Churches are a major cultural fixture in the Philippines. As a former colony of Spain, the Philippines inherited the religious art and architecture that characterized Spanish Roman Catholicism. When Spain occupied the Philippines, local builders incorporated native forms and sights to the designs of these new places of worship.
A set of highly artistic churches of Baroque architecture survives in the Philippines to this day.
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Baroque architecture which flourished in 16th century Italy highlighted the prominence of the church over its temporal counterparts. The common features of Baroque architecture included gigantism of proportions; a large open central space where everyone could see the altar; twisting columns, theatrical effects, including light coming from a cupola above; dramatic interior effects created with bronze and gilding; clusters of sculpted angels and other figures high overhead; and an extensive use of trompe-l’oeil, also called “quadratura,” with painted architectural details and figures on the walls and ceiling, to increase the dramatic and theatrical effect.
The four Baroque churches are the Church of the Immaculate Conception or San Agustin Church (Manila), the Church of La Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion or Santa Maria Church (Ilocos Sur), the Church of San Agustin or Paoay Church, and the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, also known as Miag-ao Church.
These four churches are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites and are considered to be Philippine National Cultural Treasures. These churches incorporated architectural design and techniques that considered the geographical setting of the Philippines, especially being located in the earthquake-prone Pacific Ring of Fire. The churches also show the interpretation of local craftsmen by blending European designs with the native motif.
The baroque churches of the Philippines are notable for their buttresses which are thick, often gigantic, structures meant to support the church in this earthquake-prone part of the world. Hence, the design is also known as Earthquake Baroque.
San Agustin Church
The church of the Augustinian order at the old capital of Intramuros. It is considered as the first church to be built on the island of Luzon and the only building in Intramuros that remained almost unscathed during the Second World War.
Santa Maria Church
Santa Maria Church is located in the municipality of Santa Maria in the province of Ilocos Sur. It’s unique among the four because of its location. Usually, churches are built in the plaza complex but this church stands on top of a hill. To get there, you have to climb its steep steps. The church features a gigantic facade with its formidable buttresses on both sides.
Paoay Church is one of the most popular postcard images used to promote Philippine tourism. It is considered as the most outstanding example of earthquake baroque with a total of 14 buttresses supporting it. Its famous facade has been meticulously maintained throughout the years as well as the coral stone bell tower that stands a little distance from it.
The Miag-ao Church in Iloilo is notable for its facade and its towers. Its facade is the best example of how native craftsmen interpreted the new faith and its forms. The facade shows St. Christopher carrying the child Jesus while using a coconut tree as a support. It also features papaya as additional designs. The towers of the Miag-ao church make it an example of Fortress Baroque, the functionality of these towers being as lookouts against pirates, usually the Muslims from the South.
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