Iloilo Churches: Fusing Art and History

Finally, a break in the hubbub of city life…

There are many reasons for traveling, as there are destinations. Some people pack their bags and journey on with a very clear goal — return home or become more in touch with nature. Others’ treks are less planned, and are equally an emotional and spiritual journey as they are a physical one. These spiritual sojourns often result in a rite of passage or transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Every traveler, almost always, undergoes a certain transformation that is apparent by the end of his journey.

I am a romantic traveler, at least that’s what I believe myself to be. Romance — as it confirms human faculty with regards to understanding the world and organizing one’s existence — is an enabling force. As what we may have read in some travelogues, we can see, more or less, that the traveler participates in the affirmative conventions of romance in the ways that they depict men and women turning travel into a journey.

My latest sojourn to my hometown of Iloilo became an impromptu Visita Iglesia, as I trek through the western coastal towns of Iloilo — Molo, Tigbauan, Guimbal, Miagao and San Joaquin — taking in the splendor of their Spanish churches.

Molo Church: A Feminist Church

Built in 1831, Molo Church — dedicated to Santa Anna or St Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary — is one of Iloilo’s most familiar landmarks. The only Gothic-Renaissance church in Philippines outside of Metro Manila, the church is a testament to Iloilo’s rich history and a monument on Ilonggo artistry.

Dubbed a ‘feminist’ church for its collection of female saints: Sts. Marcela, Apolonia, Genoveva, Isabel, Felicia, Ines, Monica, Magdalena, Juliana, Lucia, Rosa de Lima, Teresa, Clara, Cecilia, Margarita and Marta, Molo Church is a haven for women searching for empowerment from the graces of said women saints.

The interior is a fusion of Gothic and Romanesque architectures. A constant alternation between the overpowering features of Gothic and the recessive characteristics of Romanesque is visible. The interior is rich in Gothic elements. There are five Gothic altars which are made of wood while beautiful paintings dominate the walls. Female saints stand on each pillar and a pair of interestingly decorated pulpits contrast the entire structure. The centerpiece in the retablo is the image of Sta. Ana, the patron saint of Molo.

Molo Church’s minarets or spires offer a most interesting sight in Iloilo City. The two ‘colonial skyscrapers’ rival the neoclassical belfry of Jaro Cathedral, and is also part of the Lingganay Collection of Iloilo’s Heritage Churches. The façade is made of coral rocks bound together with mortar made from egg whites mixed with sand.

This magnificent structure is best seen during the late afternoon when the coral stone facade of the church reflects the soft golden rays of the sunset.

This magnificent structure is best seen during the late afternoon when the coral stone facade of the church reflects the soft golden rays of the sunset.

Molo Church is dedicated to Santa Ana, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Molo Church’s minarets or spires offer a most interesting sight in Iloilo City.

The interior is a fusion of Gothic and Romanesque architectures.

The centerpiece in the retablo is the image of Sta. Ana, the patron saint of Molo.

The only Gothic-Renaissance church in Philippines outside of Metro Manila, the church is a testament to Iloilo’s rich history and a monument on Ilonggo artistry.

Tigbauan Church: Latin American Inspired

Adopting Latin American ‘churrigueresque’ architecture, the San Juan Sahagun Parish in Tigbauan is a class on its own. Churrigueresque refers to a Spanish Baroque style of elaborate sculptural and architectural ornamentation, which emerged as a manner of stucco decoration in Spain in the late 17th century and was used up to about 1750, marked by extreme, expressive and florid decorative detailing, normally found above the entrance on the main facade of a building.

The original structure was constructed in 1575 and destroyed during an earthquake in 1948. Rebuilt soon after, the Tigbauan Church is best known for its Mexican ‘plateresque’ façade, where the Augustinian Order’s seal, surrounded by a retablo-like floral frieze, fills the central section. Atop the seal is a niche flanked by flower-embellished pilasters where an image of San Juan Sahagun stands. Capping the relief is the image of the Santo Niño.

The church interior was gutted during the Second World War. Today, it has one of the most beautiful contemporary interior made up of colorful stone murals. The mosaics adorning the church interior, including the altar and the Stations of the Cross, were created by a local artist in the last two decades.

Many of the architectural descriptions of the Tigbauan church describe it as “Churrigueresque”.

Churrigueresque refers to the florid, over-decorated style practiced by a family of sculptors and architects in 18th century Spain, the Churrigureas.

Atop the seal is a niche flanked by flower-embellished pilasters where an image of San Juan Sahagun stands.

Rebuilt soon after, the Tigbauan Church is best known for its Mexican ‘plateresque’ façade.

The Tigbauan church does have some intricate and quite beautiful stone carving on its principal façcade, facing the plaza.

Guimbal Church:  Elegant in its Quaintness

While most Baroque churches in the Philippines emphasize massiveness, the San Nicolas de Tolentino Church in Guimbal draws its fame from the fusion of elaborate Oriental and European art. Forgoing size for elegance, builders of Guimbal Church carve out ornate designs in the edifice’s façade. Flanked by twinned Corinthian pillars, the façade is an explosion of Asian-inspired ornamental rosettes and classic finials. Moorish spires contribute to the imposing facets of the façade. Its vintage bell tower is a four-story affair that doubles as a watchtower during the Spanish colonial years, warning residents against pillaging Moro pirates.

The sandstone or igang used to build the church gives it a calming yellowish afterglow, better appreciated when viewed at dusk.

Built in 1771, Guimbal Church is among the country’s oldest churches. It has undergone some reconstruction after it was destroyed twice, during the Second World War and during the 1948 earthquake.

 

Guimbal Church has always drawn in local visitors but now it is also becoming one of the major tourist attractions in Iloilo and also the Western Visayas.

San Nicholas of Tolentino Church in Guimbal is one of the most ornate churches found in Iloilo.

The new belfry which is possibly of Oriental influence is so large that it gave the entire structure a fortress like appearance.

The passage of time has resulted in various renovations and reconstructions of certain parts of the church.

The sandstone or 'igang' used to build the church gives it a calming yellowish afterglow.

Miagao Church: Iloilo’s Pride

More than two centuries of sun and rain has done little to deface this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed in 1797, the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in Miagao stands as a living legacy of the culture and way of life of the people of Miagao, as well as a testament to their unwavering Catholic faith. Although built in the Baroque-Romanesque style, several ‘foreign’ influences are indigenized — prevailing Hispano-American and Medieval Spanish architecture are integrated with local as well as Muslim and Chinese touches, exuding a true Filipino architecture.

Miagao Church is anchored six meters deep into the ground, with walls one-and-a-half meters thick and buttresses three times thicker. Its intricately designed façade is embellished with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Sto. Niño, and flanked by depictions of coconuts, papaya and guava shrubs.

A large stone image of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Carved life-size statues of the Pope and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance. Supporting the façade are two bell towers — a two- and three-story affair. The church’s simple interior is nevertheless highlighted by a striking gold-plated retablo.

The creative and aesthetic abilities of its builders are reflected in Miagao Church – a world-renowned religious structure now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

 

As most travelers would agree, the Miagao Church is one of the country’s architectural gems because of its unique and imposing designs, ornaments and motifs.

Miagao Church is anchored six meters deep into the ground, with walls one-and-a-half meters thick...

... and buttresses three times thicker.

Although built in the Baroque-Romanesque style, several ‘foreign’ influences are indigenized — prevailing Hispano-American and Medieval Spanish architecture are integrated with local as well as Muslim and Chinese touches.

Supporting the façade are two bell towers — a two- and three-story affair.

A large stone image of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva, parish patron saint, dominates the center of the facade.

Carved life-size statues of the Pope...

... and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance.

The artistic facade of the Miagao Church is decorated with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Sto Niño..

... amidst a coconut, papaya and guava shrubs.

The church’s simple interior is highlighted by a striking gold-plated 'retablo'.

The gilded 'retablo' up close.

San Joaquin Church: A National Cultural Treasure

Although architecturally Baroque, the San Joaquin Church has its own crown jewel—the Rendicion d’Tetuan (The Surrender of Tetouan) stone relief carved on a disproportionately large pediment on the church’s façade. This opus is one of its kind in Western Visayas, and perhaps the whole country, earning it a place in the National Historical Institute’s National Cultural Treasures List.

The church’s façade is adorned with intricately carved rosettes and divided vertically by engaged columns. A plaque above the arched portal displays the Augustinian seal flanked by cherubs. A three-story belfry stands to its right and ruins of its old convent to its left. Among the sprawling ruins of the convent are an oval well and a kiln for baking bread.

Built in 1869, San Joaquin Church is constructed out of limestone blocks quarried from the nearby mountains of Igbaras and gleaming white coral stones abundant in the town’s shores.

The church magnificently stands on a plain overlooking the sea and is located beside San Joaquin’s town plaza.

 

This greyish-white church was constructed under the supervision of the Spanish priest Tomas Santaren, together with Spanish and Mexican artists.

The San Joaquin Church is a testament of the way Ilonggos lived during the Spanish colonial rule.

 

Although architecturally baroque, the church has its own crown jewel — the 'Rendicion d’Tetuan' stone relief carved in its pediment.

Depicting the Battle of Tetuan in 1860, the relief features Spanish forces defeating the Moorish forces in the siege of Tetuan — which resulted Spanish victory.

Built in 1869, San Joaquin Church is constructed out of limestone blocks quarried from the nearby mountains of Igbaras and gleaming white coral stones abundant in the town’s shores.

The Camposanto de San Joaquin

Dubbed as the most beautiful Spanish colonial cemetery in Iloilo and in the Philippines, the Camposanto in San Joaquin is equally popular for its imposing Baroque chapel sitting atop a hill at the cemetery’s center. Combining Oriental and Spanish artistry, the chapel is built from white coral and fossil stones interspersed with red bricks. Decorations vary from intricate floral carvings to pointed finials to a simple cemetery emblem: the skull and crossbones. What makes the cemetery more attractive is that the beautiful chapel is approached by a flight of stairs. On the walls before the chapel are niches each carrying statues of saints, most of which are contemporary additions.

The Camposanto in San Joaquin is popular for its imposing Baroque chapel sitting atop a hill at the cemetery’s center.

The patio.

Decorations vary from intricate floral carvings to pointed finials to a simple cemetery emblem: the skull and crossbones.

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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.

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