Churches in the Philippines
When the Catholic Church arrived in the Philippines in the post-Legazpi era, it changed life completely, not only in terms of the evangelical belief system it brought, the education system and the setting up of hospitals, but also in the very fabric of the landscape.
The Catholic Church wanted to make a statement about the power of the Holy Spirit and they did – using stone. Nothing like these churches had ever been seen before in the Philippines, where buildings of wood, nipa and bamboo had a lifespan of around 30 years.
The clergy also built high, extending above the tree line, ensuring that Christian imagery was visible from far and wide across the countryside. Most were centers of study set up by one of the Catholic denominations and these chruch complexes now form a rich historical repository.
Four of the country’s Baroque churches now sit in the hallowed list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites; protected for their unique interpretation of European style by local and Chinese craftsmen. However, the Church of the Immaculate Conception (San Agustin) in Intramuros, Nuestra Senora in Santa Maria in Ilocos Norte, San Augustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte and Santo Tomas Miagao, Iloilo Province, are only four of hundreds of excellent period chruches.
In Manila, Church of San Agustin and its associated monastery in the heart of the old Spanish city of Intramuros forms one of the most complete complexes in the country. The church was inaugurated in 1604 and was one of the few buildings to survive the destruction if the Battle of Manila in 1945. The remains of Miguel de Legazpi are interred here, amongst a riot of Baroque decoration. Further north in Luzon, in the province of Ilocos Norte, lie churches that dramatically illustrate the sturdy butresses typical of the style known as ‘earthquake Baroque’. The monumental brick Church of the Assumption in Santa Maria sits on a low hill and was completed in 1769. Long flights of steps flow down on two flanks.
Close by, Paoay Church, the Church of San Augustin, built out of coral stone by the Augustinians, is considered to be the finest of the four and is known as the Borabadur of the Philippines for its crenellated facade with many carved stupas and the decoration on the buttresses. This is also the most pleasing of the sites because the church is surrounded by primpled gardens.
Other churches, though equally historical, seem less worthy of acclaim, including the beautiful Jesuit complex of the Assumption of Our Lady at Dauis dating from the late 1500s and Baclayon Church, both on Bohol. The Church of Laoag in Ilocos Norte has foundations dating from 1612 and was the scene of Marian Congresses in 1932 and 1949.