Historical churches to visit for Visita Iglesia

Posted at 04/17/14 5:22 PM

MANILA -- Holy Week is not only a time for reflection and forgiveness. For most Catholics, visiting different churches in various parts of the country is also a big part of the Holy Week celebrations.

This week's episode of "Cityscape" highlighted historical churches in Batangas, Bulacan and La Union that devout Catholics can visit for Visita Iglesia.

Visita Iglesia is a Catholic tradition of visiting a church to pray the Stations of the Cross, which is usually done on Maundy Thursday.

One usually has to finish the entire Stations of the Cross in a single church, but in the 1970s, it has become the new tradition to visit different churches and pray a station or two in each church.

The Philippines, as a former colony of Spain, is home to several basilicas that not only serve as a refuge for Catholics, but also as witnesses to the country's history.

In Batangas, one can visit the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Batangas City, and the Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours in the heritage town of Taal.

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which was elevated as a basilica on February 13, 1948, was first built in 1581, and just like most old churches in the country, suffered through different wars and natural disasters.

Less than an hour away from Batangas City is the quaint little town of Taal, which has been tagged as the heritage town of Batangas. Aside from old houses, Taal is also home to the largest church in Asia, the Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours, which was first built in 1574 in the town of San Nicolas, by the Taal Lake.

The following year, a concrete church was built, and it remained in the same location for 200 years, until it was destroyed and buried in a volcanic eruption.

From its location by the lake, the church was reconstructed on top of an elevated hill facing Balayan Bay, where it is currently located.

The massive structure that we have now was built in 1856. With its rich history and heritage, it has become a popular destination of the faithful.

Another historical church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Bulacan, is a popular destination for devout Catholics.

The basilica, located in Malolos, was the home of the first Philippine republic established by Emilio Aguinaldo.

It is also a cathedral as the seat of the Diocese of Malolos. It was elevated as a basilica on April 9, 1999.

The Augustinian friars first built a chapel in the 1500s, then erected a bigger church in 1600. Since then, the basilica has been the center of evangelization, unity and refuge for Catholics in the area.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Charity in Agoo, La Union is another popular destination for Catholics in Northern Luzon. It was first built by the Franciscans in 1570, and after a few years, the Augustinians took over the administration of the church.

It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1892, and a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Charity was rebuilt.

In 1975, under the leadership of Former Congressman Jose Aspiras, the basilica was demolished to give way to a bigger structure.

The present structure is a mix of Mexican and Filipino architecture, and shows both foreign and local aesthetics, with its narra details on ceilings and walls, wooden chandeliers, and a pipe organ from Germany.

The murals and paintings inside the basilica were made by local artists, and the images of saints carved by sculptors and carvers from Betis, Pampanga and Cebu.

On Good Friday, the church will lead a grand parade of images in town, in celebration of the Holy Week.