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Visita Iglesia, the Catholic tradition of visiting seven to 14 churches every Maundy Thursday to pray or recite the Way of the Cross is one practice that has truly evolved, at least, in the Filipino context.
From an affair of getting together on such solemn day (as proof of “the family that prays together, stays together”), Visita Iglesia has become a gimmick, as more groups of friends look forward to this day to hop in a van (rented or not), hit either the mega city or a nearby province, and spot a church to fulfill the obligation, which after is followed by a hearty meal or late night coffee and talk.
Some even depict it like the Way of the Cross–as pilgrims really walk to complete seven to 14 churches and to pray at one or two stations per church (from Christ was condemned to death up to when he was laid in the tomb).
Such is the annual tradition a.k.a. Lenten gimmick that me and friends/fellow alumni from UST’s The Varsitarian have since 2001.
This year, as the Visita Iglesia was hazily planned overnight, seven of us –couple Cris and Ipe, UST Journalism professor Sir Jere, architect Feli, former DTI-GTEB communications’ staff Carly, Accenture’s tall and pretty lass Leah, and me – checked old yet grand 14 churches of Quezon City, San Juan, Mandaluyong, and Manila.
Us at Harry Potter film’s Hogwarts set? No. We are at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City. (From left) Descovrir, Kuya Feli, Carly, Leah, Sir Jere, and Cris. See the ceiling and the hangings? Looks like the Gryffindor house, so we say Harry Potter fanatics (Feli, Carly, Cris, and I) the moment we stepped in the cathedral. We are lucky to witness the chrism Mass – done every Maundy Thursday, this is where the diocese consecrates the oil and water to be used by its churches the whole year round for baptism, chrismation, confirmation, and ordination
Tourists? Sort of. We just made sure that we would have a picture here at Christ the King Church inside the SVD Compound, E. Rodriguez, Q.C. Joining us in this photo is Ipe (second from left, partly hidden), who wed Cris (left) last May 27 at the San Agustin Church.
Looks like we’re blocking the door here. Us at the main door of the Mt. Carmel Church in New Manila, Q.C.
Blocking the door again. Us at the historical Pinaglabanan Church, San Juan.
This time, we’re barring the tunnel. Us at the tunnel-like entrance at Aquinas Church in Mandaluyong.
All right, we’re leaving but we need to have this second shot here as Carly (third from left) joined us for this photo.
Tired, starved, yet all smiles. As lunchtime nears, San Felipe Neri in Mandaluyong served as our sixth stop. Eight more churches to go…
Manila’s Multisplendored Houses of FaithWhile most prefer to do Visita Iglesia in nearby provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, or Rizal, where majestic churches abound, it is probably best to fulfill Visita Iglesia in the very place where we usually are–the mega city, specifically the City of Manila, the country’s capital.
Maundy Thursday, or Visita Iglesia for that matter, offers a different view and a renewed feel of the city, which everyday is active with its usual chaos and busy people, not to mention other menaces.
Manila has been the base of numerous Roman Catholic missions in the Philippines, as it was the seat of the Spanish colonial government in past centuries. The walled city that is Intramuros remains the seat of the Archdiocese of Manila, one of the oldest archdioceses of the Philippines.
Above all, Manila is the site of the country’s architectural treasures, bejeweled, centuries-old churches.
Sta. Ana Church:The Heritage Church
The Heritage Conservation Society, in its effort to constantly guard and to remind us of our glorious heritage, launched in 2004 a calendar of the Philippines’ 12 well-known churches, Sta. Ana Church in Manila included.
The church stands out because inside it is an archeological site of precious artifacts.
The Parish Church of Our Lady of the Abandoned (Pedro Gil Street, Sta. Ana) was founded on the site of what was believed to be the location of the ancient Tagalog kingdoms of Sapa and Namayan.
In 1559, the Franciscans built the first church. In 1720, the present church was constructed in the Baroque style, with its octagonal bell tower designed with levels diminishing as the tower rises from the ground, a typical Philippine design for bell towers that is reminiscent of a pagoda.
From the ateliers of Santa Cruz came ivory and wood statuary, silver filigree and jewelry, embroidery, and other craft, enhanced residences and churches.
The Jesuit Order took administration of the district. They eventually built a stone church in 1688. The image of Nuestra Señora Del Pilar de Zaragoza was installed, and it remains in the church until this day. An earthquake destroyed the church in 1863, which led to its complete renovation in 1869 when a Greek temple portico was added to its facade.
Paco Church:The Church of Santo Sepulcro Devotees
The 406-year-old San Fernando De Dilao Parish or Paco Church houses the Santo Sepulcro. Similar in Quiapo Church, the dead Christ’s image is believed by devotees as a miraculous answer to their various problems, from love, money, sickness, to cite a few.
But the miracles of Santo Sepulcro extend not only to devotees, but the very church, which takes care of the image.
The Paco district was founded by the Franciscan missionaries. The church’s first district was dedicated to La Purificacion de Nuestra Señora, was made of nipa and bamboo. Later, it was rebuilt in stone. Rebellious Chinese burned it 1603. In 1782, the English invaders burned it. An earthquake in 1852 destroyed the church. Another fire destroyed it in the Philippine-American War.
In 1909, the Belgian Mission took possession of Paco parish. In 1910, Fr. Raymundo Esquenet had a concrete church built near where the old one stood. In 1924, parish priest Fr. Jose Billiet raised some P40000 from Sunday collections and donations for a new and large concrete church for the district. It was, however, Fr. Godofredo Aldenhuijsen, who got the church constructed when he became parish priest. He employed engineer Marion Karolchuck, a Greek national and formally launched the building of the concrete church with a budget of about P200000.
The church was built from 1931-1933 and was inaugurated in 1934. Father Godofredo’s brother in Holland donated the huge bell, the pride of the pre-war Paco Church, but it was destroyed in the battle for the Liberation of Manila.
After World War II, Father Godofredo reconstructed Paco Church through donations and contributions from parishioners. In 1984, the parish was transferred to the secular clergy of the archdiocese. Bishop Teodoro Bacani became its first Filipino parish priest.
The holy trio. After we had our lunch at Mc Donald’s just in front of Paco Church, Descovrir, Leah, and Carly were all set for more picture-taking as we posed here, with the church’s marker on the background.
Manila Metropolitan Cathedral:From One Cathedral to Another
Located in Intramuros is the ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Manila, the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral, or the Minor Basilica of Immaculate Concepcion, the only cathedral in the world that was built and renovated six times.
The first cathedral built in 1581 was made of bamboos and nipa, but it was damaged by a typhoon the following year and in 1583, it was razed by fire. The second cathedral was made in 1592 but the stone church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1600. Three naves and seven chapels characterized the third cathedral, which was started in 1584 and blessed in 1614, but an earthquake destroyed it in 1645.
From 1654 to 1671, the fourth cathedral was constructed but it was severely damaged in 1863 by a powerful earthquake, which also destroyed the Governor General’s Palace. In 1880, its bell tower was tumbled by an earthquake. Since then until 1959, the cathedral remained towerless.
The fifth cathedral constructed from 1870 to 1879, was characterized by its center cross of the dome, which serves as reference point of astronomical longitudes of the archipelago but this cathedral was destroyed by bombs in World War II.
The present and the sixth cathedral, was built from 1954 to 1958 under Archbishop Rufino Santos and under the supervision of National Artist for Architecture, Fernando Ocampo.
As witness to millions of Filipinos’ faith and as venue to various activities participated in by two Pontiffs, the late Pope John II gave it the title “Minor Basilica,” the only church in the country to become “Minor Basilica” through the Holy Father’s own motion, motu propio.
Similar in style to that of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, the cathedral also has crypts were former prelates who served the Archdiocese of Manila are interred, who included, Rufino Cardinal Santos, the first Filipino cathedral, Gabriel Reyes, the first Filipino archbishop, and Jaime Cardinal Sin, the prelate who was one of EDSA People Power I leaders.
It was hot and jammed inside the Manila Cathedral, but we could not afford to miss our picture taken with the exquisitely carved door of the church as background, risking the guard’s scorn at that, hehehe.
San Agustin Church:
Mother of All Colonial Churches
Located also in Intramuros is the Shrine of Our Lady of Correa or the San Agustin Church, built by the Augustinians in 1570 as a temporary structure of bamboo and thatch. Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the founder of Manila, donated its lot but fire ruined the church in 1574 and 1583.
Stonecutting, lime, and sand mixing paved way for the construction of a new church. In 1586, the Augustinians approved designs for a church to be made of stone hewn from Guadalupe, Meycauayan, and San Mateo quarries. The construction took place the next year, as historian Antonio de Morga writes: “Here in Manila is the monastery of Saint Augustine, very huge with many dormitories.” Upon its completion in 1604, the church measured 67.15 meters long and 24.93 meters wide.
When Manila surrendered to the British invaders in 1762, the latter sacked the monastery and church and properties such as books, manuscripts, gold and precious stones, ivory images, vestments, silver marcos, and two portable organs were lost.
The church was saved from the quake of 1863 but a tremor in 1880 caused one of the church’s towers to crack and in July of that year, the tower was torn down.
In 1873, sixteen glass chandeliers were imported from Paris and painters Giovanni Alberoni and Cesare Dibella worked for the church in 15 months with a budget pegged at P6000. Their work resulted in a grand trompe l’oeil vault with floral patterns, geometric outlines, classic themes, and religious images.
In 1898 after the Americans attacked Manila, San Agustin became the refuge of the sick, old, women, and children. Governor Jaudenes of Manila prepared the terms for the surrender of the city at San Agustin’s Chapel of Our Lady of Angustias and later, the Americans held the church and stole books, food, money, and statues.
In 1941, the Japanese occupied Manila and made the church a strategic post and concentration camps, as well as it became shelter for hundreds of families and religious of different communities. After Manila’s liberation, the Americans seized the church and many church’s items were again stolen and lost. The monastery’s second floor and the Blanco’s building were totally destroyed and the walls and the roof were heavily damaged.
In 1945, the church was made into a parish and in 1960 an annex building was reconstructed to house the parish’s offices and the seminarian’s quarters. In 1976, the monastery was repaired and converted into the San Agustin Museum and San Agustin Church was declared “national landmark.” In 1993 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization listed San Agustin as one of the “baroque Churches of the Philippines.” In 2000, the late Jaime Cardinal Sin canonically crowned the image of Our Lady of Consolation, staunchly venerated in San Agustin.
The 401-year-old San Agustin is the “mother of all colonial churches of the Philippines,” despite claims by others for the distinction.
Today, San Agustin is dubbed as an earthquake-proof structure and as an architectural icon, with its intricately carved doors, priceless treasures, and opulently decorated altars. Seven chapels are housed in the monastery-museum complex and artful tombstones of Manila’s elite such as Ayala, Soriano, and Zobel families are in the building. A chapel also houses the remains of Legaspi.
Old, grand, and beauteous, for me are not enough to describe the San Agustin Church, as Leah and I posed at the church’s façade. I am wishing that my wedding be held here, just like Ipe and Cris May 27, 2006 wedding. Sigh…counting nine years to have that, hehehe. Wondering if Leah is thinking the same?
Filipino-Chinese Heritage of Faith
Built in 1596, the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish or the Binondo Church is one of the oldest churches in the country, a masterpiece of architect Domingo De La Cruz González.
Despite its age, like the Manila Metropolitan Cahedral, it has sustained damages from earthquakes and other natural disasters. At present, the octagonal bell tower is all that remains of the 16the century construction. Its present upkeep is mainly funded by the Catholic Chinese communities who many of them live or operate businesses in nearby Chinatown, as Binondo and San Nicolas districts, which now cover Chinatown, used to be the bastions of Christianity and religiosity among the early Chinese in the Philippines in the Spanish regime.
Touted once as a fine example of Spanish colonial architecture, the original Binondo Church was founded mainly to accommodate Chinese who were baptized as Christians. Mother Ignacia Del Espiritu Santo, possibly the first Filipino female saint, was born in Binondo.
Other landmarks and religious items that serve as historical legacy of the Catholic religion in the district are mainly identified with Binondo Church, such as the image of the Nuestra Señora del Pronto Socorro, painted by a Chinese circa 1588, dubbed as the first European oeuvre done in the Philippines. The Chinese features of the Virgin, with fair face, slanted eyes, and jewel-encrusted robes that flow gracefully, were very prominent. It is one of the Marian images given the title Guanyin, because Mary looks like the goddess Guanyin. The image was placed at the Church of San Gabriel in 1598 and became the center of pilgrimage for the Chinese faithful then it was transferred to Binondo Church after the 1863 earthquake.
Noted for its six-story octagonal bell tower, its façade was characteristic of those typical Manila churches with common elements of lateral towers, trapezium-shaped gable ends topped with a vaulted niche, small octagonal-shaped windows, and twin columns.
Binondo Church is now known as the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz, the shrine of the first Filipino-Chinese martyr and saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz. San Lorenzo Ruiz served as an altar boy in the church and today, his larger-than-life statue looks out from across the church.
Postcard perfect. This is my favorite Visita Iglesia photo, as it grandly captured Binondo Church’s façade with the blue skies heightening its presence–we crossed to the plaza just to achieve this postcard effect. By the way, see those purple bags? After we prayed, we trooped to nearby Eng Bee Tin–home of delicious hopia and bought goodies to take home.
Santa Cruz Parish:
The Church of Wealth
Founded in 1619, Santa Cruz Parish is one among many churches considered “heritage at risk” for their physical built and wealth of contents as well.
National Historical Institute chairperson Ambeth Ocampo cites in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column how, “many churches and rectories, particularly in the Visayas, are consistently robbed from within and out, and the stolen church treasures are sold to antique collectors in Manila or sometimes exported abroad.”
In her book, “Santa Cruz Church: A Living Heritage,” Anna Maria L Harper provides not only the history of the church from the late 16th century to 1945, the end of World War II, but also a physical inventory of the church’s “treasures” following the Jesuits’ expulsion from the Philippines in 1768.
Her inventory includes detailed description of the following, as Ocampo quotes: “the image of gold crown with crystal stones and weighed 6 marcos, 5 ounces, and 77rrs in total removing the weight of the stones and some 2 ounces of silver from a half arch and 5 from the entire arch that is [illegible] that leaves pure gold of 5 marcos, 6 ounces, and 7 rrs of the purest 20 carats; a gold diadem of 18 carats that weighs 2 ounces and 4 rrs; a sun of gold 20 carats weighed an ounce and 9 granos; a potencia (one of the three rays projecting from behind the head of Christ; saints being of lesser importance had haloes) that weighed a total of three ounces, 7 rrs and a half; three gold rings with a ruby in each valued at a peso; a Niño of ivory almost 8 inches long with slippers and a girdle of gold, the adornment valued at 8 pesos and the ivory 2; a gold crown of the Santo Niño of 17 carats with 70 false stones and 103 grains of small pearls weighing a total of eight ounces, 2 rrs and a half; a gold brooch with 9 diamantes, the major one at the center and the others valued at 300 pesos; two gold butterflies with 5 diamantes, each valued at 30 pesos; three flowers for the overdress of the image with 425 medium-size pearls; forehead strap (worn by the Santo Entierro or dead Christ in a bier) with a large diamante in the center and the rest false stones and 136 pearls as big as a chilantro gain valued at a hundred pesos; an altar front of wood lined in silver measuring 26 x 12 inches (4 palms and a half in height and two palms in length) that contains 700 ounces of silver; a crown and dress of silver of Our Lady of the Pillar with her child equally adorned; the silver would reach 250 ounces; and the image has as well a pair of eardrops with 26 crystal stones set in gold and 4 brooches of silver with fake stones each and a crystal in front 7 quarters in height and 5 wide.”
Apart from such treasures, the church is also known for the various tombstones around it, like the one discovered by Ocampo–an ancient granite slab, which marked the grave of a certain Jose Herrera, died in 1800 at 82.
The Church of the Filipino Faithful
The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene at Plaza Miranda along Quezon Avenue, is famous not for its architecture but more on the tradition that is particularly identified with it, for the Black Nazarene, one of the country’s most worshipped representations of Christ, is housed here.
The statue was believed to be carved by Mexican Indios at the start of the 17th century and brought to the Philippines by one of the regular galleons that carried most foreign trade to the archipelago.
On Fridays, faithful pass by the glass case, which houses the image and present to it their grievances from which they request relief, and their wishes which they expect to become true.
Every January 9, the image is carried in a procession throughout the city, attended by thousands of devotees–from ordinary people even to personalities such as Vice-President Noli De Castro. But such devotion resulted in accidents and even deaths, which this year, an unidentified man died and 20 others were injured were part of the huge crowd, broke out into a stampede.
Quiapo Church is located in one of the most air polluted areas of Metro Manila, which probably why it needed renovation in the mid-80s. At present, the original Quiapo Church is mantled in concrete, which might resist automotive exhausts.
San Sebastian Church:
A Gustave Eiffel Masterpiece
The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine or the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian holds the distinction of the only Gothic church in the Philippines, and probably in Asia.
Don Bernardino Castillo, a generous patron and a well-known devotee of San Sebastian donated his lot in 1621 to fulfill a dream of a steel church in Asia. The original church made of wood, was burned in 1651 in a Chinese uprising. The following structures were destroyed by fire and earthquake in 1859, 1863, and 1880 that destroyed the stone part of the church. Parish priest, Fr. Esteban Martinez, approached Spanish architect Genero Palacios with a plan to build a fire and earthquake-resistant church made entirely of steel.
Despite confusions as regard its foundation date, it is the only steel church in Asia built in the late 18th century. Only a few probably know that Alexander Gustave Eiffel, famous not only for the Eiffel Tower but also as exporter of knockdown steel churches in Latin America, designed San Sebastian Church.
Ocampo, a Filipino historian and writer, once wrote that the story of San Sebastian Church began when Chinese-American, I.M. Pei, visited the Philippines in the late 70s to confirm a news he heard that Eiffel designed a steel church in Asia. After inspection, he later declared, Eiffel no less designed the metal fixtures and the overall structure.
The Order of the Agustinian Recollect (OAR) Parishes Manual cites San Sebastian Church as “the first all-iron church in the world, the first iron edifice in Asia and the second in the world after Eiffel Tower.”
Ocampo states, the present San Sebastian Church was ordered knockdown in steel parts from the “Societe Anonime des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques in Brussels, Belgium. The Societe cast all the parts and shipped them piece by piece to Manila, (as what Eiffel did in most of his designs). Two Belgian engineers supervised the construction of the church, which was later completed and inaugurated in 1891.”
Manila's famous painters were commissioned to soften the interior in painted grisaille and trompe l'oeil, and textured the steel walls with painted faux marble. Eusebio Garcia, a famous sculptor that time, created the statuary for the Neo-Gothic high altar.
San Sebastian, the only all-steel church in the Philippines and possibly in the Far East, has survived numerous earthquakes and a world war. But the church is under assault from the sky as downtown Manila's polluted air sends acid rain that slowly but surely corrodes its steel structure. Art historian Father Rene Javellana, S.J. writes, “the Recollects have waged an ongoing battle to save their treasure: chemical washes and acrylic paints have been applied but rain continues to damage the church. It is an uphill battle.”
We made it! As we finished our Visita Iglesia here at San Sebastian Church, we now all heartily smile for the camera–we made it! We met our goal! (As per Sidetrip report of Howie Severino in Saksi, the priest interviewed mentioned that many Chinese prefer to have their wedding here, as the church is “good feng shui.” Ha! If not in San Agustin, Descovrir also hopes to have her wedding here…sigh.)
As we rested for a while in San Sebastian, the more we took pictures, but Sir Jere here (front, center) seemed to be too tired to smile in front of the camera, hehehe. Sir, don’t scare us, please, peace!!!
Still at San Sebastian. Smile galore!!!
Still at San Sebastian, and now, all girls–eh, it seemed that only Cris and Leah, or only Cris is the girl here, hehehe, as per Varsi joke! Hmph!“Holy Gimmick”The Varsitarian’s publications adviser and PDI’s Lito Zulueta (across Sir Jere, to your right), was able to join our “holy gimmick” from 2002 to last year. This year, he was not able to join us since he closed 11 sets for their section’s issues for next week, he says. But he joined us for dinner and we met him by 6pm at Haf Chang, West Avenue.
When we’re settled, Sir Lito explained that he woke up only that afternoon since he had slight fever. After little chat, he asked us for our orders. As always, Kuya Ipe – one of the gang’s great food lover – took charge. Followed by Prof. Jere. Sir Lito also added his favorites (Lemon Chicken, Fish Fillet, and Bird’s Nest Soup [did I get his favorites right?] Anyway).
Orders came. But I did not know that they ordered for fried rice. So when it came, told Leah about that – could not eat that because of shrimp mixed – I’m allergic to shrimp. Leah checked the fried rice and said the shrimps were small and sliced even, maybe I could still have the rice – I said, don’t want to take risk then, didn’t have Claritin with me.
So on with the dinner, plus talk about the fashion industry, plus, The Da Vinci Code and the Gospel of Judas. Sir Lito, as always, gave his convincing points, and we also shared inputs as well. Around 7:30pm, he asked us to have coffee at Starbucks. So we walked from Haf Chang to Starbucks (the one at the West Wing going toward SM North EDSA).
So here, on with the talk – from bashing friends who were not with us this day, to UST’s summa cum laude this year who came from our own college, to again, Da Vinci, Opus Dei, to back to bashing friends who were not with us. About 9pm, Kuya Ipe and Cris said they’ll go ahead and Sir Lito said that we should all go. We still chatted for almost 30 minutes outside Starbucks as we waited for taxis.
When we got taxi for Sir Lito, we bid him goodbye and thanked him a lot. We sure miss Sir Lito since we barely see him nowadays, and whenever he’s with us, we’re intellectually rejuvenated – we all have good laugh as well. We miss the man. Really.
The “holy gimmick” extends to our annual Easter Vigil, which we’ve been doing for five years now. For the fourth time, I was the only girl (boy? Girl? Boy?) in the group – so they teased me that I have to join them in the men’s line during the Salubong – which I did by the way. Sir Lito, who we joined for dinner, was so funny that night, as he bashed hard core another friend, Dexter. We were just like that – laughing until we need to go to EDSA Shrine for the Mass.
Learned that Sir Lito will not be joining us for the Easter Vigil (last year he was not also able to join us). He said he’s still not feeling well.
So we – Kuya Ipe, Sir Jere, Carly, Kuya Feli, and me – joined the Salubong, watched the program until the fireworks display went on. Instead of having coffee, we ended up drinking C2 at Mini-Stop Galleria. There, all five of us, we texted Sir Lito simultaneously to greet him “Happy Easter!!!”
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What’s my “memorable” vacation gimmick this year? I say it’s our annual Visita Iglesia. Good thing I am able to join them as I forgot about my worries. Also, good thing Mommy allowed me to join them for this and Easter Vigil as well, since I barely join my friends the past years. These were good times for me to take time off, especially after my father’s death.