The four Baroque Churches in the Philippines were built in the 16th century and are located in separate areas in the Philippines. Baroque is an architectural design popular during the 16th to 18th century which is characterized by elaborate ornamentation and extravagant decorations which is apparently represented by these four churches. Two of them are situated in the Ilocos region, one is in the capital city of the Philippines and the other is in island of Visaya.
Just an hour and half drive away from Ilocos Sur is the town of Paoay in Ilocos Norte, where the Church of San Agustin is found. Completed in 1710, the Paoay church is a perfect example of “Earthquake Baroque”, represented by its fourteen flying buttresses decorated with spiral carving that adds gracefulness to the structure. Its detached bell tower made from coral stones stands proudly beside the church that withstands several strong earthquakes that hit the town. The beautiful church in the middle of the town plaza, creates a nostalgic atmosphere especially on twilight hours when it becomes more inviting to wander around the place.
The other Baroque church in the island of Luzon is the Church of San Augustin which is located in the historical walled city of Intramuros, Manila. Built in 1589 and originally known as “Inglesia de San Pablo” is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. The bell towers of the church are attached to the main structure but unfortunately; the left tower was removed due to a huge crack caused by a strong earthquake that struck Manila. Unlike the other Baroque churches, its buttresses do not extend outward from its walls but they are made into a series of splendid chapels on both sides of the church. The tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi (founder of the city of Manila) is a tourist attraction and can be found in one of its chapels. Aside from being one of the most popular church for wedding rites, it also holds a collection of ecclesiastical artworks and rare books which can be found in the church museum. The San Agustin church was declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Site in 1993.
The Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo was completed in 1797, it is erected on the highest point of Miag-ao and the towers were built as post from Muslim raids. The façade and the color of the church is full of vigor and high spirits with its extravagant carvings which describes the abundance of life as portrayed by St. Christopher dressed as a Filipino farmer. The coconut tree which is easily recognized on the façade and where St. Christopher clings to, tells a legend about a loving mother giving the tree to her children as the only bequest in order to sustain them for life. It is amazing to see and think about how the story line of life during those times was expressed on the façade of Miag-ao church. Can you imagine?
The Baroque Churches in the Philippines including the hundreds of beautiful churches in different parts of the archipelago built during the Spanish regime could be an emblem to the Spanish hierarchy that we were once under their power. But for the Filipinos it is a great symbol of courage, patience and perseverance and knowing that within those walls, buttresses and façade were taken from God’s creation, it has a spirit and faith as sturdy as these structures that no men could take away again the freedom we Filipinos are enjoying at present.