Several churches in the Philippines were built in the 15th to 18th century back when Baroque architecture was introduced by the Catholic Church to widen its influence and attract new followers with its appealing, grand, and highly decorative churches. Baroque architecture features vividly painted ceilings, bright colors, frescoes and sculptures, pear-shaped domes, high colonnades and twisted columns, use of plaster, and impressive facade.
In the Philippines, several Baroque churches are still standing strong up to this day and remain as imposing and awe-inspiring as they were hundreds of years before. They have become popular tourist attractions and considered as national cultural treasures.
As of 2013, these five Baroque Churches of the Philippines are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site 677.
1 | San Agustin Church
Location: Intramuros, Manila
While the church was founded in 1571, the present church structure was constructed from 1586 to 1607 using hewn adobe stones from the provinces of Bulacan and Rizal. Located inside the historic walled city of Intramuros, the church is recognized as the oldest stone church in the Philippines and features ornate interiors adorned with mouldings and carvings. The vaulted ceilings showcase the splendid paintings in the trompe l’oeil by two Italian artists. The church also houses a grand pipe organ, 17th century carved choir seats made from molave, 16th-century crucifix, and 16 sets of chandeliers from Paris.
The grand appearance of the church makes it in demand for weddings, photoshoots, and tours.
2 | Santa Maria Church
Santa Maria Church
Location: Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur
The church of Santa Maria, also referred to as the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, was built on top of the hill and is accessible by a granite rock stairway of 85 steps. The hill is enclosed in a defensive wall like a citadel. Though it has a monumental brick facade, the church actually has a straight-roof line covering a rectangular structure. The outer walls of the church are thick and reinforced, typical of earthquake Baroque churches. Its pagoda-like four-storey bell tower is separate from the main building.
Separated from the church is a convent as well as a cemetery where the ruins of an older chapel and old graveyards are found.
3 | Paoay Church
Location: Paoay, Ilocos Norte
Like most earthquake Baroque architecture, Paoay Church is reinforced with 24 huge buttresses to protect the church from destruction caused by earthquakes. The lower part of the walls is made of coral stones while the upper part is of bricks. The facade, on the other hand, is made of brick on the lower level and coral stones on the upper level. The pagoda-like three-storey bell tower, which is also made of coral stones, stands separately on the right side of the church building.
This imposing structure is also referred to as San Agustin Church of Paoay and is one of the most popular attractions in Ilocos Region.
4 | Miagao Church
Location: Miagao, Iloilo
Also referred to as Santo Tomás de Villanueva Parish Church, Miagao Church is located on the highest point in Miagao, a coastal town in the province of Iloilo. The Baroque Romanesque church is made of adobe, egg, coral, and limestone, in which the combination of these materials gave the building its ochre color. The church was constructed with massive stone walls and thicker setback buttresses to prevent major damages caused by Moro invasion which was frequent in the 17th century. Its ornately-decorated facade is sandwiched between two huge belfries with unequal heights that also served as watchtowers.
5 | Vigan Cathedral
Location: Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
While it is not a part of UNESCO World Heritage Site 677, Vigan Cathedral is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site declaration for the Historic Town of Vigan. The interiors and exteriors of the church features beautiful embellishments inspired by Neo-Gothic, Romanesque, and Chinese. Its bell tower stands 25 meters south of the main church building. Despite going through some renovations to preserve the structure, Vigan Cathedral remains as splendid as it was before.
Aside from the four churches above, there are several other Baroque churches in the Philippines proposed for inclusion in World Heritage Site 677. One of them is the Loboc Church in Loboc, Bohol although it was heavily damaged during the 2013 Bohol earthquake. Others are Boljoon Church in Cebu, Guiuan Church in Eastern Samar, Tumauini Church in Isabela, and Lazi Church in Siquijor.
READ MORE: Must-Visit Churches in the Philippines