Built in 1786, Miagao Church, also known as the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Miagao Iloilo. More than a place of worship, it also served as a fortress. Hence, it is called the Baroque fortress church.

It was designed with the baroque features with touches of Chinese and Filipino style imposing designs, ornaments and motifs, making it a one of a kind church. That’s why the Miag ao Church architecture is among the Philippines’ most beautiful architectural gems. Its old structure, history, and its UNESCO World Heritage mark make it a treasure not only for Iloilo but for the Philippines.

Throughout the years, it has gone to many wars and revolutions, fires and earthquakes and survived. Miagao Church also stands as a living legacy of the culture and way of life of the people of Miagao centuries ago.

What’s inside this blog?

Miagao Church History

detailed miagao church architecture

Before Miag ao Church, there were two churches that were built in town but both were burned by Muslim raiders and pirates. 

It was just in 1786 when the construction of Miag ao Church Iloilo started and completed in 1797. Since then, it served two purposes: a place of worship and a fortress against Muslim raiders. 

For centuries since 1797, Miag ao Church was not only a garrison of the Christian faith but also an indomitable refuge for citizens during the Spanish-Moro wars. Battle after battle, its walls stood steadfast like San Cristobal under the weight of a centuries-long struggle. 

During the revolution in 1898, the church was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt in the same year. In 1910, the church was damaged by fire. While in 1948, it was damaged by an earthquake and the restoration was completed in 1962. Due to the disasters and calamities, it went through, Miag ao Church underwent restoration work several times already. 

In 1974, Miag ao Church Iloilo was declared as a National Landmark. And in 1993 it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Miagao Church being one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites

facade of church of santo tomas de villanueva

Now that you know the history of Miagao Church, let’s talk about it being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

UNESCO has chosen Miagao Church as one of the World Heritage Sites because it exhibits various architectural designs with the predominance of baroque architecture and local artistic elements. 

The church’s foundation runs 20 feet deep into the ground, and it’s one-and-a-half-meter thick walls are reinforced with four meter-thick buttresses. As the town of Miagao was constantly invaded by the “Moros” for almost a decade in the mid-18th century, the church had to be moved to a more secure place, so a new fortified church was then built at the highest point of the town to guard against potential invaders. But what makes this church even more special is its unique ochre color.

The church was built using a combination of Spanish Baroque and Romanesque Early Medieval architectural styles, with the addition of Chinese, Muslim, and local Filipino elements in the decoration of its facade. For instance, St. Christopher is wearing a traditional Filipino attire, and it’s surrounded by decorations like papaya and palm trees which are very common in the country. The Miagao Church’s distinctive yellow-ochre color comes from the inclusion of coral, ground into dust, and egg whites in the mixture for the adobes. Egg whites are customarily used by Spaniards to make mortar for their churches, in order to make the mixture more durable.

The adobe used in building the church is made from silt and clay that can only be found in this part of Iloilo, giving also the building a unique warm-yellowish glow. The towering buttresses from the side of the church walls are typical of the “earthquake baroque” design reminiscent of churches in Ilocos, particularly Panay Church and Vigan Cathedral, while the church’s simple interior is highlighted by a striking gold-plated retablo.

The church is what put Miagao on the map. 

Places you can visit near Miagao Church

1. Islas de Gigantes

tourists arriving at islas de gigantes

After visiting the prominent church, make sure to include Islas de Gigantes in your itinerary. It is a set of islands that make up a paradise of pristine beaches, clear water, and huge rock formations. But what truly sets it apart are its stunning, secluded beaches. From the city proper, Islas de Gigantes is a five-hour trip. It’s untouched beauty is one of Iloilo’s best kept secrets.

2. Camiña Balay Nga Bato

Facade of Camiña Balay Nga Bato iloilo

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Aside from being known as the home of the sweetest and softhearted people, Iloilo is also filled with history from the old churches and ancestral houses. One of the most famous ancestral houses is the Camiña Balay Nga Bato. It was built in 1860 and was strategically located beside the river to have easy transportation of the family’s business of hand-woven textile products.

While learning its history, you can sip a hot chocolate that they’re also famous for, or dine at the restaurant, or just shop for pasalubongs.

3. Nelly’s Garden

facade of the nelly's garden in iloilo
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1928 by Ilonggo Statesman Don Vicente Lopez and Doña Elena Hofileña. The Beaux Art Mansion was named after their first daughter. It is called the “Queen of Heritage Houses.” An icon of old Iloilo Grandeur. It is a mansion where you can experience what it’s like to live like the aristocrats in the old times. There’s also a shop inside where you can buy pasalubongs.

4. Miagao Rice Terraces

Surprisingly, there are many rice terraces in the Philippines, not just only in Ifugao. In fact, Miagao has its own. Miagao Rice Terraces is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the province. Situated in Cabalaunan village, Miagao Rice Terraces covers a 500-hectare rice fields with beautiful terraces carved in perpendicular slopes that will surely engulf the mountain climbers.

It was built with minimal equipment, mostly by the meticulous hands of its inhabitants in order to adapt to its mountainous environment.

How to get to Miagao Church

There are three ways to reach Sto. Tomas de Villanueva parish church or Miag-ao Church in Iloilo: by plane, ship, and bus.

By plane

From Manila, there are direct flights to Iloilo that will take around 50 minutes of travel time. Upon arrival, you can ride a shuttle van or taxi going to Iloilo City. 

By ship

From Manila Ports, you can reach Iloilo Domestic Port, located along General Hughes St., in about 20 hours.

By bus

There are also buses from Manila bound for Iloilo City. The terminals are located in Cubao and Pasay. These buses will then ride the roro (roll-on-roll-off) services going to Iloilo. 

Upon arrival in Iloilo, there are many available transportation services that can tour you around. There are taxis, jeepneys, and vans. From the city proper, it will take about 45 minutes to reach Miag-ao Church.

Miagao Church history proved us that no matter how many times we fall for the challenges we face over time, we can still recover. This church stands proud, a testament to resilience and faith of its people.

After visiting the simbahan ng Miagao sa Iloilo and you’re looking for budget hotels to stay at, make sure to only book the best ones. Check out www.zenrooms.com to enjoy quality accommodation at a very affordable price.

Frequently Asked Questions About Miagao Church

Q: Saan matatagpuan ang simbahan ng Miag-ao?

A: Matatagpuan ang simbahan ng Miag-ao, o ang simbahan ng Santo Tomas de Villanueva, sa bayan ng Miag-ao sa Iloilo.

Q: When was Miagao Church built?

A: Sto Tomas de Villanueva church also known as simbahan ng Miag-ao was built in 1786.

Q: How long is the travel time from Iloilo City to Miagao?

A: Simbahan ng Miagao is 30 to 45 minutes away from Iloilo City. 

Q: What is the medium or materials of Molo Church?

A: The medium or materials of Molo Church are coral rocks, affixed with a mortar made from egg whites mixed with sand, and dubbed as “women’s church” because of the presence of 16 images of women saints inside.

Disclaimer: ZEN Rooms claims no credit for images featured on our blog site unless otherwise noted. All visual content is copyrighted to its respectful owners. We try to link back to original sources whenever possible. If you own the rights to any of the images, and do not wish them to appear on ZEN Rooms, please contact us and they will be promptly removed. We believe in providing proper attribution to the original author, artist or photographer.

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 designs 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. 

Baroque Churches of the Philippines

When in the Philippines, you must explore at least one Baroque church, and see its magnificence for yourself. We’ve rounded uip a list of the baroque and old churches in the Philippines:

  1. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo
  2. Church of San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte
  3. San Agustin Church in Manila in Intramuros, Manila
  4. Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur
  5. Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church in Guadalupe Viejo, Makati
  6. Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church (Malate Church) in Malate, Manila
  7. Parish Church of San Ildefonso in Tanay, Rizal
  8. Parish Church of Santiago Apostol in Betis, Pampanga

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
Photo source

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, this baroque church stands on the highest elevation of the town and was completed in 1797. The church withstood typhoons and earthquakes and was burned twice: the 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 this Philippines 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 church in Philippines 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 this Philippines church unique is its ceiling paintings in the tromp l’oeil style.

The San Agustin Church, built between 1587 and 1606, is considered the longest-standing and oldest church in the Philippines. 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

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.

The key features of this baroque church in the Philippines 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

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

This 400-year old church in the Philippines 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, making it one of the most historical churches in the Philippines.

Bonus! More Heritage Churches in the Philippines!

7. Parish Church of San Ildefonso in Tanay, Rizal

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

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Baroque Churches of the Philippines

Q: What are the baroque churches in the Philippines?

A: Here’s a list of churches in the Philippines with baroque architecture:

  • Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo
  • Church of San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte
  • San Agustin Church in Manila in Intramuros, Manila
  • Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur
  • Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church in Guadalupe Viejo, Makati
  • Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church (Malate Church) in Malate, Manila
  • Parish Church of San Ildefonso in Tanay, Rizal
  • Parish Church of Santiago Apostol in Betis, Pampanga

Q: What is a baroque architecture?

A: Baroque architecture is a highly decorative and theatrical style that appeared in Italy in the early 17th century and gradually spread across Europe. Other characteristic qualities of baroque architecture include grandeur, drama, and contrast (especially in lighting), curvaceousness, and an often dizzying array of rich surface treatments, twisting elements, and gilded statuary. Architects unabashedly applied bright colors and illusory, vividly painted ceilings.

Q: What are the characteristics of the churches that you choose to consider and classify as baroque?

A: Some of the qualities most frequently associated with Baroque architecture are grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, dynamism, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.

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Disclaimer: ZEN Rooms claims no credit for images featured on our blog site unless otherwise noted. All visual content is copyrighted to its respectful owners. We try to link back to original sources whenever possible. If you own the rights to any of the images, and do not wish them to appear on ZEN Rooms, please contact us and they will be promptly removed. We believe in providing proper attribution to the original author, artist or photographer.