WHS: Baroque Churches of the Philippines

Moving on to the Philippines now after our dive trip to Palau, we had a pretty darn packed couple of weeks there, thanks to the exemplary organizational skills of Ree Maramba at Trouvaille Escapes & Holidays whom we thoroughly recommend for your Philippines travel planning!

First up, a 4-part serial property scattered across central to north Philippines, and why yes we did make it to each of the four:

Baroque Churches of the Philippines


The Baroque Churches of the Philippines is a serial inscription consisting of four Roman Catholic churches constructed between the 16th and the 18th centuries in the Spanish period of the Philippines. They are located in separate areas of the Philippine archipelago, two at the northern island of Luzon, one at the heart of Intramuros, Manila, and the other in the central Visayas island of Iloilo.

This group of churches established a style of building and design that was adapted to the physical conditions in the Philippines and had an important influence on later church architecture in the region. The four churches are outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of the Baroque style, and represent the fusion of European church design and construction with local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition.

The common and specific attributes of the churches are their squat, monumental and massive appearance, which illustrates a fortress/protective-like character in response to pirates, marauders and to the geologic conditions of a country that is prone to seismic activities. The churches are made either of stone (tuff or coralline limestone), or brick, and consolidated with lime.  They display specific features such as retablos (altars) of high Baroque style – (particularly seen in San Agustin Church, Intramuros), in the volutes of contrafuertes (buttresses) and in the pyramidal finials of wall facades – (particularly seen in Paoay Church), in wall buttresses separating criptocollateral chapels –(particularly seen in San Agustin Church, Intramuros) and in the iconography of the ornately decorated naïf/folk pediment expressing the local understanding of the life of Christ and demonstrated by the use of local elements (papaya, coconut and palm tree reliefs), and the depiction of  Catholic Patron Saints (St. Christopher) dressed in local and traditional clothing (particularly seen in the Miagao Church).  The fusion of styles is also seen in the construction of bell towers that are either attached to the main church structure (particularly seen in San Agustin, Intramuros and in Miagao churches) or detached from the main church (particularly seen in Paoay and Sta Maria churches) and lastly, in ceiling paintings in the tromp l’oeil style (particularly seen in San Agustin Church, Intramuros). The Baroque churches reflect excellent site planning principles following the Ley de las Indias (Laws of the Indies) enacted by Philip II in 1563 for all newly-discovered settlements within Spanish colonial territories.

The easiest of the four to visit is San Agustin Church in Manila —

San Augustin Church, Manila

— because you’ll almost certainly be visiting Intramuros the old walled city while you’re in Manila, and San Augustin is a feature of all the tours. There’s a museum attached which is well worth your time, both for the impressive collection of artworks,

San Augustin Church, Manila

and that it gives you access to the choir loft for a particularly impressive view of the main chapel. Where, when we visited, there was a wedding going on…

San Augustin Church, Manila

… which became rather a theme of our visit, as it turned out; it was eleven total churches we stopped at during our trip, and there were weddings going on in eight of them. Apparently God is trying to tell us something, you think?

Our second stop was the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church, in Miagao on the island of Iloilo. That one takes a little more getting to — but Ree managed to fit a stopover there on our way from Puerto Princesa to Davao, and it was definitely worth the trouble, this is generally considered the premiere example of a fortress church:

Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church

When those Spanish build churches, they build them solid.

Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church

The last two are up in the north of the northern island of Luzon, both near to the historic city of Vigan which is both a WHS and a 7 Wonder: first we visited was Saint Augustine Church, Paoay, which definitely wins the Best Landscaping Award of all the Philippine churches:

Saint Augustine Church, Paoay

All of these baroque churches have impressive buttresses, but the Paoay Church takes this buttress idea to the point that you can’t imagine the earthquake that could possibly knock this church down — which is a handy design feature in the Philippines!

Saint Augustine Churc, Paoay

And the last on the list is La Asuncion de la Nuestra Senora Church, in Santa Maria just south of Vigan:

La Asuncion de la Nuestra Senora Church, Santa Maria

This one is mildly unusual, being set on top of a hill instead of fronting the town plaza as most Philippines churches do; a fitting last stop to round off The Great Philippines Church Tour, indeed.

La Asuncion de la Nuestra Senora Church, Santa Maria


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So there we go. Not many of these serial properties we finish off completely, but this one we managed. Impressive one and all, definitely put them on your Philippines itinerary!

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