By MARC LINO ABILA
Going to churches have always been part of my go-to list when visiting a place. Raised by devout Catholic grandparents, I have this particular fascination with religious history and church architecture.
When it comes to old buildings, old churches are hard to miss. Recently, I’ve been to Iloilo to organize the national convention of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP). Despite the tight schedule, I was able to spare a little time to visit some of Iloilo’s churches.
1. Jaro Cathedral
The seat of the Archdiocese of Jaro, the church is formally known as Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Candelaria.
Like any other quintessential Spanish pueblo, the cathedral is situated near the Jaro Plaza and old city hall of Jaro, now a district of Iloilo City. The vicinity of the cathedral also used to be surrounded by houses of the Iloilo’s local elite and sugar barons, such as the Ledesma Mansion.
The cathedral’s old belfry is across the street which reminds me of many old churches of Ilocos Region in northern Luzon. Jaro’s bell tower was originally part of the old church but an earthquake destroyed the church and left the tower standing.
2. Miagao Church
The limestone Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church in the municipality of Miagao, Iloilo is regarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the Baroque Churches of the Philippines collection along with Paoay Church and Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Region and San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila.
Miagao Church’s ornate façade features native motifs. Aside from the image of St. Thomas of Villanueva, the bas-relief at the top of the façade depicts St. Christopher and the Child Jesus in traditional local clothing and the coconut tree as the “tree of life” surrounded by local flora and fauna.
Also called the Miagao Fortress Church and an excellent surviving specimen of Fortress Baroque, it is located in the town’s highest point and its towers also functioned as a lookout against Muslim raiders coming from the sea during the Spanish colonial period.
3. San Jose de Placer Church
The birthplace of the Dinagyang Festival in honor of the Santo Niño de Cebu, the Church of San Jose is located at Plaza Libertad near the new Iloilo City Hall in the city proper. The church is of Renaissance design with Greek columns and Gothic retablo in its interior.
The church houses two important treasures: the image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and a replica of Santo Niño de Cebu. A gift to the Ilonggo faithful, the replica of the Santo Niño de Cebu arrived in 1968 a year after the devotion to the Child Jesus started in Iloilo. Its arrival at the old airport in Mandurriao District was greeted with festivities on the streets of the city.
Another interesting note, Plaza Libertad is the place where the Philippine flag was first raised by revolutionary forces in 1898 after the surrender of Iloilo by the Spaniards. Iloilo was Spain’s last stronghold in the Philippines.
San Jose de Placer Church Interior:
4. Molo Church
Molo District, Iloilo’s old parian or Chinese settlement during Spanish era, is famous for its Pancit Molo or pork dumpling soup. But aside from that, Molo Church and like any church in Iloilo, is located in a plaza, the Molo Plaza, and an important landmark in this old town. Like Jaro, Molo was a separate municipality and later integrated as a district of Iloilo City.
The feminist Church of Saint Anne Parish is of Gothic and Renaissance design unlike most churches built by Augustinian friars which are Baroque. Its nave is lined with 16 female saints and Jaro Cathedral is lined with male saints in response.
National hero Dr. Jose Rizal once visited the church in one of his travels. Rizal praised the beauty of the structure and exclaimed “La iglesia bonita!” upon seeing it.
Molo Church Interior:
5. University Church, Central Philippine University
The only Protestant and American-built church in this list is inside the campus of Central Philippine University (CPU) in Jaro, Iloilo City. Commonly called as UC or CPU Church, it is affiliated with the Congregation of Philippine Baptist Churches (CPBC).
This one can certainly get one’s attention with its Malay architecture, an unconventional design for churches which usually follow the Western style of architecture. The church can accommodate at least 1,000 people.