Due to the influence of the Spanish colonial era, the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country. Spain has not only shaped religion and ethnic history for over 300 years but has also influenced many of the oldest churches in our country.
The Philippines prides itself on being Asia’s only Christian nation. More than 86% of the population is Roman Catholic, 6% belong to various nationalized Christian cults, and 2% belong to well over 100 Protestant denominations.
If you want to witness ancient Spanish-influenced architecture and style, or if you’re going to pay tribute, here are the oldest Catholic churches you need to visit in the Philippines.
San Agustin Church – Manila
The Church of San Agustin, also known as the Archdiocesan Shrine of Nuestra Señora de Consolacion y Correa or the Parish of Immaculate Conception, is a Roman Catholic Church under the auspices of the Order of St. Augustine, situated in the historic walled town of Intramuros in Manila. It is the oldest stone church in the country, completed in 1607.
In 1993, under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines, San Agustin Church was one of four Philippine churches built during the Spanish colonial period to be designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It was named in 1976 by the Philippine government as a National Historic Landmark.
The San Agustin Church follows the patterns of the magnificent temples built by the Augustinians in Mexico. Constructed in 1587, the present edifice was completed in 1607 together with the monastery.
Miag-ao Church – Iloilo
The church was completed in 1797, well-known for its artistic sculptural relief carved on its façade. The church was used back in the old days as a stronghold against Muslim raiders. Because of its extraordinary construction and exceptional design, Miag-ao Church is considered an architectural beauty.
The Church of Miag-ao, also known as the Parish Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, is a Roman Catholic Church in Miag-ao, Iloilo, Philippines. On December 11, 1993, together with the San Agustin Church in Manila, the church was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Paoay Church – Ilocos Norte
In 1894, the Paoay Church, also known as the St. Augustine Church, was completed. Due to its distinctive combination of gothic and oriental designs, the church’s structure is called “Earthquake Baroque”. Its facade evokes a Gothic style: the gables show Chinese elements, while Javanese influence is suggested by the niches on the walls.
The area’s earliest historical record dates back to 1593, and in 1686, it became an independent Augustinian parish. The construction of the present church began in 1694 by the Augustinian brother Father Antonio Estavillo, completed in 1710 and restored in 1896.
Betis Church – Pampanga
The church, inspired by the Baroque, was built in 1660. Because of its outstanding European-style murals and carvings, Betis Church is tagged as the one of the most beautiful churches today. Betis was an independent city that had its own autonomy as a municipality during the Spanish-Colonial period.
The interior is hand-painted with Macario Ligon’s original frescoes and trompe l’oeill artwork. The interior ceiling was painted by the famous man mentored by Dr Sijuco, Anac Baculud, a relative of Juan Crisostomo Soto, by the name of Isidoro C. Soto. Isidoro, nicknamed Doro Soto, painted the artwork itself on the ceiling, a very tedious artwork.
Episcopal Church of Saint Mary The Virgin – Cordillera
The church of St. Mary The Virgin in Sagada, also known as the “Angelican Church,” is said to be the oldest church in Cordillera. It was founded by Rev. John Staunton in the 1900s and even survived World War II.
Sagada’s native residents were able to restore their original structure and preserve it. Apart from the typical altar with a rock cluster as its base, there are no photographs, murals, or artworks that can be seen in the church.
Your next stop in Asia is not complete if you don’t pay attention to local art, history, heritage, and architecture. These make each country unique. Visit these churches in the Philippines! For more fun activities to do in the Philippines, click here for more information.