Ilonggos are well-versed with many of the practices and traditions surrounding Semana Santa. One of these well-known customs includes paying homage to some of the province’s Visita Iglesia Churches.
Taking part in the tradition doesn’t just involve going church to church to appreciate the architecture and the workmanship. The practice of Visita Iglesia itself holds very solemn meanings for devotees who make the commitment to visit seven different churches once a year.
So, in the spirit of Semana Santa, we are going to list seven Visita Iglesia churches every first-timer should take a look at.
The Solemn Tradition of Visita Iglesia
The practice of Visita Iglesia dates back and was derived from a 16th-century Roman Tradition led by St. Philip Neri. It was the Augustinian missionaries who introduced and popularized the practice of Visita Iglesia in the Philippines back in the 1560s.
A couple of devotees walk barefoot from one church to another. In a few cases, there were others who carried across to share in the sufferings of Christ on his way to Golgotha.
According to many devotees, the choice of seven or fourteen as the number of churches to visit during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is a reference to the seven last words of Jesus as He died on the cross. The number fourteen represents the 14 Stations of the Cross.
This way, many believe that their prayers would be answered after they’ve faithfully committed to the tradition.
However, in today’s society — while the true spirit of it isn’t lost, the practice has morphed into a family-and-friends affair where people sight-see on the side.
7 Visita Iglesia Churches in Iloilo
On this lovely note, let us take a textual and visual tour through these seven grand Visita Iglesia churches you should see in real life — after you’ve read this entire article, of course.
#1 St. Anne Parish Church
Perhaps one of the most popular churches in Iloilo City, St. Anne Parish or the Molo Church is one example of excellent craftsmanship and grandeur (as far as old churches go, of course).
As evidenced in the name itself, their main patron is St. Anne — who holds the centerpiece of the church. The humongous structure has its iconic red pyramidic spires that you could spot miles away from a high vantage point.
Made from coral rocks and limestone and held together with egg whites mixed in sand, St. Anne Parish Church was built in 1831, and was inspired by European Gothic architectural designs.
#2 Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral
One of the most significant churches in the heart of Iloilo City, it’s not only architecturally wondrous, but it’s also known as one of the religious epitomes of the Visayan Catholic faith.
And the main attraction for pilgrims and tourists alike? The huge shrine of Senora set before the facade of the church. Back on April 21, 1982, the Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria was canonized and coronated as an official patroness throughout Western Visayas by Pope John Paul II.
The cathedral was built in 1864 in a Romanesque Revival style. But because of various calamities and earthquakes, the cathedral has undergone several renovations. It now has a touch of Gothic architecture and modernization.
#3 Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje
The Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje church on Jereos Street in Iloilo City’s La Paz district is an architectural heirloom courtesy of the Augustinian friars.
The magnificent structure was built in 1870 under the watch of Fray Candido Gonzales. It sustained some damages during the Siege of Panay in 1945, and only the red bricks were spared. It was fully renovated in the early 1900s, however.
This church in La Paz was dedicated to the patronage of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage). Devotion to the Marian dates back to the 1600s when an image of Mary was brought from Mexico via the Spanish galleon El Almirante. The long voyage served as the reason for its veneration.
Sadly, what is left of the original structure is made of red bricks and sports a mural of a Greek-style ship surrounded by olive leaves and flanked by two doves on either side.
The architectural design? It’s a perfect example of neoclassical architecture with Greek influence.
#4 St. Nicolas of Tolentino Parish
Commonly known as Guimbal Church, and stands as the yellow sandstone landmark of the town, St. Nicolas of Tolentino Parish took three decades to complete. It was under construction between 1769 to 1774.
Its remarkable yellow color is largely because of the materials used to build the place. The church is made of adobe stones and coral stones, taken from Guimaras. And its architectural design? A stylish mix between Baroque and Moorish.
And for a fact, the church’s four-story belfry served as a watchtower against Moro pirates who sacked the land during the Spanish era.
The remarkable church also underwent two different reconstructions and renovations in history. One happened during World War II. The other happened in the middle of the 1948 earthquake.
#5 San Joaquin Parish Church
Located in the southernmost part of Iloilo, a trip to see the church will take some time. But it’s worth the trip. The whole of the structure represents the Spaniard’s victory over the Moors in the Battle of Tetouan. Every material used to build the church was taken from nature.
#6 St. John of Sahagun Parish Church
A four-century-old church in Tigbauan, St. John of Sahagun Parish is one of the oldest churches in the entire Philippines. Another remarkable feature is attributed to its Churriguereseque architecture style. The only other church sporting a similar structure is the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Intramuros and Daraga Church in Albay.
Flaunting workmanship, the church’s facade is ornamented with cherubs and floral carvings. Two belfries flank the church. And the interior is designed with exquisite mosaic art that depicts biblical events like the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It was destroyed in an earthquake too, just like Guimbal’s church in 1948. And now it’s evident that it’s been renovated and looks better than ever.
#7 Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church
And to top off your final Visita Iglesia church, take a moment to visit the Santo Tomas de Villanueva church in Miag-ao. It’s the final icing on the cake among Iloilo’s provinces. On December 11, 1993, it’s one of the only churches in the Philippines declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Baroque architecture it sports makes Miag-ao’s Church truly stunning. And similar to the Guimbal Church, Miag-ao Church is yellowish in color because of its construction materials — adobe, egg whites, coral, and limestone.
And if you thought the Tigbauan Church sported an intricate design on its facade, the Miag-ao Church just might be its number one contender when it comes to intricacy. A magnificently sculpted depiction of St. Christopher is present on the facade along with the coconut tree. Other carvings like papayas and palm trees plus other fauna are also present.
Construction of the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church began in 1787 and was completely finished in 1797. And even in the late 17th Century, the church was the fortress that protected the locals from the Muslim raiders.
A fortress Baroque-church indeed.
On an Endnote
Doing Visita Iglesia can serve to open our eyes to the wonders and greatness of man-made architecture. And while there’s nothing wrong with appreciating the beauty that is evident in these churches, it’s also important to remember that doing Visita Iglesia is a solemn and spiritual affair for devotees.
Observing proper conduct and dressing appropriately for the occasion should be a no-brainer. And while it’s understandable that these sites are just so Instagrammable and some just can’t resist taking pictures for social media, others would kindly advise you to resist and do otherwise.
There’s a proper time and place for everything, after all. Let’s just save the social media posts for more appropriate dates.
With this, may I wish everybody a spiritual and meaningful observation this Holy Lenten Season.