Visita Iglesia (Spanish: church visits) is a tradition here in the Philippines of visiting seven churches on Maundy Thursday as penance. Some people expand it to 14 churches with each one representing the Stations of the Cross. For this year I decided to start including this in my Holy Week habit but unfortunately I didn’t know that it should be on a Thursday, so ended up doing it on a Saturday, with an unexpected extra two churches!
I’ve always wanted to do something I think is relevant during Holy Week so this year I decided to start doing Visita Iglesia, on foot. I’ve always been amazed at how some people managed to do theirs by walking for hours, some even for more than a day, just to get to their preferred churches. Now that I’m running I no longer have to be simply “amazed,” I too am able.
I originally planned to do a long run elsewhere in the Metro for that long holiday since most of the roads would be practically empty, but there wouldn’t be as much personal significance doing it except for bragging rights, so I just planned a different route using Google Earth. The goal was simple: create a route that passes through seven churches without being too long or too short. And where else could you find a lot of old and historic churches per square kilometer? Where else but in the City of Manila!
The City of Manila is one of my favorite places when it comes to historical sites, particularly old churches. I don’t know what it is about old churches, but I do find them very charming. And because Manila had been the center of politics and faith in the country for centuries it’s only natural that it still has the most old churches per square kilometer than perhaps any city in the country.
I started my route from Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, better known as EDSA, about two kilometers away from my first church, Sto. Domingo, which is still in my city of residence, Quezon City. This is to help me add some distance to my travel and convenience.
Entering Quezon Ave. formally starts my Visita Iglesia for the year, and here are the churches:
Sto. Domingo Church
Sto. Domingo is one of the big churches of Metro Manila, home to the ‘Nuestra Senora de La Naval’ (Our Lady of La Naval). For about 400 years it was located within the walls of Intramuros but it was moved to its present site after being destroyed during World War II. It was quite peaceful when I arrived and it was here when I prayed for a safe journey. After a while I was off towards Manila for the rest of the tour.
St. Anthony of Padua Shrine
I only discovered this church upon my route research in Google Earth so I have no idea on its history or background other than the fact that it’s along a route that I’ve never travelled, and it’s always nice to discover something new. It’s just too bad that the view was obstructed.
San Sebastian Basilica
I fell in love with this church the first time I saw it. Who wouldn’t be? It’s noted for its Neo-Gothic architecture (a rarity in the Philippines) and is the only all-steel church or basilica in Asia. It was completed in 1891 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993 under Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
Quiapo Church, or officially the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, is one of the most revered and popular churches in the Philippines, home to the Black Nazarene, a much venerated statue of Jesus Christ which many people believe has miraculous attributes. The first church was erected in 1586, but the current structure was based on the third church completed in 1899, which was expanded in 1984.
Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz
This is another church that I am unfamiliar with, but judging by its façade it really looks dated. From what I can gather it was originally erected in 1596 but its octagonal tower is what remains of the 16th century construction.
The Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, or simply Manila Cathedral, is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila. The original cathedral was built in 1581 and current incarnation was completed in 1958. It is dedicated to the Patroness of the Philippines, Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
San Agustin Church
I can’t imagine a better ending to my Visita Iglesia than with the Philippines’ oldest standing church, San Agustin. The present church was completed in 1607 and stands to this date surviving all the earthquakes and typhoons that ravaged the country, and even World War II! It’s also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993 under Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
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As I mentioned earlier, I did exceed my target seven churches by two! The first one was in St. Anthony of Padua Shrine where there were actually two churches! It was really unexpected but nonetheless I only counted them as one.
The second one was when I got lost in Plaza Santa Cruz. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of an area where there are so many roads to choose from, all of which have no visible street signs! There I found it in the background—Santa Cruz Church. I didn’t expect that there was another church in there, but it wasn’t included in my itinerary so I didn’t count it.
As per getting lost I used Google Maps for BlackBerry to get my actual location and from there re-oriented myself to get to the right direction. It was quite a scary thought to get lost but thankfully we have technology to help assist those who lacked a sense of direction like yours truly.
Unfortunately though the ‘Santa Cruz incident’ wasn’t the last instance of me getting lost as I found myself clueless with the numerous streets leading to Del Pan Bridge—to cross the Pasig River and get to Intramuros for the last two churches on my list. Suddenly I was in a dark, wet, and “depressed” area and while I was silently and discreetly resolving my route, I was really feeling very anxious about my safety. Thankfully my prayers worked as I found my way out of the area safely.
In the end it was a very fulfilling and memorable Visita Iglesia for me. It was just supposed to be a simple seven church visit, but it turned out to be a mini-adventure of its own, and I got a tour of places I’ve never been to. It was really scary at times, but I knew then that someone was watching over me all that time.