Baroque Churches of the Philippines: The Religious Grandeur Preserved Through Times

Baroque Churches of the Philippines: The Religious Grandeur Preserved Through Times
facade of paoay church
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As a country teeming with Catholics, Baroque Churches of the Philippines play a significant part in Filipino culture. Over 80% of the country’s population is Roman Catholic so it’s no surprise at all to see churches in almost every barangay in the Philippines.

Since the Spaniards first introduced Christianity to the Filipinos in the 16th century, many Philippine churches with baroque design have been built all over the country as part of the colonizers’ mission to spread the religion. Some of these churches still stand to this day and have become among the top tourist spots.

Four Baroque Churches of the Philippines have been declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. These churches are now important markers of Filipino history. 

When in the Philippines, you must explore at least one Baroque-style church, and see its magnificence for yourself. 

Here are some of the most notable Baroque Churches of the Philippines!

1. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo

facade of church of santo tomas de villanueva
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One of the Philippine churches with baroque design is the church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Iloilo. It is among the best examples of the “fortress baroque” style in the country. Built of local yellow-orange sandstone, the church stands on the highest elevation of the town and was completed in 1797. The church withstood typhoons and earthquakes, and was burned twice: first was during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and the second was during the Philippine-American War.

And did you know that Filipino master carvers incised the church’s entire surface? The church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva is one of the best examples of the fusion of the western Baroque style embellished with Filipino folk motifs.

2. Church of San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte

facade of paoay church

In the far north of the Philippines stands a heritage site amid sprawling green lawn and brick walkways. Also known as Paoay Church, this is popular for its 24 extravagant coral-block buttresses and ornate stone finials. While Paoay Church’s construction began in 1604 and was completed in 1710, its coral stone bell tower, standing at some distance from the church, was finished in the second half of the 18th century. In the Philippines bell towers were intended to be constructed at a distance from the main church structure to avoid its falling on the church during earthquakes. 

The Baroque architecture in the Philippines was designed to protect structures from calamities especially earthquakes. The architecture is known as “Earthquake Baroque” and Paoay Church is one of the most notable “earthquake baroque” structures in the country.

Being one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines, Paoay Church has become a top tourist destination in the region.

3. San Agustin Church in Manila in Intramuros, Manila

interior of san agustin church in manila

Like the other baroque churches of the Philippines, San Agustin Church in Manila exhibits its remarkable features such as retablos (altars) of high Baroque style and wall buttresses separating cripto collateral chapels. What makes it unique is its ceiling paintings in the tromp l’oeil style.

The San Agustin Church, built between 1587 and 1606, is considered the oldest and longest standing church in the country. The church was the only structure left intact in Intramuros during World War II. This is also the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Manila.

4. Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur

facade of nuestra senora de la asuncion
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One of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines that’s also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site is the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Ilocos Sur.

Built in 1765, the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion exhibits a monumental brick facade and reinforced walls to protect it against earthquakes. Its appearance evokes a Mediterranean hill town, the only example of such in the Philippines.

Its key features include an 85-step stairway that leads to a carving of the Virgin Mary atop a tree, and a bell tower which was added in 1810. The power and simplicity of its geometric forms, and its location, make this an outstanding example of Peripheral Baroque architecture.

5. Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church in Guadalupe Viejo, Makati

facade of Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church
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In the middle of Makati’s skyscrapers and commercial establishments is this old church with Renaissance and Baroque architecture in the Philippines. Its facade is simple but striking boasting its arched entrance, columns, and a rose window.

This 400-year old church was constructed in 1629, though parts of it were later rebuilt. Its roof collapsed from an earthquake in 1882, and parts of it were burned in 1898 during a fight between Filipinos and Americans. And even after World War II, its walls remained standing. Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church was reconstructed and re-opened to the public again in 1983. Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church in Guadalupe Viejo, Makati is definitely among the most beautiful heritage churches in the Philippines.

6. Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church (Malate Church) in Malate, Manila

facade of malate church

Malate Church, one of the heritage churches in the Philippines, has the usual Baroque design of arches and columns. And from a bird’s eye view, the rooftop of Malate Church forms the shape of a cross. 

Technically, Malate Church is more than 400 years old as it was built in 1588. But after it was destroyed by an earthquake and typhoon, it was rebuilt in 1864. Malate Church was also greatly damaged by fires during World War II. 

Bonus! More Heritage Churches in the Philippines!

7. Parish Church of San Ildefonso in Tanay, Rizal

facade of Parish Church of San Ildefonso
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Built in the 18th century by the Franciscans, the Parish Church of San Ildefonso’s interior is rich, with five beautiful examples of rococo-influenced retablos. On the walls are the panels of the Via Crucis, celebrated because of the way in which they were indigenized through perspective, proportion, and other details–one of the characters even wears glasses.

8. Parish Church of Santiago Apostol in Betis, Pampanga

glorious interior of santiago apostol church
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The Parish Church of Santiago Apostol in Betis, Pampanga boasts of the ceiling paintings from the early 20th century and the most beautiful retablo in Central Luzon. The wooden floor is well-maintained and adds to the ambience. The original wooden furnishings are still in the sacristy and in the convento.

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