The year is 2021, a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shocked the world. Unfortunately, the pandemic is still not entirely under control. Tens of thousands are still getting infected globally.
At the time of this writing, in the Philippines’ capital, Metro Manila plus bubble, including four adjacent provinces, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, are in place on granular lockdowns.
The world may not be ready for our next travel. Still, the spiritual experience and the annual tradition of commemorating lent do not need to stop. Let me take you to these fourteen oldest and historically significant churches in Metro Manila and Bulacan (gateway to the North), right from the comfort of your living room and browsing the web or social media.
"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.
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.
Via Crucis is a timely prayerful meditation and a common religious practice during Lent and every Friday throughout the year until Good Friday.
The commemoration of Christ’s Crucifixion starts when Pontius Pilate condemns him until he is interred. These fourteen churches portray events in the Passion of Christ.
The spiritual significance, heritage appreciation and cultural enrichment of visiting the many oldest churches in a province or country are always rewarding.
1. San Agustin Church (San Agustin 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 Philippines’ famous personalities, such as Miguel López de Legazpi (the first Governor-General of the Spanish East Indies, including the Philippines and Pacific archipelagos). 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, it withstood 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.
Built-in 1572, San Juan Bautista Parish Church (Calumpit)is the oldest church in Bulacan. The church is nestled in Calumpit, the first pueblo established and Christianized in Bulacan province. The simple facade is highlighted with Corinthian columns. The most notable among the designs are the elaborate stucco carvings on the main and side portals.
The Calumpit church witnessed the Filipino’s struggle against Spanish, American, and Japanese rule. It is believed that during the war, revolutionaries and Spaniards were buried in the tunnel built underground of the church. History has it; back then, Spanish priests to keep gold, religious statues, and ornate jewelry hidden within the church tunnel. St. John the Baptist was declared a diocesan shrine in 2013.
3.Minor Basilica & Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception /Manila Cathedral
Minor Basilica & Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception or famously termed as Manila Cathedral. The Basilica started as a parish in 1571; it was originally known as the "Church of Manila." Manila then as a diocese in 1579. The cathedral was severed and destroyed several times; however, it was rebuilt eight times from the original structure in 1581 until 1958. On the outside, there is a four-armed cross on the dome, which serves as a reference point of astronomical longitudes of the Archipelago, In the inside are the eight pairs of stained glass windows which give the church interior a dramatic lighting effect. The cathedral received its Basilica designation on April 27, 1981. Manila Cathedral has also merited a papal endorsement by Pope Gregory XII. There is another homage to it by other popes such as Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and recently by Pope Francis.
4.Parish Church of Sta Monica /Angat Church
Parish Church of Sta. Monica was built around 1683 and is one of the most beautiful churches in the country, boasting marvellous Baroque architecture. This 400-year old church displays Baroque architectural characteristics. Its interior wall is a replica of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. The ceiling paintings also incorporated the history of Christianity in the Philippines, Angat, Bulacan cultures such as simbang gabi, Flores de Mayo, prusisyon ng Santissimo Sacramento fiestas. The simple facade is embellished with an eye-catching carving on the main doors, which hold St Augustine’s images and his crying mother, St. Monica. Also,
5. Parish of Santiago( St.James) Apostol /Quingua Plaridel Chruch
Also known as Quingua, this church was originally built between 1580 and1595, then rebuilt in 1722. It was first established as one of the visitas of Malolos in 1581 and one of the oldest churches in Bulacan. It has the most unique and elaborate pediments among all the churches in the province. It is believed that in this church, money was kept by Augustinian friars during the British occupation.
6.Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene /Quiapo Church
The original structure of the Quiapo Church in the 1500s was modest. This church used to be made from bamboo and nipa palm. It houses the shrine of the Black Nazarene, which devotees believe in having miraculous powers. It had been reconstructed, destroyed and damaged several times, including an incident in 1928 where the ceiling and sacristy caught fire.
7. Parish Church of San Agustin/Baliuag Church
Constructed between 1769 and 1774, it also has a Baroque-style facade and interior. The most striking feature is its bell tower. The interplay of volumes and openings creates dramatic tension. The Practico is the latest addition which mars the complete layout of a style.
The church has one of the longest Lenten procession in the Philippines on Good Friday. The procession around the town is joined by the parishioners and floats (carozas or carriages) of life-size dioramas depicting scenes during the time of Jesus’ Way to Calvary.
8.Sta. Cruz Parish/Sta Cruz Church
The Jesuits built this Baroque-style church in the 1600s. It was reconstructed in 1957, still in the Spanish Baroque style. It was one of the structures which were unfortunately destroyed during the Battle of Manila.
9. Basilica Minor de Immaculada Concepcion /Malolos Cathedral
Located at the heart of this city capital, the Basilica Minore de Immaculada Concepcion (Malolos) was initially built in 1591. The facade is divided into three segments. The centre segment features the emblem of the Augustinians and the papal insignia. It was a center of faith and religious activities since Spanish times from 1571. The Cathedral’s convent served as the presidential palace of Emilio Aguinaldo, during the First Philippine Republic from September 15, 1898, to March 31, 1899. Besides being the First Philippine Republic seat, there is also the century-old “Kalayaan” Tree, planted by Emilio Aguinaldo, the Philippines’ first president.
10.Santo Nino de Tondo Church
This church, established by the Augustinians, has had an image of Sto. Niño or the infant Jesus since 1572. The statue came from Acapulco, Mexico and was a gift from a wealthy merchant to Manila’s Archbishop.
11. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish /Barasoain Church
The Barasoain Church is dubbed as the “Cradle of Democracy in the East.”Augustinian Missionaries originally founded this church and built it for the Roman Catholic masses in Malolos during the mid-1500s to early-1600s.
This national shrine is also the site of the Constitutional Convention of the Philippine Republic. The neo-classic touches of the facade and the rounded pediment give a very distinct character to its architecture. The initial stone tower was built in 1871. The church was constructed in 1885, while the bell tower was done in 1889.
12. National Shrine of Saint Jude Thaddeus/Espiritu Santo Chinese Parish
The National Shrine of Saint Jude Thaddeus or Saint Jude Parish (originally known as Espíritu Santo Chinese Parish) The shrine is famous to those reviewing for board examinations, Jude Thaddeus is considered the patron saint of hopeless cases.
This parish is one of three Chinese parishes established by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila in Metro Manila, Philippines.
13. San Sebastian Church
San Sebastian Church is also known as Minor Basilica de San Sebastian. It was completed in 1891. It is the only steel-made church and is a Gothic Architecture in the country. The interior is distinctively designed with groined vaults to allow plenty of light. The true gothic revival designs are found in the altars, pulpits, confessions and compliments the painted steel columns, walls and ceiling to give marble and jasper illusions.
The church's Gothic revival parts are3 prominent at the confessionals, pulpit, altars, and five retablos, while the 6 holy water fonts were made of marbles from Romblon. One of the most outstanding images found in the main altar is Our Lady of Mount Carmel's image, which originated from Mexico that withstood both fires and earthquakes.
In 1998 & 2010, San Sebastian Church was considered for the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund.
14. Shrine of Nuestra Immaculada Concepcion de Salambao/San Pascual Baylon/Sta. Clara Church/Obando Church
The annual fertility rites are a tradition in which this church takes much pride. The pediment and facade are a simple echoing of the Marilao Church. The most noticeable character is the octagonal 5-level bell tower.