July 10, 2011

Pilgrims in Iloilo (Part 1: Cabatuan and Miagao Churches)

Going to Iloilo is like going on a pilgrimage of sorts.  It seems that in every corner of the city, God either has a little townhouse or a sprawling hacienda.  The same can also be said of the entire province.  It’s not surprising then that a considerable chunk of our digital camera’s memory stick is filled with photos of churches.

Iloilo International Airport
We landed at the newly-built Iloilo International Airport at around 5:45 a.m.  Touchdown was initially scheduled at 6:15 a.m., but I guess the pilot was in a hurry to buy Piyaya for his breakfast.  The sight and feel of the new terminal was both comforting and refreshing, a stark contrast to the decrepit building that was the city’s sorry excuse for an airport in Mandurriao.  The new Iloilo Airport is 19 kilometers away from the city proper, just a short 30-minute taxi or jeepney ride.

Cabatuan Church
Our first stop was God’s mansion in Cabatuan.  Built in 1734, the Parish of San Nicolas de Tolentino, more popularly known as Cabatuan Church, easily passes off as one of the grandest churches in the Philippines.  It originally had six belfries.  However, only two of them remain as the earthquake that rocked the province in 1948 destroyed many portions of the church, including the central dome.  People familiar with southern European cathedrals or basilicas would easily recognize the similarity of their design with the Cabatuan Church.  Its red brick walls mirror that of the picturesque churches in Italy.
Inside Cabatuan Church
At first, we thought that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to get a peek inside the church.  Luckily, one of the lay ministers was kind enough to accommodate our request to pray and sit at one of the pews.  The interior of the temple was cavernous.  However, the atmosphere was very relaxed and serene.  We spent around 15 minutes admiring the design and ornaments of Cabatuan church, some of which dates back centuries ago.

After genuflecting on the first place of worship that we set foot on in the province, we headed towards Iloilo City through a limousine-like jeepney locally known as passads.  It was still early, so Gin and I decided to go out of the city again to take a look at a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site situated around 40 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital. 

From afar, the Miag-ao Church seems unassuming.  However, as we got closer, we noticed why it has been regarded by the UN body as one of the world’s most treasured gifts from the past.

Miagao Church
While the structure’s masterpiece is already evident in its unique baroque design, the carvings that adorn the façade of the structure are what probably separate Miagao Church, also known as The Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, from the rest.  The art mainly consists of local flora, highlighting the evident tropical setting of the place.  A sculpture of St. Christopher holding the Child Jesus can be seen in the stone canvass amidst the coconut and papaya trees.  A statue of St. Thomas of Villanova adorns the center of the Miagao Church’s façade.

Corals, limestone, and egg whites were used to construct Miagao Church
One of the facts that make this structure remarkable is that no cement was ever used to construct it.  The locals used only egg whites in gluing the limestone.  Local silt and clay were also used, thereby giving it that unique rusty golden shade.  Construction of the church began in 1787 and was finished a decade after.  Aside from serving as a house of worship, Miagao Church also served as a fortress from pirates of frequented the area.

Inside Miagao Church
In contrast to the dark and commodious interior of Cabatuan Church, the mood and setting inside Miagao Church was light and welcoming.  Sunlight freely enters the building, while air seemingly circulates without restriction despite the thick walls.  The altar is elegantly adorned with gold carvings.

Miagao Church's Altar
It took us a while before we pulled ourselves up to our next destination.  The breeze was so relaxing that we thought of dozing off for a while.  However, we only had around 6 more hours of sunlight, so we decided to go back to the city to visit two more churches.


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