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"VISITA IGLESIA" Virtual & Digital (COVID-19 Edition)

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

Marietta Pangan

"Visita Iglesia" (Visiting Churches) is one of the most practiced traditions among faithful Roman Catholics during the observance of Lent. Some may ask, why is it part of the holy week's rituals? Let me give you a short version of the reason.

Whenever I get the opportunity to visit the Philippines during Lent, the tradition continues. It can be done solo, together with members of the family or friends. I am always delighted to have carried out the "Visita Iglesia" in such a nostalgic, historic and meaningful way.

"Visita Iglesia is a Biblical recount of Jesus Christ's suffering. It was when Jesus was most sorrowful and praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asked His apostles Peter, James and John to keep him company and perform the vigil, to which they agreed. The apostles fell asleep several times, and Judas Iscariot betrayed his master with a kiss. It is considered the beginning of the Lord's passion.

The essence of Visita Iglesia is the meditation of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. It is also the "Via Crucis" (Stations of the Cross), on Christ's way to Calvary. The original custom was for the followers to pray two stations per church visited; however, faithful have expanded the number of churches to be attended to fourteen, making one Via Crucis per church.

Visita Iglesia also provides many pilgrims a great opportunity and experience to reconnect more deeply to their spiritual sides. Any rendition or way is personal. Whether the practice is traditional or not, it is always the spiritual discovery and journey that matters.

The spiritual significance, heritage appreciation and cultural enrichment of visiting the many oldest churches in a province or country is always rewarding. On your next visit to your hometown in whatever part of the Philippines it may be, I encourage you to experience "Visita Iglesia." I am confident that you will be amazed by the importance, history and treasures you will discover that will enrich you.

The special edition of this article features the 14 churches I have the privileged in my many visits back to the Philippines. These churches are divided into four categories: World Heritage Sites, National Cultural Treasures, National Historical Landmarks and Important Cultural Properties. It stretches from Northern, Central to Southern parts of Luzon and from Western, Central to Eastern Visayas Regions.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  1. San Agustin Church (Intramuros, Manila)

San Agustin Church is located inside the scenic and historic walled city of Intramuros Manila. It was completed in 1607, the oldest stone church and the first religious structure constructed by the Spaniards in Luzon. San Agustin Church is believed to have patterned after some of the magnificent temples built by the Augustinians in Mexico.

There are few burials among the famous personalities in the Philippines, such as Miguel López de Legazpi (the first Governor-General of the Spanish East Indies, including the Philippines and Pacific archipelagos). Also, the second Governor-General, Guido de Lavezaris and Lopez de Legazpi’s nephew Juan de Salcedo and one of the Filipino heroes in the 19th century Juan Luna.

The present structure was initially built in 1587 and completed in 1607 under the name Church of St. Paul of Manila. The church is often damaged, however, withstood from significant earthquakes in 1645, 1699, 1754, 1796, 1825, 1852, 1863 and 1880. San Agustin church served as a hospital for several of those injured during the earthquake in 1863 and a concentration camp during the Japanese occupation of World War II.

In 1993, San Agustin Church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1976.

2. Paoay Church (Paoay, Ilocos Norte)

Paoay Church is officially named as The Saint Augustine Church. The edifice was completed in 1710. This church is famous for its distinct architecture with 24 massive step buttresses and thick walls on the sides as well as the back of the building. It is believed that this church is a Javanese structural design. The church walls are made of mostly large coral stones and bricks. The mortar used is a combination of sand, lime with sugarcane juice boiled with mango leaves, leather and rice straw.

It was declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government in 1973 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective group of Baroque Churches of the Philippines in 1993.

3. Miag-ao Church (Miag-ao, Iloilo)

Known to locals also Santo Tomás de Villanueva Parish Church. Miag-ao was initially a chapel; 1580 became an independent parish. In 1731. History accounts that Miag-ao was frequently visited by More Invaders in the mid-1700s 1754. The building was constructed through forced labour in 1787 and completed a year after.

Some of the distinct features of Miag-ao Church façade are the ornately decorated bas-relief at the centre, which is a mixed Medieval Spanish, Chinese, Muslim[ and local traditions and elements. Another prominent part of the façade is a coconut tree depicted as the tree of life and St. Christopher, dressed in local and traditional clothing carrying the Child Jesus. There are also native flora and fauna representing the daily life of people.

Miag-ao is another Baroque Romanesque architectural style, with two colossal watchtower belfries on each side with thick walls to serve as protection from invaders. The bister colour is from the mixture of adobe, egg, coral and limestone.

The church was declared as a National Shrine and UNESCO World Heritage Site (1993).