Few places have more literal names than Los Baños (‘the baths’) where Makiling’s pyroclastic deposits had generated scores of hot springs. The town is traversed by two major geologic faults the East Bay Faulth running from the western portion of the town to its northeastern tip crossing over Lalakay, Bambang, Timugan, Baybayin and Bayog. The other one, the Talim Fault, runs from Talim Island across the Bay. Small northeasterly fault are also located but not beyond the foothills of Makiling where the hot springs are theoretically attributed. The foothills of Mt. Makiling are composed largely of fractured volcano rubbles. The sediments underlying both the shoreline plain and the sloping land to the east are likewise derived from volcanic rocks.
The town’s old name, Mainit (literally “hot”) likewise alluded to the thermal springs which arguably have been the town’s most popular attractions since 1590 when the Franciscans learned about their healing powers, heretofore known only to the few settlers on the mountain slopes.
Out to assist the Augustinians in the evangelization of the new colony, Father Pedro Bautista (also known as Santo Martir de Japon) was on canonical mission by the lakeshore towns of Laguna when he first came by the hot springs of barrio Mainit, then only a visita (a chapel under a parish) of the town of Bay, the capital of Laguna until 1688 and known at that time as San Nicolas de Tolentino. The Franciscan tested the waters-which he found hot enough to burn a carabao’s hooves and was instantly thrilled by the therapeutic potentials of the springs. Later examinations of the waters of Mainit by American and European chemists would verify their medicinal properties and confirm what the natives have known all along. “The town’s spring waters could indeed cure certain ailments such as rheumatism, fever and poor blood circulation, and when imbedded could ease abdominal obstructions, spleen disorders and help control obesity.” Which should explain why people flocked to Mainit’s springs despite the dense woodlands and the virtual absence of structures or communities where the sick could take temporary shelter.
Thus the Franciscans took no time to build Mainit’s first public bath. Constructed from cogon grass and bamboo, that prototype public bath drew even more people to the woody, out-of-the-way barrio thus setting off the wave of clearing and settlement of the place. By 1593, the friars have cleared tracts of the forest and built a rattan and nipa rest house that also provided accommodation for the sick who had come to bathe in the public spa. It was then that Fr. Bautista thought of establishing a hospital in the area. Due to scarcity of funds though, his plan would not be realized until July 1602 when Governor Pedro de Acuña granted the religious order the license to build a hospital which would be called the Hospital de Nuestra de Aguas de Santas de Mainit. It was first administered by Fray Diego de Santa Maria.
Situated on the Dampalit prairie near the lake and made from bamboo, nipa and sacate, the structure was quite austere as the Franciscans received no subsidy from the government and relied solely on donations which they solicited from house to house. Aside from cultivating herbs and medicinal plants for the hospitals patients, the missionaries set up an orchard beside the hospital were they grew a variety of fruits and vegetables which they sold to buy meat. Despite these difficulties, the friars persisted in maintaining the facility where they assumed multiple roles-as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, even barbers. But they were primarily spiritual counselors, consoling the sick, administering the sacraments, easing the pain of the dying and even burying the dead. In the hospital chapel was the statue of the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria which was later transferred to Mavitac in 1615.
Seldom if at all the setting up of a hospital lead to the founding of a town, but it appear to be how Los Baños came to be. Unlike the lakeshore villages which appeared to have been settled as early as the 9th century when Chinese traders would come by to do business with the Malay migrants who came to be taga-ilog (later Tagalog, meaning who came “from the river”), the wooded parts of La Laguna such as the foothills of Mt. Makiling were hardly inhabited until the Spanish colonization. There were around 25,000 settlers along the stretch of the shores of Laguna Lake when these villagers were first occupied by the Spaniards led by Juan de Salcedo. He was accompanied by Augustinians priest Alonzo Alvaro who was primarily responsible for relatively peaceful takeover of the villages by the Spaniards. In 1571, Fr. Martin de Rada, head of the Augustinian order and who was to become the first parish priest of Bay, oversaw the construction of the San Agustin church in the area called San Antonio. On the April 30, 1578, Bay was founded as a municipality and a parish administered by Fr. Juan Gallegos. By 1630, it was said to be one of the largest communities in Luzon worth 100 tributes and its church-made of nipa and bamboo in the beginning but was then already made of stones one of the biggest.
That the most accounts of the origins of Los Baños town begin in around 1600s is not quite pure Eurocentrism for the backwoods were settled when the Spaniards Franciscan friars first ventured into Laguna in the 1590s following the Augustinian missionaries who came in 1571 right after Juan de Salcedo occupied Manila. But once the spas and hospital were built, people have stopped coming.
As more people discovered the public bath, the place did not only attract the infirm and the health-conscious but also migrants and settlers who must have been charmed by the place’s natural allure and its accessibility to Manila. The settlement was thus growing in both size and structure as it was also getting to be favorite retreat of the Spanish colonial hierarchy. However, the presence of the Franciscan hospital in an Augustinian visita was an unusual and confusing setup especially in view of the more prominent role of the Franciscans in the emerging community. The two religious orders signed an agreement in April 1603 granting the Franciscans sole jurisdiction over the visita, then already called Los Baños de Bay.
Thus, fifteen years after Fr. Bautista wandered into barrio Mainit and tested its waters, the Spanish colonial government through Don Luis Villa rewarded the efforts of the Franciscans in developing the barrio’s hot springs and establishing a hospital by giving them the authority to govern it as a separate town and parish. “On September 17, 1615, the new municipality of Los Baños was officially established under its first gobernadocillo Don Juan Castañeda.”
Around the same time, the parish of the Nuestra Señora de Immaculada Concepcion was also founded and in no time the new pueblo started taking roots around the newly-established municipal government and parish. Thus was born the Los Baños poblacion, or the Bayan present-day folks call it. However, the town would have to wait about 50 years before its church building was completed in 1671 but then only to see it razed to the ground in 1727. It was rebuilt in 1790 by Fr. Domingo Mateo who also commissioned the church bells and the sacristy in 1815. The church sustained major damages after a strong earthquake in 1863 and the task of rebuilding it fell on the hands of Frs. Manuel Rodriguez and Guillermo Martin.
Church records abound with accounts of miracles attributes to the statue of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception which has a reputation for being itinerant, among other thing. On numerous occasions through the centuries, witnesses swore that they have seen the virgin’s robe wet from the shoulders down, or the hems of her garments dotted with prickly amorseco, or that they spotted footprints on the stones step leading up to the altar, all signs that she had been somewhere else. Once during the 1898 revolution, a priest attempted to transport the statue to Calamba where it would be safer. Midway, however, as it was about to be put on board a boat, the image was said to have gotten so heavy that it had to be returned to its altar in Los Baños. December 8, the virgin’s feast day, is a big day in Los Baños and an official holiday in the poblacion.