Visita Iglesia (Church Visits) has been a tradition among Filipino Catholics. Every year on Maundy Thursday during the Lenten Week, Catholics visits seven churches and perform the Stations of the Cross prayers. Some would visit only one church and pray the Stations of the Cross.
I remember back when I was younger that we used to join processions where we do the Stations of the Cross in our village. And in my teens, we used to do a 2 hour walk to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes Basilica (better known as the Grotto Church) in San Jose Del Monte City in Bulacan province. We would walk starting midnight going there and we would pray the stations there together with hundreds of Catholics visiting the shrine too. Some Filipino Catholics in Manila would hike up to the National Shrine of the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (a.k.a. Antipolo Cathedral) in hills of Antipolo in Rizal province.
Since I moved here in Singapore, we haven’t been doing any of such traditions. And so my wife and I thought why don’t we do the Visita Iglesia again. But since only Good Friday is holiday in Singapore, we decided to do the Visita Iglesia last Good Friday.
And so prior to that I checked out the churches that we could visit. I came out a list of seven churches mostly in the city center and among the oldest churches in Singapore. Also, I copied a set of prayers for the Stations of the Cross from the internet which we shall recite in every church we go. We would read 2 stations of the cross per church.
We begin our tour after lunch around 1:30pm to travel to the city on our first destination, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. This is located along Queen Street and almost next to the Bras Basah MRT station. It is the oldest Catholic church in Singapore built in 1832 with its architecture similar to two London churches, specifically the St. Paul’s, Covent Garden and St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I have passed through this cathedral for a number of times in the past but I have never realized it was a catholic cathedral as it is a bit covered by plants and huge trees. I’ve thought it was a government building before.
Next we walked, quite a short walk to our next church also along Queen Street, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul built in 1870. The church looked quaint and slim from the outside but quite huge inside with its high ceiling. It looked beautiful. It’s main altar is quite simple with five stained glasses with the Virgin Mother in the middle. I’ve read that this church is very much linked with the growth of the Chinese Catholics in Singapore.
While in Sts. Peter and Paul, we noticed that there were other Filipinos who were also doing the Visita Iglesia like us. Some of them are also taking pictures of the church as they pass by. And also around this time the weather was quite dim as a few drizzle fell but luckily the rain have not fallen yet.
And so we proceed on our third church which is again a few meters away from Sts. Peter and Paul along Queen Street also. It is the St. Joseph’s Church. It me of the Puerto Princesa Cathedral in Palawan due to its white and light blue paint. Unlike the cathedral and Peter and Paul, St. Joseph did not have a mass around the time we came by. The current St. Joseph’s Church was built in 1912 using a Gothic style by the Portuguese Mission. The original church which once stood on the same site was built in 1851 and was called the Church of São José.
After reciting our prayers in St. Joseph and taking some pictures, we proceeded onto our next church, another older church, the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ophir Road near the Bugis MRT station. From St. Joseph, we decided to walk to the Lourdes since it is shorter than going back to Bras Basah and jump MRT stations. There was a mass when we arrived there.
The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes officially opened in 1888 as marked in the facade of the church itself. Its architecture is of neo-Gothic style and is modeled after the same church of the same name in Lourdes, France.
Next we travel back near to our place to visit churches that are quite a distance to each other unlike the churches in the town area.
From Bugis we traveled back to Serangoon to go to our fifth church, the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Serangoon Gardens. It is located in the midst of landed houses which I’d say to be in the more wealthier community. We took a bus from Serangoon bus interchange to go to this church.
The Church of St. Francis Xavier was founded in 1959 and is quite a modern looking church. When we arrived, the altar boys were still preparing for the Seven Last Words mass that evening.
Next we took another 2 bus rides to our next church located in Hougang. This was a church built in 1901 but founded since 1852. We came to visit the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary located along Upper Serangoon Road. The church has a big courtyard and has a marble statue of the Immaculate Conception of Mary erected in front of the church. The marble statue was given by Sultan Ibrahim of Johor in 1946.
And for our seventh and last church, we took another bus to Sengkang to visit the St. Anne’s Church located in Sengkang East Way. While on our way, the rain finally fell, quite hard. And when we arrived at St. Anne’s, unfortunately the church was already closed and so we had to recite our prayers from the outside.
The St. Anne’s Church was originally built to serve the farmers and fishers that used to live in Punggol until the government cleared all farms in the area in the 1970’s. There had plans to close down the church because of this until the blueprint for the new Sengkang and Punggol townships were released.
Fortunately the rain stopped while we were St. Anne and we were able to finish our very first Visita Iglesia here in Singapore. Hopefully we can still do this next year and more years after.