Friday, April 18, 2014

The Baroque Churches Of The Philippines

The Philippines is the third largest Catholic country in the world and one of the two Asian nations with the most number of Catholic population. The Spaniards played a major role in the propagation of Catholicism in the Philippines when they colonized the country for three centuries. Mass baptisms, the dissemination of Catholic beliefs by the Spanish missionaries and the construction of churches in the localities were the leading factors to the conversion of most Filipinos to Roman Catholics. Despite the resistance of the Filipinos during those times, churches, as the iconic symbol of the faith were prevalently built in most regions in the Philippines. These churches were built in different architectural designs and with accordance to the geographical location and physical conditions in the archipelago.  At present, there are just about 6,000 Catholic churches in the Philippines and four among them, bears the inscription of UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is their architectural ensemble, well-maintained authentic features and its religious significance to the society attributed to its recognition in the  World Heritage List.

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.

The Church of Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur, was built in 1765 on a hill. The brick church was built in a simple but elegant manner which corresponds to the way of life of the locals.  A leaning octagonal bell tower was built a distance away from the main church which is reinforced by  thick buttresses attached to the walls as protection from possible earthquake damages. Although there’s an easy access to the church by driving through the narrow pavement at the back of the church leading to the parking area, it is more interesting to ascend on its wide 83-steps piedra china staircase on foot. Legend tells, that before the church was erected on its present site, the statue of the Virgin Mary usually disappears from its place of enthronement, only to be found near a  guava tree which grew on the hill and where the present church stands, the story of the Virgin Mary standing beside the tree was sculpted in one of the buttresses of the church.

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.