As a leading province during the Spanish Colonial Era, the province of Iloilo is widely known for its beautiful old-world Spanish architecture similar to that of Latin American Countries. Spanish colonial churches are amongst the well-known tourist sites in the province. The presence of many old churches underscores the high regard the Spanish colonizers had for Iloilo Province as a religious center for the region.
The Miag-ao Church is one of the finest Baroque Churches in the Philippines. It is the most impressive among Iloilo’s formidable array of centuries-old churches. UNESCO declared it as a World Heritage and Conservation Site primarily because it best exemplifies the tropical baroque style of architecture. It is the centerpiece of Iloilo’s architectural tradition. Built in 1786, the Aztec-Baroque-inspired church with Filipino botanicals carved on the façade is known for its intricate facade and pyramidal bell towers. This massive structure with four-meter thick walls of yellowish limestones was built to withstand earthquakes and used as an impregnable fortress from invaders during the olden days. The towers are dissimilar because the first priest-foreman died before his work was completed, and his successor deviated from the original design.
It was severely damaged during the Spanish revolution in 1898 but was later restored following fire damage in 1910, the second World War, and the earthquake in 1948. The present-day Miag-ao Church is the third church built since the parish establishment in 1731.
The Gothic-Renaissance Molo Church was completed in the 1800s and was built in solid coral. It was used as a watchtower to warn the people if there were any attackers on the shore of Iloilo City. It is a fine coral stone church with Classical and Gothic details. It is also known as the feminist church because of the beautiful female saints lining inside the church.
The Jaro Church, an impressive Gothic-style cathedral with a ruined belfry found at the edge of the town plaza at Jaro District, was finished in 1874 by the first Bishop of Jaro, Mariano Cuartero. It was destroyed by the January 1948 earthquake and later repaired in 1956. The Marian image of Our Lady of the Candles has the distinction of being canonically crowned personally by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Iloilo City on February 21, 1981, making it the only Marian figure be given such stature in the Philippines.
The Jaro Cathedral was constructed in the Romanesque Revival style with a distinctive feature of the bell tower located across a busy street from the church resembling Ilocos churches. Typically, belfries are built next to their churches. In this case, the tower was adjacent to an earlier church, but an earthquake destroyed the church and left the tower. Another distinctive feature is the stairs attached to the cathedral’s front façade, over the main entrance, leading up to a shrine featuring a statue of Our Lady of the Candles. Another feature is its all-male ensemble of saints placed on the main pillars, except for the Virgin’s icon. The arrangement is in response to Molo Church’s all-female theme.
The National Historical Institute of the Philippines declared the Jaro Cathedral an historical landmark in 1976. In Jan. 2012, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines approved the cathedral as the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles and the first Marian dedicated church or cathedral to receive such status in the Visayas and Mindanao.
The Augustinian built the Santa Barbara Parish Church of sandstone and coralline limestone, where Ilonggos first gathered to declare the revolution against the Spanish rulers. The construction, which will last up to the present day, began when Father Francisco Aguerria arrived in 1845. The overall style of the church is neoclassical with an unembellished front facade. The central division contains the main entrance, while the side divisions have two niches accommodating the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin icons.
Three stained glass windows puncture the facade of the upper level. This fenestration indicates a choir loft located inside. The side windows are capped with the Pope’s crests (on the left) and the Augustinians (on the right). On the uppermost part of the front facade is a niche that contains a statue of St. Barbara.
The National Museum declared Santa Barbara Church as a national cultural treasure in 2013. The Santa Barbara Parish Church and Convent are considered the “Cradle of Independence” in Panay and the Visayas. In 1991, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared Santa Barbara Church and Convent as a National Landmark. The church was the site where General Martin Delgado of the Visayan Revolutionary Government started the junta that resulted in the first Cry of Revolution against the Spaniards outside Luzon. It was also used as the general headquarters and military hospital of the revolutionary forces.
The Renaissance-style Pavia Church, 13 km (eight miles) northwest of Iloilo City, has red brick walls and unusual window frames made of coral rocks. Construction began in 1886, but somehow the church was never finished. As a Japanese garrison during WWII, the church was subject to guerilla raids, and the walls still bear bullet marks.
In San Joaquin, 53 km (32 miles) southwest of Iloilo city proper, the San Joaquin Church, built in 1869, is of gleaming white coral and has an unusual façade, a bas-relief, originally pigmented red, blue, and yellow, of the historic Battle of Tetuan in 1859 between Spanish Christians and the Moors of Morocco, likened by the Spaniards to the Moros of Mindanao and Sulu.
Cabatuan Church – This Neoclassic Church, known to be the most massive Hispanic structure in Iloilo, is built of red bricks in the early 1880s. It is believed to be the largest red brick structure in the Visayas, and it was given the title “Model of Temples” by the ‘El Eco de Panay’. The Cabatuan Church is known to be the only extant Spanish colonial church with three facades. Nearby is Cabatuan Cemetery, walled in with coral rocks and sandstone.
San Jose Church – The beautiful church in front of plaza Libertad is considered the most historic among Iloilo City churches. It is a Byzantine-Neoclassic Church planned to look like the Spanish Church of Valencia del Cid. The Church is known for its collection of priceless Catholic treasures.
St. William the Hermit of Maleval Parish Church in Passi City is considered a militaristic church in that it was planned as a ‘fortress church’, and the proof of this can be seen in the massive buttresses that support the church’s front and back walls. The church was built to replace churches destroyed by an earthquake in 1612 and subsequent churches that fires had damaged. In 1856, Friar Pedro Ceberio restored the church that had fallen into disrepair. The church did reasonably well during the Revolution and the Philippines-American War, but in 1932, the roof was blown away by a typhoon.
The discovery of Passi as a mission parish occurred in 1584 and was placed under the patronage of St. William of Maleval, whose feast has been celebrated every February 10. In 1593, Padre Juan Villamayor, an Augustinian friar, became its first resident priest. The first mission church was made out of light materials and located near the riverbank of Jalaur River. In 1600, the church was transferred from the old site to its present location. The church is surrounded by a ‘Garden of Saints’ containing 25-30 statues of Saints placed in the garden by parishioners.
The Old Cathedral in Oton, consecrated 1891, was destroyed by an earthquake on January 24, 1948.
Oton was settled originally by the Malays. The Spaniards arrived in the middle of 16th century and made Oton as Capital of Panay, Negros, Capiz, Antique and Romblon. From Oton, the Spanish missionaries spread the Catholic church in neighboring settlements such as Jaro. Oton was difficult to defend from pirate attacks so the Spanish authorities moved the capital to few kilometers away in Iloilo by 1600.
Traveler’s Philippines Companion – Kirsten Ellis
Insight Guide Philippines – Discovery Channel
Philippines Handbook by Carl Parkes