F When in Iloilo, visit the Heritage Churches - jeepneyjinggoy

When in Iloilo, visit the Heritage Churches

If a place has been under Spanish colonization with a goal to convert the locals to Christianity, expect to find a good number of churches in the area. Count Iloilo as one of those areas in the Philippines. Founded in 1566 as a temporary Spanish settlement and formally established as the second colonial outpost in the country in 1572, old churches in Iloilo come aplenty, and each has a story to tell. 

When In Iloilo to visit or revisit, do a Visita Iglesia to the province’s heritage churches as a part of your checklist. Whether devout Catholic or not, the old churches’ are breathtaking and their history quite interesting. 

Jaro Cathedral & the Jaro Belfry 

The 1864-built Jaro Cathedral aka the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles is the seat of the Archdiocese of Jaro and the center of devotion for the miraculous Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. The Marian image, first to be canonized by a Pope in Asia, is raised above the entrance of the cathedral’s facade Except for the Lady of the Candles statue, the church’s interior features an all-male statues of saints. The church was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1976. 

Standing on Jaro Plaza, across the Romanesque Revival-style cathedral, is the Jaro Belfry, one of the few built apart from the church. Restored at the end of 1900s, the belfry was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1984. 

Molo Church 

Across the Molo Plaza that features a domed structure in the plaza featuring Greek Goddesses is the 1831-constructed NeoGothic church of Molo. It’s known as the “Feminist Church” with 16 female saints lining the central columns, including Saint Anne, the patron saint of Molo. It was declared as a national landmark in 1992. 

San Joaquin Church 

Completed in 1869 during the Spanish colonization, the San Joaquin Church is known for its pediment which features a military scene depicting the Spanish victory over the Moors in the Battle of Tetouan. The church was marked as a National Historical Site in 1980 and declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2001.

Guimbal Church 

Built in 1774 using yellow sandstone and corals, Guimbal Church is referred to as Iloilo’s Yellow Stone Landmark. The belfry, four stories high, served as a watchtower during the Spanish era.

Tigbauan Church 

Before the church was renamed to St. John of Sahagun, an Augustinian saint, it was originally under the advocacy of Our Lady of Grace. 

Through centuries, the 16th century church has survived calamities including World War II, but it was the earthquake of 1948 that heavily damaged the interior. What remained are the facade, bell tower and a section of the convent. In place of the historic interior is what we see today—an impressive coral stone mosaic mural in religious themes. A room by the main entrance enshrines an image of the Sto. Niño. 

Miag-ao Church 

Listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites roster in 1993 under the “Baroque Churches of the Philippines,” the Miagao Church displays its dominating presence in the highest point of Miagao town. The 18th century Baroque Romanesque church, also known as the Santo Tomás de Villanueva Parish Church, was erected using adobe, egg, coral and limestone as construction materials (thus the ochre shade of the structure). Designed like a fortress as protection to the Moro invaders, the massive stone walls are 1.5 meters thick and are intensified through the use of 4 meter thick setback buttresses.

The town’s native flora, with the coconut tree (depicting the tree of life) where St. Christopher holds on to as the prominent figure, decorates the ornate bas-relief on the pediment of church facade. Below it is the carved image of the town’s patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanueva. 

Used as watchtowers during the Moro invasion era are two bell towers flanking the facade on both sides. Commissioned by two different priests explains the unequal height of the belfries. 

For a tour of the Heritage Churches, as well as Iloilo’s historic spots and other points of interest, the Iloilo City Tourism Office and Southwest Travel make it convenient for travelers to reach these spots within the city and the countryside. Itinerary, tour guide and transportation will be taken care of. All you have to do is show up at the lobby of the hotel at the appointed time. Hotels, like Richmonde Hotel Iloilo, can arrange the tours for you. 

The Heritage City Tour lists the Jaro Cathedral, the Jaro Belfry and Molo Church; while Southern Countryside Tour include San Joaquin Church, Guimbal Church, Tigbauan Church and Miag-ao Church. 

Also published in the SunStar Davao newspaper.