MANILA, Philippines — Every Holy Week, Filipinos, who are mostly Roman Catholic, observe religious traditions such as Via Crucis or 14 Stations of the Cross, wherein they commemorate every step in Jesus Christ’s passion and suffering by offering prayers to every station of the cross found in different churches or holy locations.
Every Holy Thursday, Roman Catholic Filipinos also visit seven churches and offer their prayers to God in each church, a custom known as the Visita Iglesia (literally, “church visit” in Spanish).
The traditional means of doing Via Crucis and Visita Iglesia is by foot or by land travel. There are also those who have found unusual ways such as stopping by the churches along the Manila-Laoag-Kaohsiung-Hong Kong route of Superstar Virgo, arguably the first cruise ship to make Manila its home port.
Get to know these centers of worship and their historical relevance.
As the Philippines’ capital, Manila offers a lot of churches, but here are the major ones and the ones near Superstar Virgo’s Manila home port.
Manila Cathedral has hosted anything from celebrity weddings to the interment of former Philippine President Corazon Aquino. Philstar.com/File
The Manila Cathedral
Also known as the Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Manila Cathedral was built by the Spaniards in 1571 and has been dedicated to the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the Philippines’ principal patroness. It is the Manila archbishop’s Episcopal See.
The basilica has been endorsed by Pope Gregory XIII, and was visited by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.
San Agustin Church
Like the Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church is also located inside the Intramuros. As one of the four churches built during Spanish colonial times, it has been declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site and a National Historical Landmark by the Philippines.
It boasts of Spanish Baroque architecture accentuated with 17th-century ivory inlays and 16 chandeliers from Paris.
Its museum, designed by Filipino architect Angel Nakpil, houses the remains of Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, following his request to be buried there.
San Agustin Church Philstar.com/File
Laoag, Ilocos Norte
De Legaspi’s grandson, Juan De Salcedo, conquered Ilocos Norte in the late 1500’s when he was just 22 years old. He is the one that gave Ilocos its name, from “Ylocos” or “looc,” which means “coves.”
Due to the Spaniards’ condition of “bajo de campana,” the people of Ilocos were then allowed to build their houses “within the hearing of church bells.” Thus, churches have become the center of Ilocanos’ lives. The main avenues in Ilocos were laid out in the form of a cross, with the church at its heart.
Paoay Church (St. Augustine Church)
Because the winds are strong in Ilocos Norte, churches here are always under construction to assure their safety. Among them is Paoay Church, whose distinctive gothic and “earthquake baroque” architecture from the 16th to 17th centuries earned it the title “World Heritage Site” from the UNESCO.
Paoay Church Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo
San Andres Apostol Parish
Another church of note is San Andres Apostol Parish, the birthplace of Aglipayan Church.
From an encomienda, the place was converted into a church complex by the Augustinians in the 1580s. Some of its original pillars from that period are still intact.
The first bishop of the Aglipayans made it his headquarters until a 19th century Supreme Court decision restored its ownership to the Roman Catholic Church.
Today, the church is famous for its seemingly kilometer-long aisle, hardwood interior, paletada stucco exterior, a churchyard from four centuries ago, and a 50-meter bell tower, the “Torre Ti Bacarra,” which has been coined the “Leaning Tower of the North” after an earthquake ruined its dome and made it appear like it is leaning.
Due to this rich history, the church has been declared a “National Cultural Treasure.”
San Andres Apostol Parish Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo
Sta. Monica Church
Erected in 1779, Sta. Monica Church in Sarrat is considered the largest in the region. It was the site of what was touted as “the wedding of the century,” when the late President Ferdinand Marcos’ daughter, Irene, married Gregorio Araneta in a very extravagant, fairytale-like ceremony.
North Luzon churches boast of long aisles. Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo
The churches in Ilocos Norte, like others in North Luzon, are known for their “Filipino identity” in which, paintings, murals and retablos are rendered indigenously, with dark-skinned or Filipino-looking characters, rather than the Western mold.
North Luzon then was technologically advanced, as seen in its churches. While those in Visayas are made of coral stones and in Mindanao, made of adobe, in North Luzon, the churches come with cemented second floors and predominantly baroque architecture, gothic ceilings, rococo interiors and separate bell towers. They are also distinctive for their bricks made of red soil abundant in North Luzon.
San Guillermo Church (left) and an example of a localized version of the Virgin Mary (right). Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo
St. Paul Cathedral
Next to Ilocos Norte is Vigan in Ilocos Sur, known for its is St. Paul Cathedral, which is also made in earthquake baroque style, Vigan’s “contribution to global art and culture.”
St. Paul Cathedral Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo
Asuncion de Sta. Maria Church
In Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur, the La Asuncion De Nuestra Señora has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and a National Historical landmark in 1982 as a classic example of Philippine earthquake baroque architecture.
Built by the Augustinians in 1765, the church is perched at the top of a hill, providing a panoramic view for miles. It became a landmark during Spanish colonial times, the Katipunan Revolution and World War II because of its strategic location at the center of the province.
The church contains murals featuring Moorish floral and foliate designs, rose-tinted stonework, an 83-step stairway made of bricks from China, and an octagonal bell tower with bells from 1811. Its Apo Baket or Virgin Mary image is believed to be miraculous.
Asuncion de Sta. Maria Church File
Shrine of Nuestra Senora De La Caridad
Made in baroque-gothic style, the church is one of Ilocos Sur’s oldest. Its Apo Baket is believed to have come alive and walked after a mass.
Shrine of Our Lady of Charity
San Guillermo Ermitaño in Magsingal
Dating back to 18th century, this baroque church built by the Augustinians still contains the ruins of its older version, which was reportedly destroyed by Filipino revolutionary Diego Silang. Today, the belfry has been morphed into a small museum of Ilocano arts and crafts.
In Ilocos, bell towers are built separately from the church. Philstar.com/Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo
The Holy Rosary Cathedral
Kaohsiung, a special municipality in south-western Taiwan, takes pride of mostly Buddhist temples, but it also has Taiwan’s oldest Catholic church, the Holy Rosary Cathedral.
Located in Lingya district, east of Kaohsiung’s famous Love River, the cathedral has been established in 1860 and is modeled after Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Its interiors are said to be loosely mirroring that of the Manila Cathedral.
A mass is held there daily and the English mass is celebrated at 11 a.m. every Sunday. It is also known throughout Kaohsiung for its Christmas Eve celebrations.
It can be reached west from the Central Park Station of the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Train System.
The Holy Rosary Cathedral in Kaohsiung. Image by Paul Hsu.
There are about 350,000 Catholics, around 5 percent of the total population, in Hong Kong. While the majority of them are Chinese, there are also many Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Indian, German and French active Catholics in the former British colony.
As such, there are over 99 Catholic churches in different parts of Hong Kong, and their center is at The Cathedral of the Diocese of Hong Kong or the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Caine Road, Mid Levels.
Originally founded in 1883, the cathedral has been rebuilt and renovated several times. Its present form is in English Gothic style. The building follows the cruciform shape, similar to the Latin cross.
Apart from its side altar donated by King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, among the cathedral’s treasures are relics of 16 Chinese martyrs from the 120 canonized by the Vatican as well as a lock of St. John Paul II’s hair, a symbolism of the late pope’s dream to visit China.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and its prized relic, a lock of hair from St. John Paul II.
Although not Catholic, the Anglican church of St. John’s Cathedral in 4-8 Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong, is also worth a visit for its British colonial heritage. Many of its active parishioners are Filipinos.
According to the church’s website, the Filipino Christian Fellowship has been meeting regularly for Bible Study for the past five years. More than one-fifth of the non-Chinese population in Hong Kong are Filipinas, many of whom have come in the past 10 years to work as domestic helpers in the more affluent Chinese and expatriate homes.
“Although many are well educated and some are university graduates or even teachers, this type of employment in Hong Kong has enabled them to contribute to their families in the Philippines in a way that would not otherwise be possible. A special counseling service for them has been set up with an office in the basement of the administration building which can, if required, offer legal help. Further help is available through the self-help organization of the Mission for Migrant Workers,” the website further says.
While most of the church’s services are in English, every Sunday, a mass at 2 p.m. is conducted in Filipino.
St. John’s Cathedral