This group of churches established a style of building and design that was adapted to the physical conditions in the Philippines and had an important influence on later church architecture in the region. The four churches are outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of the Baroque style and represent the fusion of European church design and construction with local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition.
The Church of San Agustin in Manila is the principal property of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines World Heritage Site. San Agustin is the oldest church in the Philippines. The current church dates back to 1607 but previous Spanish churches have existed on the spot going back to 1571. The church has survived several major earthquakes in Manila as well as both American and Japanese bombardment in WWII.
Overview of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines
There are four churches around the Philippines which are included on this site. The churches that were included in this UNESCO World Heritage Site property played a crucial role in the country’s colonial past and identity. Most of these churches were built during the 16th century at the time of the Spanish colonial rule of the country. The churches’ unique design features are the integration of the Spanish and Latin American architectural styles with that of the Philippine indigenous architecture. In fact, the prominence of these churches also provided a glimpse into the power that the Church had in ruling the state during the colonial history.
The Spaniards held a great deal of power during the 15th to 16th century wherein they went on an expedition and colonized many countries. The Philippines was one of those countries. When they landed on the Philippine islands in 1521, they were able to infiltrate the country and establish their rule by spreading Catholicism in the country. They ruled the Philippines for more than three centuries until the country eventually declared its independence from Spain. However, those three centuries of Spanish rule have influenced the way of life in the Philippines – from the language, religion, belief, and architecture, to name a few.
The four churches are:
Church of San Agustin in Manila
The San Agustin Church in Manila features a design that is derived from the Augustinian churches in Mexico. In fact, it bears a strong resemblance to Puebla Cathedral in Puebla, Mexico. It is located in Intramuros, which is in the southern district of Manila. It is the only church that had survived the bombardment during the Second World War.
Given its location in Manila, it is the most popular and visited of the four churches which comprise this world heritage site.
Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur
Located atop a hill, the Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion served as a citadel once that profess to how this architectural feat has served several purposes. The two huge columns at the facade of the church are among its most distinctive feature. Meanwhile, the reddish exterior and exposed brickwork define its unique style.
Church of San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte
This particular church was pointed out in the UNESCO listing as the most outstanding example of the Earthquake Baroque Architectural Style. Next to the Paoay Church is a coral stone bell tower. These two are one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country. The fact that the bell tower is detached from the main church building also makes it unique.
Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Iloilo
This church, also known as Miagao Church, is built on the highest point in the town of Miagao in Iloilo (to which the church was also named after). The towers of the church also served as a lookout for Muslim raiders. Meanwhile, both the church and its watchtowers were built with secret passages and thick walls to defend from the Muslim raids. It is considered the finest example of “Fortress Baroque”. The facade of the church exemplifies how Filipino churches have adapted Western decorative elements.
The Philippines is no doubt a haven for historical churches. Due to its colonial past and a rich Christian belief, it comes as no surprise how the church is an integral part of the system. In fact, the national government and both public and private sectors work together to safeguard these national treasures. The aim is to preserve and protect the historical and cultural heritage that are tied up with these baroque churches. In addition, they are also rapidly growing as top tourist destinations.
View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.
View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.