The Sto. Tomas Villanueva Church of Miag-ao, Iloilo, a town south of the capital, holds the distinction of being the four Baroque churches in the Philippines to be enumerated in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The current structure is actually the third church to be built—the first and second ones were looted and burned down by Muslim pirates. The rampant attacks of these Muslim pirates prompted the townspeople to plan a church strategically located where there is a good view of the river that the pirates would use to enter town. Hence, the third church was to be built to serve not only as a place of worship but also as a stronghold against attacks. Read more…
The construction commenced under Fray Francisco Maximo Gonzales in December 1786 and was finished by the year 1797. The church is testament at how Spanish friars were adept at aesthetic and structural design as no architects and engineers were hired to the project, only native maestro de obra or master builders.
Truly built as a massive fortress for defense, the church sinks six meters into the ground, with its walls and buttresses built thickly. Unequal in height, the tapering belfries flanking the church stand tall to serve as lookout against the pirates.
The overall Baroque design can be described as indigenized, that is it has amalgamated elements of colonial Spanish architecture and local design, as well as touches of Muslim and Chinese influence. The most noticeable indigenized design influence is a bas relief of a natively-dressed St. Christopher carrying the image of Sto. Nino or Christ the Child at the pediment amidst stylized trees of coconut, papaya, and guava. Conversely, colonial bas reliefs of the Pope and St. Henry with their corresponding coat of arms above them flank the front door of the church, while St. Thomas of Villanova, the church’s patron, is immortalized prominently with a bas relief at the center above the door.
Now more than two centuries old, the church has withstood tests of time, among them earthquakes and wars. Burned during the Japanese invasion of World War II, the townspeople were quick to rehabilitate this treasure during the liberation of 1945. Efforts from both the parish and the government to fully reconstruct the church followed.
By virtue of Presidential Decree 280 dated August 1, 1973, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed Miag-ao Church as a national shrine and its reconstruction efforts to the National Historical Institute. In 1993 came its official inscription into the UNESCO World Heritage List, together with three other Baroque churches in the Philippines.
How to get there: Miag-ao Church (Google Maps) is easily accessible as it is right along the highway leading to the town of San Joaquin and the province of Antique. From Iloilo City’s Molo Terminal (Google Maps), ordinary buses to Pandan, Antique may be taken, with the fare costing around 50php per way and the trip lasting for around 30 minutes. From the town of San Joaquin, Miag-ao is right next town, and jeepneys or buses to Miag-ao or Iloilo City may be taken. Fare costs 15php per way and the trip takes around 15 minutes.