For the past few years, our family have been doing the visita iglesia as our annual family tradition every Holy Week. We have visited churches in the provinces around Metro Manila, like in the provinces of Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon. We also started the tradition while we were still living in Singapore. And this 2017 we have decided to go up to the northwestern part of Luzon. We drove north for around 12 hours to proud provinces of Ilocandia to visit its century old churches.
Ilocandia basically is group of provinces at the northern part of Luzon where the Ilocanos abound. For this visita iglesia, we are visiting the twin provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. On a side trip we have also visited some famous spot in these provinces like in the cities of Vigan, Laoag, Paoay, and Pagudpud.
Like in our past visita iglesias, we it during Good Fridays. We started around 8am from the city of Candon in Ilocos Sur. In every church that we visit, we read a set of prayers for the visita and for the way of the cross. Again, this Catholic tradition commemorates the passion and Christ’s way to Mount Calvary to be crucified.
We first visited the St. John de Sahagun Church, or the Candon Church in Candon City, Ilocos Sur. The church was built as early as 1695 but was rebuilt until 1713 after it was destroyed by an earthquake. The church was built with an earthquake baroque style and is located along the national highway. Just like other churches built during the Spanish occupation, this church is also located in the center of town.
The ceiling of the Candon Church had paintings that depict the 20 mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Apparently, it is considered to be longest religious painting in the Philippines. There were paintings of Christ’s life. In the center of these paintings are two huge paintings. One shows the Virgin Mary on a ship atop the clouds with the bottom part depicts the arrival of the Spanish galleons. I would think the virgin in the picture is the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. The second painting depicts St. John de Sahagun in heaven overseeing the people on Earth.
Next, we drove north for about 30 minutes to the town of Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur via the North Manila Road. Our second church is the Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Parish Church or simply known as the Santa Maria Church. This church is one of the four Baroque Churches of the Philippines listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The other three is located in Paoay, Manila, and Iloilo.
The church is built on top of a hill which provides a view of the whole town. The early Spanish administrators of the town used the church’s location as citadel and lookout. The church was built in 1765 and its bell tower in 1810. To get to the church, one would need to go up like hundred steps up.
On one side of the church is sort of a painting of a lady on a tree. Apparently, it depicts the legend of the image of the Our Lady of Assumption which was originally housed in another church. It kept on disappearing only to be seen on a guava tree where the current Santa Maria Church stands.
Our next stop is to the town of Bantay for another 45 minutes drive to the north again via the North Manila Road. We visited the Saint Augustine Parish Church or simply the Bantay Church. It is a few meters from the national highway and the road that leads to the city of Vigan. Bantay Church was established in 1590 but was heavily damaged during the WWII. It was rebuilt in 1950 with a neo-gothic designed with pseudo romanesque elements.
The Bantay Church was also home to Ilocandia patroness, Nuestra Señora de Caridad (Our Lady of Charity). Also within its grounds stands the Bantay Bell Tower. It was the original tower watchtower built in 1591 and was not destroyed by the war. It stands on top of hill providing a commanding view of the whole town and surrounding mountains. This bell tower is one of the main attractions for tourists visiting Vigan.
After Bantay, we again proceeded to drive north of the main national highway for another 1 hour drive. This time, we crossed the border of Ilocos Sur to the province of Ilocos Norte. Our next church is the La Virgen Milagrosa de Badoc Church in the town of Badoc, Ilocos Norte. This church houses the Miraculous Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary (La Virgen Milagrosa). History tells that the life-size image of the virgin was sent floating in the sea by secret missionaries from Nagasaki, Japan. It was sent together with an image of the Black Nazarene which later found home to the town of Sinait. The image stands at the main alter of the church and may touched by queuing from behind the church.
Anyway, the Badoc Church was built in 1591 and is a beautiful church to see. The main face of the church was painted white while its bell tower kept its original color. The church is made of rock and chalk. It also shows an earthquake baroque architecture with as seen at its buttresses on its side. It also has a beautiful red-bricked courtyard which complements this old structure.
After visiting the La Virgen Milagrosa, we once again proceed to our next church, around 45 minutes north. We headed to the most famous church in the region and one of the Baroque Churches in the Philippines in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. This is the Saint Augustine Church in the town of Paoay, better know as the Paoay Church. Arguably, one should not miss a stop to this church if you are in the region.
The Paoay Church was built in 1710 and boasts of an earthquake baroque style as evident to the 24 huge buttresses at its side and back. It was built using coral stones mortared together using sand and lime with sugarcane juice boiled with mango leaves, leather, and straw. The church exterior and its bell tower is huge and impressive. One may be awestruck by this beautiful century old structure. Unfortunately though it’s interior is not as impressive as its exterior.
It was already 2:00 PM by the time we reached the Paoay Church. The mass for Good Friday have already started. We were expecting the masses to start around 3PM but I guess in Ilocos the churches are starting earlier in preparation of the 3PM mass. Based on Catholic teaching, Christ died at 3 in the afternoon. With this, we know we have to move faster to finish our last 2 churches.
Next, we head further north for another 30 minutes to the city of San Nicolas. We proceeded next to San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church. This church also features a baroque styled architecture with a blue painted facade. The church was founded back in 1584 by the Augustinian friars with the current church reconstructed in 1830.
Just like in the Paoay Church, the interior of this church is not as impressive. The roof did not have a ceiling with the metal trusses visible on the roof. And since the mass have started, the plaza in front of the church is already filled with parked cars and vendors.
Lastly, we headed to the Santa Monica Parish Church at the town of Sarrat about another 30 minutes to the east. We drove past the city of Laoag to this beautiful church facing the wide banks Padsan River. The Sarrat Church was built in 1779 and was apparently originally called the San Miguel Church.
The church walls is made of beautiful red bricks with white linings. It is also located near the banks of the river with big trees. Inside, the church looked big and the roof is made of wooden trusses that hold its roof.
Aside from the seven churches that I have listed above, we also visited the cathedrals of the cities of Vigan in Ilocos Sur and Laoag in Ilocos Norte. Both cathedrals were built in the 1600s.
Since we have started doing the visita iglesia, I would say that Ilocos very much offered a lot of its beautiful century old churches. And if we only had more time, we could have chosen 7 other churches more to include in our list.