priest could not say no to the mural. In his own words, “the patron who pays the piper calls the tune.”
In a 1968 interview with Forrest Selvig, Ossorio explained in his own words the subject of the mural as follows:
FORREST SELVIG: What was the subject you used for the church?
ALFONSO OSSORIO: The subject was worked out in terms of the main action that takes place in the sanctuary, which is the sacrifice of the mass. I had a large seated figure of Christ with hands open, supported by the hands of God the Father that came out of the blue. Adam on one side, Joseph and John the Baptist on the other, Mary, and the beloved disciple, John the Evangelist. Then there were four angels of the Last Judgment, the four trumpeters. And on the beam facing the congregation there was the roll of those who are called, with the triangle, the old Masonic symbol.
FORREST SELVIG: Those who are to be called – are they the people who are saved?
ALFONSO OSSORIO: Yes, it is the Last Judgment, it’s a continual last judgment with the sacrifice of the mass that is the continual reincarnation of God coming into this world. And it worked out beautifully because the services take place usually very early because of the heat and the church had been oriented so that the sun would come in and strike the celebrant as he stood at the altar with this enormous figure behind him. It worked, if I do say so myself. And although they loathed it at the time it was done it is almost now a place of pilgrimage.
Ossorio used ethyl silicate 40 as painting medium as recommended to him by Ralph Mayer, a paint chemist, to be appropriate for the tropics. The ethyl silicate paint solution is absorbed by the reinforced concrete out of which the building was made. True enough, in spite of the harsh tropical conditions in the Philippines, the colors remained vibrant until today.
Ossorio worked on the mural during the day and for lack of anything to do in the evening, he worked on watercolor paintings which he continued until 1951. The theme of these paintings were on childhood, birth, sexuality, mythology, and religion. These paintings are collectively known as the Victorias Drawings.
Antonin Raymond: Architect of the Church of the Angry Christ
The Church of the Angry Christ was designed and built by Czech architect Antonin Raymond in 1948-1950. Raymond was a world-famous architect especially in Japan, and used to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprentice in the latter’s architectural firm in New York.
Church of the Angry Christ’s building architectural design was modern and futuristic. The building is made up of two sections, the nave and the tower. They are connected by movable beams holding the building up well even during earthquakes. This is a well thought design since the Philippines is in an earthquake belt. The church was constructed for air and light to keep churchgoers comfortable even in Philippine climate where it gets uncomfortably hot during summer.
The church is the only work of Antonin Raymond in the Philippines. The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Encyclopedia calls the St. Joseph the Worker Chapel as the first ever sample of modern sacral architecture in the Philippines. In 2015, the church was one of Raymond’s seven (7) selected works exhibited at Jaroslav Fragner Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic.
Ade de Bethuene: Artist of the Mosaic
The Belgian liturgical artist Adelaide “Ade” de Bethuene was commissioned to design the decoration of the church’s baptism room. Ade de Bethune, a Baroness by birth, was a Catholic liturgical artist born into a noble Belgian family who migrated to the United States after World War 1.
Originally, Bethuene was supposed to make a fresco but she could not find the proper lime plaster thus she opted for a mosaic using broken glasses gathered by the residents of the mill. The mosaic used broken plates, milk of magnesia bottles, San Miguel Beer bottles, among others.
For the baptistery she depicted Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan, and for the facade, it showed three scenes from the life of St. Joseph, namely, the marriage to Mary, the workshop at Nazareth, and the death of Joseph. For the sides other scenes from the life of Joseph were depicted.
Local Artists: Untrained but Not Untalented
I had assistants who were completely untrained and who were given to the art project sort of laughingly thinking that it was sort of a cushy job. Well, they worked harder than most of the people in the factory. And they learned. – Alfonso Ossorio
Local artists were also employed to work on the church. Arcadio Anore, a local engraver, executed Bethuene’s designs for the brass plates decorating the pulpit, baptistery and other parts of the church.
Benjamin Valenciano, a carpenter from Victorias, did the images of Mary and Joseph, the crucifix and the Stations of the Cross. Upon entering the church, there are two versions of the crucifixion, a Christ with beard and one without a beard. According to stories, Valenciano made the version without a beard to stay true with the Filipinized theme. But he was criticized for it thus he made another version with beard.
An Artistic Landmark in Western Visayas
St. Joseph the Worker Chapel is already an artistic landmark in Western Visayas. The Church of the Angry Christ has become a cultural, religious icon and a symbol of avant-garde art. The church features the works of world famous artists that should be preserved for other generations to appreciate. The church is not just an important architectural structure but also as a symbol of the Catholic community in Victorias City. The Angry Christ mural has also inspired other artists to create other works of art.
Restoration of the Angry Christ
In 2015, Victorias Milling Company embarked on the first ever restoration of the St. Joseph the Worker chapel ever since its construction. They initially planned on the restoration of the mosaics only but upon inspection of the Angry Christ mural, there were a lot of deterioration observed. However, structural assessment of the building showed no signs of alarming deterioration.
Aside from the multi-disciplinary team of experts, the Victorias community was also so much involved in the restoration just like when the church was constructed. Volunteer women worked on the cleaning of the mural, mosaics, and the church interior.
3D Video of the St. Joseph the Worker Chapel
Below is a 3D video of the Angry Christ Church by ICOMOS Philippines who were responsible for the restoration of the church.
Angry Christ the Play
In 2017, UP Playwright’s Theatre presented the play Angry Christ written by Floy Quintos and based on the life of Alfonso Ossorio. The play focused on Ossorio’s stay in Victorias while doing the Angry Christ mural and Quintos also added a few fictional characters. The play explored the inner struggles of Ossorio on reconciling his Catholic faith and homosexuality, his privileged life and the poverty of the sacadas, as well as the clash between his modern art to the traditional liturgical art in that period. The play received positive reviews.
How to get to the Church of the Angry Christ
The church is open to those who want to visit and take a look at the famous mural. Victorias City is 34 kilometers from Bacolod City and can be reached by jeepney or bus. Upon reaching the intersection of the main highway and the road leading to VMC, take a tricycle to the church.
If you have your own car, just follow the highway going to Victorias City and turn right at the intersection going to the VMC mill.