It’s Holy Week once again, and no doubt many Filipinos will be visiting seven (or 14) churches to pray the Stations of the Cross and reflect. Visita Iglesia or church visits are customarily done during Maundy Thursday, though they are commonly practiced during any day of the Holy Week.
Over the years, I’ve visited a lot of churches and sites of religious significance in different provinces around the Philippines. Though I’m not really an expert on heritage sites and churches, I thought it would be timely to come up with a virtual tour of seven churches and pilgrimage sites popular during Holy Week around the Philippines based on recent trips.
1) Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte
The San Agustin Church of Paoay is the Roman Catholic parish church in the town of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Completed in 1710, the church is most famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the ornate buttresses on the sides and back of the main church facade. The church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and is considered as one of the best examples of Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
What I find interesting is that Paoay church makes use of “Earthquake Baroque architecture,” a type of building design which adapts to the seismic condition of the country. In the Philippines, destruction of earlier churches from frequent earthquakes resulted in making church proportions lower and wider, with thicker side walls and heavy buttresses, and upper structures made with lighter materials to ensure stability during earthquakes.
2) Tumauini Church, Isabela
The Parish Church of San Matias in Tumauini, Isabela was built in the 1780s by the Dominicans. Right next to the church facade is a cylindrical, confectionery-like bell tower, said to be the only one of its kind in the Philippines. From afar, the white bell tower does resemble some kind of tiered wedding cake.
Despite being partly damaged during World War II, the church was restored to its original form by the faithful of Tumauini and is now considered one of the best-preserved churches in the province. The church has an artistic brick facade, while the interiors showcase delicate brickwork and old wooden statues of saints that give the church a very rustic vibe.
3) Manaoag Shrine, Pangasinan
The town of Manaoag in Pangasinan is known as a pilgrimage town. Devotees often visit every Saturday and Sunday to ask for blessings by praying the rosary at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag enshrined in the high altar of the church. The Lady of Manaoag is the patroness of the poor, the sick and the helpless and the religious faithful believe in her miraculous deeds.
I found the separate structure outside the church with a wishing well where people light floating candles very serene and picturesque. The grounds also contain a a rosary garden, museum and religious shop. Devotees and pilgrims visiting the shrine usually pray for good health or cure for diseases, among other intentions.
4) Kamay ni Hesus, Lucban, Quezon
The Kamay ni Hesus (Hands of Jesus) Shrine in Lucban, Quezon, about a 4-hour drive from Manila, is a popular pilgrimage site. Devotees climb up almost 300 steps of stairs on a hill located on the slopes of Mt. Banahaw, passing by life-sized statues depicting the 14 different stations of the cross.
The main feature is a grand 50-foot high statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched hands at the top of the hill, said to be one of the tallest statues of Christ in the country. The grounds also contain a church where healing masses are held, a Garden of Eden, and a model of Noah’s Ark with stone animals for children to play in.
5) Daraga Church, Albay
Daraga Church, whose patron saint is the Nuestra Señora De La Porteria (Our Lady of the Gate Parish Church), in Albay has a massive structure made mostly of volcanic stones with a belfry on the left side and a convent on the right. It is said to have been based on
a Baroque-Rococo structure with Spanish influence.
Presently, its facade is white due to the lime coating applied for preservation and restoration purposes. Though it has lost a bit of the old-world charm seen in aged brick and stone structures because of its color, it still looks lovely with all the adornments, carvings and niches on the facade. Its location on Santa Maria Hill overlooking the slopes of Mount Mayon is quite picturesque as well.
6) Pan-ay Church, Capiz
The Sta. Monica Parish Church or Pan-ay Church in Capiz was established in 1572. The first church was constructed in 1774, but was heavily damaged by a typhoon in 1875. The present church was constructed in 1884.
What makes this church one of the major landmarks of Capiz is that it is home to the biggest church bell in the Philippines. The belfry to the left of the church contains the Panay bell, which was cast from seventy sacks of coins donated by the townspeople. The bell measures seven feet in diameter, five feet in height, and weighs 10,400 kilograms. Visitors here often pose hugging the bell to show its scale. There’s also a good museum here displaying religious artifacts.
7) Fort Pilar, Zamboanga City
The Virgin of the Pillar (Our Lady of Pilar) has been venerated for almost four centuries as the patroness of Zamboanga City and in the Archdiocese of Zamboanga. Her bas relief atop the eastern gate of the 17th century Spanish military Fort dedicated to Lady, Fort Pilar, is now a Catholic Marian shrine. The city has also a street named after her – Pilar Street.
This shrine (as well as the Intramuros-like Fort itself, which contains a museum) is a major landmark in Zamboanga City, and during Sundays, locals troop here to offer prayers and light candles, with different colors signifying different intentions. Numerous stalls outside the shrine sell religious items, candles and flowers.