- What is Visita Iglesia?
- Manila Cathedral (Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)
- Quiapo Church (Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene)
- Binondo Church (Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz)
- San Agustin Church (Immaculate Conception Parish)
- Malate Church (Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church)
- Ermita Church (Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guidance)
- San Sebastian Church Manila
- Tondo Church (Santo Niño de Tondo Parish)
- Guadalupe Church (Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church)
- Santa Cruz Church (Our Lady of the Pillar Parish Church)
- Santa Ana Church (The Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned)
Photo (right) by San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc.
Globally recognized as a top beach destination, the Philippines boasts some of the most pristine beaches and islands with clear waters. But along with being rich in thriving natural spaces, the Philippines also features a vibrant culture and rich history. Most of these historical and cultural events can often be learned by visiting the numerous churches in the Philippines, which you can do on pilgrimage tours.
The Philippines' culture is heavily rooted in Catholicism, with about 80% of Filipinos subscribing to the Roman Catholic faith. Catholicism was first introduced in the country in the early 16th century when Spaniards began colonizing the Philippines.
Since then, the religion has become a major influence in Filipinos' lives, which is evident in the many local Philippine festivals and traditions that center around Catholic beliefs, such as saints. Due to Spain's 300-year rule of the Philippines, it has also become one of the biggest Catholic populations in Asia.
To get a better understanding of the importance of religion in the Philippines, it's best to visit top churches in the country. If you’re in the capital region of the Philippines, Metro Manila, there are plenty of churches scattered across the cities that you can visit. Here’s a list of the best churches in Manila that date back to the Spanish colonization era and boast beautiful designs such as Baroque architecture and more that you can add to your itinerary.
What is Visita Iglesia?
Visita Iglesia is a Roman Catholic tradition of visiting and praying in at least 7 churches in one day, typically on Maundy Thursday. Most Filipinos often pray the 14 Stations of the Cross when they observe Visita Iglesia, usually praying at two stations at each church. This tradition was introduced by Augustinian missionaries to the country in the 1560s during the Spanish colonial era.
If you're planning on observing Visita Iglesia during Holy Week in the Philippines, here are some historic cathedrals and basilicas that you can add to your list of Visita Iglesia churches this year:
Manila Cathedral (Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)
Topping our list of churches for Visita Iglesia is the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica. This grand church sits within Intramuros in Manila City, the capital city of the Philippines. It dates back to the 1570s and has undergone seven major renovations over the years due to natural disasters that heavily damaged the earlier structures.
The current structure was built in the 1950s and now serves as the episcopal seat of the Archbishop of Manila. It boasts a striking Neo-Romanesque facade, Byzantine motifs, bronze doors, and pineapple finials that make it one of the most beautiful churches in Manila.
Meanwhile, its main altar features a two-meter-tall statue of the Immaculate Conception standing between two green marble columns. After praying inside the church's grand halls, you can head to the La Cathedral Cafe, one of the Instagrammable cafes in Manila, to the left of the cathedral, for a cup of coffee and some pastries. You can also join Intramuros tours like riding a bamboo bike and explore the walled city of Intramuros.
Quiapo Church (Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene)
The Quiapo Church, which is officially known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, is a prominent basilica situated in Manila City. It is best known for housing the Black Nazarene, a life-sized dark-skinned image of Jesus Christ carrying a large wooden cross. Many religious devotees in the Philippines also believe this statue is miraculous, making it one of the most popular churches in Metro Manila for Visita Iglesia.
As for the current church's architecture, it was mainly designed with Baroque motifs that were typical of basilicas during the 18th century. Architect Juan Nakpil, a National Artist of the Philippines, designed the current structure's plan in the 1930s, years after a fire damaged the previous structure. Along with its impressive facade, the church also features a spacious dome and two belfries.
Binondo Church (Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz)
The Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, more commonly known as the Binondo Church, was established in 1569. Dominican priests constructed it in Manila's Binondo district, the largest Chinatown in the world, in hopes of converting members of the local Chinese community to Catholics. However, the first structure did not last long and was destroyed during wartime.
The church gets its name from the first Filipino saint, Saint Lorenzo Ruiz. Ruiz came from a family with Filipino and Chinese roots and received his education from Dominican friars in the said church. Along with being named after the saint, the church also stands across a plaza that features a statue of Saint Ruiz. Masses here are held in Filipino, English, Hokkien, and Mandarin. Aside from visiting this famous church, you can also eat at the best Binondo restaurants which are included in a Binondo tour.
San Agustin Church (Immaculate Conception Parish)
San Agustin Church, or the Immaculate Conception Parish, is another historic structure in the Walled City of Intramuros, one of the top family destinations in the Philippines. It is best known as the oldest stone church in the Philippines and is a common stop on an Intramuros Manila tour. The church's architecture stands out for its detailed trompe l'oeil style ceiling, which gives the illusion that the ceiling's intricate designs are three-dimensional despite being painted on a two-dimensional surface.
Along with its stunning ceiling, the church houses different altars constructed in a high Baroque style. As one of the major churches whose design influenced other churches in the country, San Agustin Church was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Philippines in 1993, alongside three others. Before this, the Philippine government named it a National Historical Landmark in 1976.
Malate Church (Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church)
Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church, better known as the Malate Church, is one of the best old churches in Manila, thanks to its architecture and surroundings. It overlooks the Plaza Rajah Sulayman and Manila Bay, giving mass goers and visitors a scenic view of the sea. The church is best known for housing an image of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Remedies that Spaniards brought to the Philippines in 1624 and remains on the church's altar to this day.
The church's architecture is characterized by its unique design that combines elements from Muslim and Mexican Baroque styles. Among its most notable features are the two flaming hearts, which are considered Augustinian symbols, carved on each side of the church's main entrance.
Ermita Church (Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guidance)
Also known as the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guidance, the Ermita Church gets its name from the Marian image of the Immaculate Conception housed within its walls. This statue is known as the oldest Marian image in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the church's exterior features a simpler and more modern design compared to other historical churches in Manila that were built in a Baroque style. Above the church's main entrance is a terrace that sits directly below another statue of the Virgin Mary, which is bordered on both sides by three narrow vertical arches. At the top of the facade are a concrete cross and the words "Nuestra Senora de Guia," in honor of the statue.
San Sebastian Church Manila
The San Sebastian Church, officially called the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian, stands in Manila City's Quiapo district. It is best known for being the only church made entirely out of steel in Asia, easily making it one of the must-visit churches in Manila for Visita Iglesia. The decision to only use steel to create the church stemmed from a priest's request in the 1880s for a structure that could withstand earthquakes since the first few structures that were created with wood were lost to fires and earthquakes.
The steel sections were manufactured in Belgium, but the structure was assembled in Quiapo. As for the church's exterior, it combines elements from Gothic and Romanesque styles, such as a circular stained glass window set above the main entrance. Aside from the main hall, the church also has two openwork towers.
Tondo Church (Santo Niño de Tondo Parish)
This historic church, officially called the Santo Niño de Tondo Parish, in Manila's Tondo district was among the first churches established in the Luzon region. It was built under the leadership of the Augustinian Convent and has housed an image of the Santo Nino since 1572. The current structure was completed in 1695 following several renovations due to earthquakes.
The entire church was made mainly out of stone. Its exterior remains unpainted and features Ionic rectangular pilasters. The entrance is bordered by two simple arches that each house religious statues, as if to greet churchgoers as they walk in. At the top of the church is a concrete clock built into the facade. Two bell towers supported by buttresses also stand at each side of the main hall.
Guadalupe Church (Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church)
This Baroque church, officially called the Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church, is located in Makati City, which is famous for its business district and top Makati hotels perfect for a staycation in the Philippines. A friar called Simon Dantes laid the foundation of the first structure back in the 1600s. It was eventually completed in 1630, and served as a home for devotees in Manila and the excess students of the Monastery of Manila.
Its overall design draws inspiration from various architectural styles such as Neo, Romanesque, and Gothic. The stone church's facade features an arch over the main entrance that is made with intricate leaf carvings. Above the main entrance, you can find a circular window framed by imagery similar to those featured in the arch.
Santa Cruz Church (Our Lady of the Pillar Parish Church)
Photo by Sta. Cruz Parish, Manila
This Manila church is best known for housing a statue of Our Lady of the Pillar, hence its official name: Our Lady of the Pillar Parish Church. It was built in Manila's Santa Cruz district and was designed in a Baroque style, which is most evident in its facade that's topped by a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The current structure is mainly made of red bricks and white paint and is flanked by a domed belfry on one side. Meanwhile, the church's interior features stained glass windows with arch-like moldings and a spacious dome above the church's altar.
Santa Ana Church (The Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned)
Rounding out our list of must-visit churches for Visita Iglesia is the Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned. This stone church, better known as the Santa Ana Church, dates back to the Spanish colonial era in Manila City. It gets its name from its patroness, the Virgin Mary as the Our Lady of the Abandoned.
Like other churches built during the Spanish colonial era, this church features a Baroque architectural style. The church's facade is also split into three levels by thin protruding brick lines. On the first level is the main doorway that is bordered on each side by religious statues set in small altars. The second has three arch windows, while the top level contains a statue of Michael the archangel.
Inside the church, you'll find two National Cultural Treasures. The first is the Santa Ana Site Museum and the Dressing Room of the Virgin, a smaller chapel featuring intricate religious paintings that are considered the oldest datable of its kind.
Visit Historic Churches in Manila for Visita Iglesia
With roots in Catholicism that date back to the 1500s, it's easy to find at least 7 churches in Manila for Visita Iglesia. If you're coming from outside of Manila during your Holy Week vacation, it's best to finalize your online hotel booking at least a few weeks ahead to avoid missing out on good rooms. For a more convenient trip around the city, you may also opt for a car rental in Manila so you can easily try other things to do in Manila after Visita Iglesia, such as going on a Binondo food trip, visiting museums in Manila, and dining at the best Filipino restaurants in Manila.
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