BOHOL CHURCHES: A testament to the Filipinos’ steadfastness

I am not religious. I am not even Catholic. But there is something about Philippine Baroque churches that fascinates me—it gives me a sense of tranquility even. Maybe it’s the knowledge that these churches are very special today because the mold was broken after they were created, as no one would ever witness a church to rise up again in the grandeur and spirit of the Spanish colonial era. But more specifically, they are very special because of the events and circumstances surrounding their creations. The blossoming colonial church architecture under the Spanish colonial period was a unique event in Philippine architectural heritage. Sadly, the end of the Spanish era was also the end of the church building enterprise of the missionaries.

Baroque churches have been at the forefront of Philippine history since their construction in the 1500s. During the time of Spanish colonial rule, the Church and State worked hand in glove. They had served the Catholic Church in the archipelago and as the political backbone of Spanish colonial rule.

The unique design of the churches reflects the integration of Spanish and Latin American architecture to indigenous architecture of the Philippines, including a fusion with Chinese style. The Church’s political power of that period manifests in the architecture. They had been designed to withstand attacks during revolts and rebellions, giving these churches the appearance of fortresses. The blending of religion and military portrays the manner Spain saw its situation in the Philippines. The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon, located in the coastal area of the island, served as a citadel during times of crisis, providing the best example of the blend of purposes in the architecture. Other churches withstood the occasional attacks from Muslims coming from the south.

The Philippines resides within the Pacific Ring of Fire, calling for structures that could withstand the tremendous earthquakes that rock the region. Powerful buttresses and foundations gave the churches the support they needed to survive earthquakes intact. Although occasionally damaged seriously, the Church restored them each time. The San Agustin Church in Panglao has the most imposing of those buttresses, which demonstrates the best example of the strength of that architecture. The unique architectural style became known as Earthquake Baroque.

The Churches of Bohol

Being an island, Panglao is prone to pirate attacks. This strategically located watchtower warns villagers of any approaching dangers from the open sea.


It was in the summer of this year when I embarked on a journey to visit seven churches located in the southern part of Bohol—from St. Joseph’s Parish in Tagbilaran City to San Agustin Church in Panglao and the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis; the Church of the Holy Trinity in Loay to the Church of San Pedro in Loboc, Sta. Monica in Alburquerque and the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon.

With just a backpack in tow, I went to Tagbilaran City to begin my own version of the visita iglesia. Visita Iglesia, usually practiced during Holy Thursday, dates back to the early Church when Christians would visit the seven great basilicas in Rome for adoration of the sacrament after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

There are no taxicabs in Tagbilaran City. The tricycle is Tagbilaran’s king-of-the-road. Bol-anons are known for their faith and devotion to the Christian Faith. A city ordinance here requires tricycle owners and drivers to adorn their vehicles with biblical quotes and verses. Sexy posters are a NO-NO.

St. Joseph’s Parish, Tagbilaran City. Set in the heart of Bohol’s capital, the St. Joseph’s Parish is neoclassical in structure. The interior of the church is beautiful—with well-kept paintings adorning the ceilings. It took me a while to capture its exterior, as it was situated on a major road.

St. Joseph’s Parish, Tagbilaran City

St. Joseph’s Parish, Tagbilaran City

San Agustin Church, Panglao. Historians place the date of Panglao becoming a parish in 1782, however, Recollects’ records show that they only took charge of the town around 1803. A 20th-century church now stands beside the ruins of the old Baroque church built by the Jesuits.

San Agustin Church, Panglao

This new structure was constructed in the 1900s to replace the old one, which was razed by fire.

The 20th-century edifice retains theses buttresses, typical of Earthquake Baroque architecture.

The altar

The altar

There are twin antique confessionals in the church that are carved with grapevines and dove patterns. The church’s ceiling depict the Seven Sacraments.

The old San Agustin church was razed by fire around 1886.

Behind the main church stands an octagonal five-story bell tower built 1851, which also doubles as a watchtower. The bell tower is said to be the tallest of its kind in the country.

This little chapel was erected to mark the spot of the old San Agustin Church. Notice the ruins of the old church in the background.

Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Dauis.

This Moor-inspired belfry was a later addition to this wonderful church.

What I remembered most about this church is that it has a well near the altar where parishioners draw out water to, most claim, cure illnesses. Although very near the ocean, the water from the church’s well is surprisingly not salty, a tad bitter though.

The Señora de la Asunción also features a watchtower, common in Bohol churches.
Facing Bohol Bay, this structure has been the island’s first line of defense.

Our Lady of the Assumption Church, known locally as Señora de la Asunción, was built by the Spaniards out of solid rocks and limestones.

The church from another angle.

The Church of the Holy Trinity, Loay.

Like most churches in Bohol, the Santissima Trinidad Parish also has a belfry that doubles as a strategic watchtower.

Locally referred to as Santissima Trinidad Parish, this cruciform church has two facades—the older is decorated with low relief and the newer one is apparently completed in the 20th century as its upper register is already in reinforced concrete. The church complex is built on a hill facing the sea and near the mouth of the Loboc River. Visitors may opt for the stairs connecting the church complex to the rest of the town located just below the hill. Vehicles’ entrance to the complex is via the road to Loboc.

The bell tower is a separate structure built at a short distance from the church. Like many Bohol churches, the interior is painted with trompe o’eil and with Biblical scenes. The altars are in the neoclassical style.

The Church of the Holy Trinity served as a barracks for the Japanese Occupation Army in World War II.

St. Peter the Apostle Church, Loboc. The church of San Pedro in Loboc is one of the most beautiful in the entire province. Its history makes it the most interesting. The first stone church was built in 1602, making it the second oldest church in Bohol. It was destroyed by fire in 1638 and rebuilt beside the site of the older one. This is where the present church stands. Inside the church, native paintings adorn the ceiling and a Spanish coat of arms can be found in the stone wall near the entrance of the convent. The bell tower is about 100 meters from the church.

Two prominent figures lived and were buried in Loboc church—Fr. Alonso Humanes, S.J., whose gravesite became the object of pilgrimages after his death in 1633, and the remarkable native boy, Miguel Ayatumo, a student of the Seminario Colegio, who died in the order of sanctity at the tender age of sixteen in 1609.

Attached to the building is a three-story convent, which today houses the Museo de Loboc on the third floor. This museum houses a few old statues of saints, and some other antique religious artifacts.

Framed by clear blue skies above and the shimmering waters of the Loboc River, St. Peter the Apostle Church stands magnificently.

Much of the early history of Bohol was made around the town and church of Loboc. It would not be an understatement to say that to know Loboc is to understand the entire drama of Bohol history. At present, Loboc church is deteriorating, ignored by tourists and visitors and continually threatened by the annual flood that has already robbed it of its ancient records and other priceless relics.

Loboc Church contains a lot of interesting treasures. Among these are the decorative stone carvings and friezes on the exterior walls; a relief of St. Ignatius in polychrome stucco intriguingly hidden behind the main altar, seven ancient retablos from both the Jesuit and Recollect periods; ceiling murals done in the 1920’s by the Cebuano artists Rey Farncia and Canuto Avila, one depicting the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the town’s secondary patron, during the great flood of 1876; carved wooden cornices and decorative corbels shaped as gargoyles or mythical animals; and the unique three-story convent, perhaps the only one of its kind in the country. – Museo de Loboc, St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Loboc, Bohol

Museo de Loboc houses a rare collection of icons and statues dating back to the Spanish colonial era. Too bad, the museum fell victim to unscrupulous thieves and robbers.

Bridge to nowhere. A testament to man's folly: this unfinished 'fly-over' bridge, set against the foreground of the Loboc Clock Tower, is a shameful witness of wasteful planning. Hopefully, this bridge will never be completed, as, to do that, the Church will have to be destroyed. May this structure serve as a reminder to us not to take for granted our heritage.

Church of Sta. Monica, Alburquerque. Located along the highway going to Carmen (where the Chocolate Hills is located) is the church complex built on a low knoll—The Church of Sta. Monica. The parish at Alburquerque, “Albur” to most Bol-anons, was established in 1869 after being separated from Baclayon. The church was originally built of light materials in the 20th century; however, the convento described as “de grandes dimensiones” was already finished. A bridge connects the large convent to the side of the church. The whole complex is harmonized by a series of arches that link church, bridge and convent.

This spectacular view of Sta. Monica Church in Alburquerque was taken in the early afternoon.

This photo shows the church and the convent connected by a bridge.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Baclayon. The Baclayon Church is the oldest Catholic stone church building in the Philippines. It was constructed during the Spanish occupation and the first Spanish missionaries, called doctrineros, settled in the area in the late 15th century. Behind the church and convent are remnants of a fortification. The church had a pipe organ installed in the 1800s but now in disrepair.

Baclayon started the trend in Bohol of establishing parish museums. The amount of liturgical material preserved in Baclayon is impressive. In Baclayon cantorals (large handwritten music books) was found the Misa Baclayana, a musical setting for the Mass which has been revived and is part of the repertoire of the Loboc Children’s choir.

Baclayon Church

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About Seeing with Brahmin eyes
My sense of humor can be keen, sarcastic, silly or corny -- sometimes all at once. I enjoy meeting new people with no preconceived ideas about what or what is not possible. You get much more out of life by being open minded and willing. I'm an easy going, good-natured person who loves life and loves people. I'm both optimistic and realistic and pretty objective when it comes to assessing situations, events, etc. In general I am a very positive person and you'll usually find we with a smile on my face.

4 Responses to BOHOL CHURCHES: A testament to the Filipinos’ steadfastness

  1. Beautiful pictures..beautiful history!

  2. Reblogged this on The War Fish's Lair and commented:

    One year ago today, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit the quiet island of Bohol, destroying several centuries-old monuments including the churches of Baclayon, Loboc, Maribojoc, and Dauis.

    I am reblogging this piece I wrote in 2011 to celebrate the resilient and indomitable spirit of the Bol-anons, who are quietly rebuilding these magnificent edifices.

  3. Will Anderson says:

    Cheers to this blog! My wife is from Bohol and I love the churches there as well.

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