A leisurely walk in Iloilo, especially the lively downtown area of the capital city, will embrace you with the remnants of its glorious past. Based on anecdotes, even before the arrival of the Spaniards, the province is already enjoying a booming economy. Iloilo City was honored by the Queen Regent Maria Cristina as La Muy Noble Ciudad (The Most Noble City) during the Spanish colonial era. A trip to Iloilo will not be complete without paying a visit to its most treasured religious assets -Iloilo's grandiose colonial-era churches.
1. Miag-ao Church
The iconic Church of Sto.Tomas de Villanueva commonly known as Miag-ao Church, sits proudly in the municipality of Miag-ao. Constructed in 1787 and completed 10 years after, it is one of the four baroque churches in the Philippines inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Described as the finest example of Fortress Baroque Church by the UNESCO Convention, Miag-ao Church did not only serve as a consecrated place for the Catholics in the olden days, it is believed to be a bastion of the town against Moro raiders. Its ochre color is attributed to the adobe and limestone used in constructing the church; the impressive pediment displays intricate relief motifs such as the image of St. Christopher holding on to a coconut tree while carrying the Child Jesus. Miag-ao Church is hemmed by flying buttresses and two massive belfries of different designs.
2. Sto. Niño de Arevalo Parish
The town of Arevalo hosts the annual event of Paraw Regatta in Iloilo, but not a lot of people know that Iloilo houses the third oldest original Sto. Niño image in the Philippines after that of Cebu (1521) and Tondo (1572). The wooden image which is believed to be miraculous is enshrined at the unassuming church of Sto. Niño de Arevalo Parish in Villa, Arevalo. The Child Jesus image was purportedly brought by the Augustinians when Villa Arevalo was recognized as a Spanish settlement in 1581. The church has a modest façade just like a typical Catholic church in the country. It is nestled at the heart of the Plaza Villa beside the well-preserved colonial-era convent.
(St.Anne Parish Church)
3. Molo Church
The Parish of St.Anne in Molo takes pride in having a Gothic-Renaissance architecture. Its interior is flanked by five wooden altars but the main one appears to have been painted in gold as of my last visit. The Molo Church earned the moniker the “Feminist Church or the Church of Women” because it is distinctively hemmed by 16 women saints. It served as an evacuation center of the civilians during World War II and was declared as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute.
4. Guimbal Church
En route to Miag-ao from Iloilo City, you will pass by the town of Guimbal and will most likely turn your head when you catch a glimpse of a gorgeous goldenrod church. The 17th century church of San Nicolas de Tolentino or Guimbal Church is made out of adobe and coral stones reason why it has a yellowish color. Although the church has undergone various reconstructions, its façade remains an impressive artistry - Oriental designs blended with Corinthian inspired column, Moorish-like spires plus archetypal finials. Surprisingly, the interior of the church is modest; no splendid paintings on its ceiling or statues of saints lined up on its wall. Guimbal Church is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent churches in the country. Fronting the church is a beautifully manicured park where locals typically hang out.
(San Joaquin Church)
5. San Joaquin Church
What makes San Joaquin Church unique is its striking pediment adorned by military relief motif featuring the triumph of Spanish Army of Africa over the Moroccan Army during the Battle of Tetuan in 1860. Sitting on an elevated hill near the shoreline, it was built out of limestone from the mountains of Igbaras and white corals from San Joaquin in 1869. San Joaquin Church was declared in 1974 as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Historical Institute.
6. Tigbauan Church
The church of St. John of Sahagun in Tigbauan was built in 1575 but devastated by an earthquake in 1948. At first glance it may appear as ordinary but a closer look will reveal that unlike most old churches in the Philippines, its façade boasts of Spanish Churrigueresque style. A striking feature of Tigbauan Church is its portal fringed by estipate pilasters and the upper center of the arched portal is embellished with the Augustinian emblem of a heart, arrow and the episcopal coat of arms. The town’s patron, San Nicolas de Tolentino stands above the emblem while the image of the Child Jesus is situated below the pediment. Get inside and marvel at the richness of the modern interior of St. John of Sahagun Church. Its altar is adorned by a magnificent mosaic and the wall is also flanked by the tile mosaics of the 14 Stations of the Cross.
7. Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral
The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles commonly known as Jaro Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Jaro, has two stairs attached to its façade leading to the miraculous image of the patron saint enclosed on a glass. If the Molo Church is flanked by female saints, the pillars of the Jaro Cathedral are adorned by male saints. Interestingly, the church’s belfry, declared as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute, is situated across the church.
Gael Hilotin is the author of The Pinay Solo Backpacker.