As a Filipino Catholic, I was raised to follow the practices associated with Holy Week. One of the traditions is called the “Visita Iglesia” wherein Filipino Catholics embark on a day-long pilgrimage of churches. Most would visit churches on their way to resorts and tourist destinations but those of us, who are staying in the country’s capital, Manila, will have plenty of choices. They are noted for their architectural value as well as for their historical importance. A few of them are included in a guided tour being offered by the century old Manila Hotel while tourists ride on horse-drawn carriages to give the whole experience a more cultural feel. Here is a list of beautiful churches in the country’s leading metropolis that are historical and notable landmarks as well.
The Manila Cathedral
Officially called the Cathedral-Basilica of Immaculate Conception, this architectural wonder is located within the walls of Intramuros, the Spanish bastion of Spanish-colonial Philippines. It was built in honor of the Philippines’ patroness, the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. The parish started out as part of the diocese of Mexico in 1571 and became a separate diocese on February 6, 1579. It serves as the Prime Basilica of the Philippines and as the highest seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in the country.
The San Agustin Church
Founded in 1571 and built in 1589, the San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. Administered by the Order of St. Augustine, it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1993, one of the four churches under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines. It was also designated a historical landmark of the Philippines in 1976. It is the first religious structure built by the Spaniards on the island of Luzon. It has been witness to several historical events the country has gone through and the only one among seven churches built within the walls of Intramuros that has withstood the test of time and the elements.
Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz
More commonly known as the Binondo Church, the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz is located in Binondo, Manila. It was founded by Dominican priests in 1596 to serve the Chinese converts to Christianity which set up residence in the area. Called a Basilica since it was built in the 1600s, it got its name from the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, a resident of Binondo who was born of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother. It has suffered damages over time, the worst one on September 22, 1944 when the Americans advanced to reclaim Manila from the Japanese. Nothing was left of the beautiful structure except the stone walls and the octagonal bell tower. The present church was rebuilt in 1946 and renovations continued intermittently until 1971.
The Santa Cruz Church
A popular choice for weddings, this peach-colored church was built and administered by the Jesuits up to 1768. It was erected in 1608 by the Society of Jesus also to cater to Chinese converts to the Catholic faith. They enshrined the image of Our Lady of the Pillar in the church in the year 1643. The edifice was destroyed during World War II and the present structure was erected in 1957.
The Basilica Minore de San Sebastian
Also known as the San Sebastian Church, this beautiful and breathtaking edifice is a revival of Gothic architecture. It is the only all-steel church in Asia and is also reputed to be the first pre-fabricated building in the world. Its pre-fabricated steel sections were manufactured in Binche, Belgium. It is also said that Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer who built the Eiffel Tower was involved in the design and construction of the church. It was completed in 1891 and is the seat of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. In 2006, it was included in the Tentative List for possible inclusion as a World Heritage Site. It was also designated as a National Historical Landmark in 1973.
The Redemptorist Church
More popularly known as Baclaran Church, the Redemptorist Church is one of the largest Marian Churches in the Philippines. It is the National Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Redemptorists brought the image of the Perpetual Help to the church in 1906. The novena to Our Lady was begun 40 years later. Construction of the present edifice begun on January 11, 1953 and was declared the National Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1958. The completed church was consecrated on December 1, 1958 and the official opening happened on December 5, four days later. Since its opening, the church has never been closed, day or night and thousands of devotees come to hear the novena masses at the church every Wednesday.
Our Lady of Remedios Parish Church
One of the oldest churches in Manila, outside the walls of Intramuros is the Our Lady of Remedios Parish Church more popularly known as Malate Church. The Baroque-style church was originally built in the 16th century by Augustinian friars. Dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Remedios (“Our Lady of Remedies”) who is the patroness of childbirth, the original structure was destroyed by a typhoon in 1868 and was immediately rebuilt. It was damaged during World War II like most churches in Manila but was restored. An aerial view of its rooftop will allow one to see that it is shaped like a cross. It is currently being restored by Escuela Taller Intramuros. It fronts the Manila Bay.
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