Travel with Berta & Andrew: the Churches of Iloilo
Mayad nga aga! That’s good morning in Kinaray-a, a language here in Iloilo. We have never left the province since we arrived here for the Dinagyang Festival weeks ago. What did we do? We stayed around and toured the place.
Iloilo is pretty quiet after the hustle and bustle of the Santo Niño Festival. But we loved the change of scene after months in Metro Manila. Aside from the festivals and the food though, the next great thing to do here in Iloilo is to visit their churches.
It was difficult to choose which church was our favourite because each had its own look and feel. But we won’t just describe it to you, why don’t you take a look yourself:
Where: Municipality of Miag-ao, southern Iloilo
How to get there: From Iloilo City, go to the downtown Terminal Market (locals call it ‘Super’) and ride a jeepney with the sign ‘Miagao.’ The whole trip takes around an hour.
Miag-ao… is a work of art! Both our jaws dropped because it is certainly unlike anything we’ve ever seen in both Europe and the Philippines! The façade of the church is very native-looking with motifs of agriculture. At the centre of this façade is a gigantic coconut tree; not something anyone would relate to a church! But this is what makes the church beautiful. The coconut tree in the Philippines is counted as the ‘tree of life’ because every part of it is used. This information we got from a local.
We also learned that the bell towers of this church are so huge because it was used then as a fort. Miag-ao church is on top of a hill, and commanded a great view of the lands in the past. Miag-ao church is also recognised by Unesco as a heritage baroque church.
Where: Arevalo district, Iloilo City
How to get there: The parish is east of the City Hall in Iloilo City proper, and lies along Arroyo Street near Villa beach.
Inside and out the parish in Arevalo didn’t look at all exceptional. But the Santo Nino Parish in Arevalo is named that way because we were told it served as home to the third oldest Santo Nino image in the country. It was brought to the church in 1581… imagine that! Even though the church was very simple, we were awed just by being in the presence of something that had seen so much of the history of the country.
Because of the Santo Nino, the parish is constantly being visited by a few pilgrims who believe in the Santo Nino’s power to heal the sick. Our visit was a very quiet and solemn one; there were one or two pilgrims who were there before us but whom we left still praying.
Where: Molo district, Iloilo City
How to get there: The church is east of the City Hall in Iloilo City proper, and is situated in front of the Molo plaza. The streets outside the church are San pedro Locsin and MH del Pilar streets.
The church in Molo has been called the feminist church, which really sparked our interest. We’ve never heard of a feminist church before as what we know is that the church is mainly run by men. When we got there, the look of the church caught us of guard since it didn’t look at all feminine! It is styled in Gothic and Renaissance; hence, the pointy spires and the ominous look. But inside the church was a real stunner, and we found out why it was called ‘feminine.’ The sixteen columns of the church each bore a female saint.
We were told that the church also has some special significance to the country’s history as Rizal was said to have visited the church after his exile in Dapitan. He was there to see some paintings of Bible scenes. Sad to say those paintings did not survive the ravages of time.
Where: Municipality of Guimbal, southern Iloilo
How to get there: There are two ways from Iloilo City: 1) go Iloilo City Supermart – Molo Branch and ride a jeepney with the sign ‘Guimbal’ or 2) go to Terminal Market (Super) and ride either a Miagao or San Joaquin jeepney. The drivers will drop off passengers in Guimbal plaza in front of the church.
When we visited Guimbal church, we were mostly stunned by the prevailing yellow shade of the building. It wasn’t like the yellow of Miag-ao… Guimbal had a richer tint that reminded us of corn, mustard and Star Margarine which our mothers had us eat back when we were kids in our own homes in Europe.
One great time to visit Guimbal is late afternoon, or what photographers call ‘the golden hour’ just as the sun setting and the day is nearing dusk. This is because the golden rays of the sun give the church an orange-y tint. It was a beautiful and natural show we enjoyed watching in a quiet corner of the plaza in front of the church grounds. If you plan to go there, bring a picnic mat and some snacks while watching the sun set.
Where: Municipality of San Joaquin, southern Iloilo
How to get there: From Iloilo City, there are two ways: 1) take a jeepney with a ‘San Joaquin’ sign at the Terminal Market or 2) take a jeepney with a ‘San Joaquin’ sign at the Mohon Terminal along Osmeña Street.
We thought Miag-ao would have made a great fortress to hold off attacks… that is until we saw the San Joaquin church with its blocky shape and foreboding stance. If the shape doesn’t seem to invoke a sense of the drama of war, we invite you to take a closer look at the top portion of the façade if ever you visit the church. We won’t tell you what we saw, but it’s a very unlikely design to see on a church. We would have missed it if an enthusiastic passerby didn’t point it out to us!
What is great about the church is that visitors can climb to the top and see a stunning view of the sea. But back to the structure, we were told that the design might have been influenced by the Chinese because of the use of flowers in some of the carvings.
Where: Municipality of Tigbauan, southern Iloilo
How to get there: From Iloilo City, go to Terminal Market and take either a jeepney going to Miagao or San Joaquin. Both stop-over at Tigbauan and the drivers drop passengers at the plaza in front of the church.
The church in Tigbauan is also a baroque church but had been influenced by Latin America. It has a very simple, but foreboding, look. The eerie aura it emitted when we first laid eyes on it was based on fact though, as one local told us the building was constructed through manual labour. Inside, the mural behind the altar depicts heaven and hell… that hot place is not what you usually see in most churches.
But anyway, if you ever go to Tigbauan, we guarantee it’ll be a sight to behold! Unlike Miag-ao’s exterior with very dominant motifs, you have to take a closer look at the details in Tigbauan church’s façade to see how very delicate and beautiful its design is. Like San Joaquin Church, flowers are a dominant theme. Inside the church is made up of stone murals. We spent a long time inside that church just enjoying the creativity of those who have built the church.
Where: Jaro district, Iloilo City
How to get there: The cathedral is north of the City Hall in Iloilo City proper, and is situated in front of the Graciano Lopez-Jaena plaza. It lies along Taft Street that passes through the Diversion Road or Benigno Aquino Avenue.
Also known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles, Jaro Cathedral is a Romanesque church and a landmark in Iloilo City. Like Molo Church, Jaro Cathedral also has a special historic significance because it was where propagandist-writer Graciano Lopez Jaena was baptised! What made it stand out for us was the twin staircases in front of the church that leads up to a shrine for the patron Our Lady of Candles.
This miraculous image draws many to Jaro every beginning of February to celebrate Candelaria festival, a thanksgiving fiesta. Outside of the fiesta, the cathedral is a pilgrimage site for those who believe in the power of Our Lady of Candles. There are many origin stories and folk tales surrounding this mysterious and miraculous image… we won’t tell you what these are because knowing through the locals is part of the experience! We actually stayed for almost two hours just talking to strangers who had the kindness to share us stories about the miracles of the Lady of Candles!
We enjoyed our stay in Iloilo and our travels to the churches around the province. We believe that churches are not only a symbol of the Philippines’ past and the religion of the people. They’re also an achievement in architecture that we continue to celebrate for their beauty and for their integrity all these years.
Will there be more churches in the future? You betcha! They’re like time capsules to the Philippine’s past… and we’d also like to tell you we enjoy time travelling as much as road, air and sea travelling! See you in our next stop!