of trips and travel notes

Church-hopping Iloilo

So, you had already sampled the best biscocho, pancit molo and batchoy when you’re in Iloilo.

Now what?

Iloilo, as what most of the provinces in the Visayan region, is a treasure throve of centuries old churches- imposing structures that crosses several periods and architectural styles ranging from Romanesque to Gothic to Byzantine with amalgamation of Spanish, Chinese, Muslim and Filipino influences that reflect how rich and vibrant our colonial heritage. If you have a thing for churches, architecture and history, you will surely have your fill in Iloilo.

I went to Iloilo with my officemates last year to attend a wedding, but little they do know that I have other things planned in mind that same day. So while they are busy snapping photos on the wedding , I am shooting all the churches that I could find within a short span of time. With over two dozen heritage churches one can find scattered  all over Iloilo, heres some of the churches that I managed to shoot and explore.

1. Parish of San Carlos Borromeo (Sta. Barbara Church)

The church that is closest to the Iloilo International Airport, its no wonder why this church with an adjacent convent that was declared a National Landmark in 1991 was the first church I had visited.  Built in 1845 of Baroque Renaissance architecture, this church served an important role in history being the seat of Visayan Revolutionary Government during the Spanish era and the first cry of revolution against Spain done outside Luzon happened here.

Sta. Barbara Church

Sta. Barbara Church

With its neoclassical façade and interior, the church boats of simplistic beauty. The church was built like a huge cross – a popular design during those times. It has a garden on the left side where one can find the Sta. Barbara Freedom Bell along with 6 murals depicting Filipino General Martin Delgado and various scenes from the revolutionary era.


2. San Nicholas de Tolentino Church (Cabatuan Church)

I head up north and reach the town of Cabatuan.  The church, named after the patron saint of Cabatuan was erected 1834, is a fine representation of what you can call Tuscanic church of baked brick and is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines. What makes it really unique and rare is that it is the only church in existence which has three façades. Its twin belfries capped with cream-colored domes are considered to be one of the best made in the Philippines. The church was not only the very first brick structure built in Iloilo but it also became, as a result of its sheer size, the largest brick structure in the Visayan region.

The church, which was constructed mainly out of forced labor, was given the title “Model of Temples” since it was the best representation of European architecture on the Philippine islands during the Spanish occupation. In 1948, the church was partially damaged by an earthquake which ruined four of its belfries, two of its façade pediments and the central dome. In the early 1990s the church was restored back to its present grandeur. Today, “La Iglesia de San Nicolas de Tolentino” is one of the most picturesque churches in Asia.

San Nicholas de Tolentino Church

San Nicholas de Tolentino Church


3. St. John the Baptist Church (Dingle Church)

Moving up north one more time before I head to the capital of Iloilo and start my quick trip down south, I landed in Dingle by noon time. The church, predominantly made up of yellowish limestone quarried from Bulabog mountain (now a National Park) painstakingly carried by local parishioners which began in 1611. The church is one of the finest example of  Filipino Baroque adaptation in which the style of the building and construction was “adapted” to the physical condition of the Philippines.

Dingle Church

Dingle Church

Like most, if not all churches in Iloilo, the church was constructed by forced labor wherein the entire male working population were forced to work on the church construction between 3 – 6 days per week, without wage. This impacted and caused great hardship on the population in general. Any violations of the works orders of the priest were most often handled in an unusually harsh manner. Punishments ranged from floggings, canning, being forced to stand under the hot sun, even having to stand over an ant hill and in some rare cases, excommunication.


4. National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles (Jaro Cathedral)

From north I moved to the capital of Iloilo and right at the smack of it you will find the unmistakable church that have its belfry tower separated and erected right across the street, some 30 metres away from the church. Typically, belfries are built next to their churches. In the case of Jaro Church, the tower was adjacent to an earlier church, but an earthquake destroyed the church completely and only left the belfry tower.

Another distinctive feature is the stairs attached to the front facade of the cathedral, over the main entrance, leading up to a shrine above the main entrance to a statue of  Our Lady of the Candles. It also possesses relics of St. Josemaria Escriva.  The church is a Romanesque Revival architecture.

Jaro Cathedral

Jaro Cathedral


5. Parish of St. Anne (Molo Church)

By this time I am so hungry and the wedding is almost halfway done. 8km from Jaro I made my way down to Molo. Like the name implies, it is where the famous pancit molo or molo soup (rich and glutinous noodle soup with pork dumplings) originated. Now I am really really hungry!

Parish of St. Anne

Molo Church, or the Parish of St. Anne hold the distinction of being the “feminist church”. It was built in 1831. It was built not only as a house of worship but as a testament of Ilonggo artistry and ingenuity in the world of classical architecture . The overall design is Gothic Reniassance minus the flying butresses and gargoyles. The interior is a fusion of Gothic and Romanesque architectures, for the constant alternation between the overpowering features of Gothic and the recessive characteristics of Romanesque is very much apparent everywhere you look. The spires of the church are also the most interesting colonial skyscrapers in Iloilo City aside from the Neoclassical belfry of Jaro Church.

the interior displaying the female saints

the interior displaying the female saints

The church, which is dedicated to Santa Ana, the mother of the Virgin Margy, has larger than life images at the center altar. Images of female saints lined in two rows (eight on each side) inside the church, each standing on a pedestal attached to a massive stone pillar and under the Gothic canopy. At the center is the statue of Sta. Ana teaching the scripture to the child Mary with the Holy Trinity at the top.


6. St. John of Sahagun Church (Tigbauan Church)

Tigbauan Church

Tigbauan Church

Making my way further down south I find the church of Tigbauan some 45minutes drive from the capital. Constructed, like most of the churches in the area, using forced labor. What makes the church very unique is because of its Latin American Churriquesque architecture. The style is characterised by extreme, expressive and florid decorative details, which normally can be found above the entrance on the main façade of the building. The Churrigueresque column, in the shape of an inverted cone or obelisk, was established as a central element of ornamental decoration… This can be clearly seen in the manner in which the main exterior entranceway is decorated with intricate floral carvings, cherubs and columns”. The photo below provides a clear example of the style.

Tigbauan’s facade is style in the Mexican plateresque. The church was constructed in 1575. The church’s remarkable architecture with its façade and tower, survived the ravages of the Second World War and the great earthquake in 1948. Presently, the mystical beauty of its altar depicts Dante’s Paraiso and Inferno; the church walls with the Way of the cross, all done in intricate mosaic of colored stones is a sight not to be missed.

masterpiece in pieces - the mosaic that serves as the backdrop at the altar

masterpiece in pieces – the mosaic that serves as the backdrop at the altar


7. St. Nicholas of Tolentino Church. (Guimbal Church)

Built in 1774, Guimbal Church one of the oldest churches in the country. The walls are made of a yellowish adobe stone called “igang” mined all the way from Guimaras Island . This unusually Baroque architectural gem is sitting overlooking a public park.  The facade is flanked by pilasters decorated with floral carvings. While its belfry tower is four storeys high that doubles as a watchtower to protect the municipality

Guimbal Church

Guimbal Church


8. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva (Miag-ao Chruch)

By this time, my absence at the wedding was very much apparent and I’ve been getting text messages and phonecall every 5 minutes or so. One last church to cap it off so I head to the one I reserved for the last – the place synonymous when you put the word “World Heritage Site” and church side by side – Miag-ao Church.

the church and the fortress all rolled into one

the church and the fortress all rolled into one

The Miag-ao Church, or Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, was erected in 1786 by Spanish Augustinian missionaries and was later declared as one of the only 4 UNESCO World Heritage Site “Baroque Churches of the Philippines” in 1993. On the front façade, which is flanked by two watchtower belfries, one can see the unique blending of Spanish and native influences.

Miag-ao's interior

Miag-ao’s interior

The central feature of the bas-relief façade is a large coconut tree which reaches almost to the apex of the structure. While an integral part of the Philippine landscape, the coconut tree is also the subject of lore. According to an old Philippine legend, the coconut tree was the only bequest from a loving mother to her two children, a tree which sustained them for life. On the church’s facade the coconut tree appears as the “tree of life” to which St. Christopher carrying the Child Jesus on his shoulder is clinging to. The lesser facades feature the daily life of Miagao townsfolk  during the time. Also depicted are other native flora and fauna, as well as native dress.

the church's unique bas relief

the church’s unique bas relief

The church and its watchtowers were also built to defend the town and its people against raids by the Moors. It therefore has thick walls and, reportedly, secret passages in it. Indeed stretching along the Iloilo coast are defensive towers, but none that equal the size of the Miag-ao. It is because of this defensive purpose that it is sometimes referred to as the Miag-ao Fortress Church.

By one in the afternoon its time is up for me and I had to quickly get back to Jaro just in time before my friend’s wedding ended. 8 churches in 3 hours. Not bad.

the fortress church. notice the thick buttresses on the side of the church, typical of earthquake Baroque style that you can only found on earthquake prone countries like Philippines and Guatemala.

the fortress church. notice the thick buttresses on the side of the church, typical of earthquake Baroque style that you can only found on earthquake prone countries like Philippines and Guatemala.


This entry was published on January 14, 2014 at 8:25 pm. It’s filed under getaway, heritage tour, places (local), travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

7 thoughts on “Church-hopping Iloilo

  1. Beautiful! I remember visiting some amazing churches in Manila & Cebu when I was living in the Philippines…it’s such an amazing country really!

  2. A good read. Just planning my pilgrimage by the time I got back in the Philippines 🙂

  3. Love your blog and write up of the place. I am just fascinated by Old Churches. It speaks of History, heritage and culture. Very interesting. Need to visit the place. Nice work and Thumbs up.

  4. Pingback: 【Top 10 Ranking】 How many Christians in the country? | みかん時々坊っちゃん

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