For 333 years, Spain has colonized the Philippines and during that era, several stone churches have been built from Batanes to Mindanao.
At present, these heritage churches in the Philippines are still standing, scattered around many islands and remote parts of the country. Most of these churches are difficult to reach. For example, Rizal Church in Cagayan takes 2 hours by jeepney only from Tuguegarao and there’s only one trip per day. For Agutaya, it takes minimum of three hours boat ride from Cuyo, its neighboring municipality.
But these churches are just beautiful. Some are National Cultural Treasures and all the facades are still intact and the arduous and long travel makes this trips worth it. The feeling of gazing up on a beautiful heritage church for the first time is just priceless!
All images by Estan Cabigas taken in the last ten years.
1 Sabtang Church (Batanes)
After spending a rocky (or wavy) trip from Batan Island to Sabtang Island, coming face to face with this church from the port is just unforgettable. It was built by the Dominicans starting in 1844 when the people of Sabtang were permitted to return to their island. It’s quaint and simple. It’s espadaña style pediment (bells located at the top) beautifully crowning the facade. It’s a great way to start a Sabtang Island tour.
From the port of Ivana, it is a 40 minute boat ride to Sabtang Island
2 Rizal Church (formerly Malaueg, Cagayan)
This probably is one of the difficult heritage churches to visit in mainland Luzon. It is also one of the oldest when the Dominicans laid the cornerstone of this edifice in 1617. But once you get here, you’re seeing a structure that haven’t been altered much since it was built. This edifice is made from mamposteria, river stones piled on top of each other.
From Tuguegarao City, hop on a Rizal bound jeepney. Travel time is around two hours. As return trip is only on the next day in the morning, either arrange with the church or mayor for lodging or bring your own vehicle.
3 Tayum Church (Abra)
It’s just a very beautiful and grand church that shines bright with the afternoon light. The church was built by the Seculars with Christianized Tinguians around 1803. A simple facade but I like the undulating pediment with volutes at the sides. It was declared as a National Cultural reasure in 1972.
From Bangued, Abra, one can hire a tricycle to Tayum.
4 Bato Church (Catanduanes)
As you reach a bend in the road and as you get to see the river, Bato Church (pronounced as ‘baaato’, not bato, Filipino for rock) immediately takes your view as it stands regally opposite the river bank on a hill. Standing as if on the lookout for slave raiders, it is a beautiful sentinel. It was built in 1830 by the Franciscans who founded the town.
From Virac one can either wait and ride the jeepney that passes Bato or hire a tricycle.
5 Romblon Church (Romblon)
This stone church was built by the Augustinian Recollects in 1644-1650 and is one of the oldest in the country. It’s architecture is rather different from most. While many of the churches are squat, this one is narrower. Once you enter, a beautiful baroque retablo is such a sight to behold. At both sides and behind the town are mountains and there are two spanish era forts above.
From Batangas City, take a boat to Romblon
6 Capul Fortress-Church (Northern Samar)
Capul Church is also one of the oldest churches built by the Jesuits (year unknown) and were accepted by the Franciscans after they took over from the Jesuits who were expelled in Spain and all her colonies. This edifice is within a fort built against moro slave raiders. The island was the last stop of galleons bound for Acapulco in Mexico and it was there that they stock on water before heading out into the Pacific Ocean.
Read more: The 18th century fortress-church of Capul
From Allen in Northern Samar, motorized outrigger boats leave at noon for Capul.
7 Catubig Church (Northern Samar)
Catubig Church has an interesting facade that actually looks cartoonish: open mouth for the door and wide eyed for the pair of windows. It’s pediment is also quite unusual, like a curly brace directed upward. This church probably built mid 1800s. The area is also a historic site in World War II.
Hire a habal-habal at the junction to Catubig along the Catarman-Laoang highway.
8 Agutaya Fortress-Church (Palawan)
When I learned that there was another fortress church in Agutaya, I immediately arrange to go there from Cuyo. The church has no other prominent structure that you can call a church except for a forlorn bell standing atop one rundown bastion. It has a quaint retablo mayor and giant clams (Tridacna sp.) for holy water fonts.
Read more: Endangered Agutaya fortress-church
Agutaya is around three hours (minimum) from Cuyo town which is an overnight boat trip from either Iloilo City or Puerto Princesa City. Read my scary boat experience going to this place.
9 Cuyo Fortress-Church (Palawan)
It was a pleasant surprise to find a massive fortress-church in such a small island! Cuyo fort and church was built in 1683 by the Augustinian Recollects as a protection from frequent slave raiding by Iranun Muslims from Sulu. The ramparts give a good view of the town and the sea.
Read more: The impressive fortress-church of Cuyo
From either Iloilo City in Iloilo or Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, are boats that drop anchor in Cuyo town after an overnight trip.
10 Anini-y Church (Antique)
Located at the tail end of Antique province, at the border with Iloilo is a beautiful church. It was built by the Augustinians between 1878 and 1879. The facade is the usual with the triangular pediment but the details here are interesting with several floral bas reliefs.
Read more: Anini-y Church, a gem at Antique’s end
From San Jose, ride a jeepney to Anini-y or from Iloilo City, there are passenger vans bound for this town.
11 Navalas Church (Guimaras)
Built in 1880, Navalas Church is the only Spanish era edifice built in Guimaras. Although small with simple facade, it is one of only three churches in the Philippines that have a capilla possa. However, instead of these capillas located infront, these are located at the four corners of the church property. The beach near the church provides a good view of the Lopez owned Roca Encantada.
From Buenavista, where motorized outrigger boats from Iloilo City dock, ride a jeepney to Navalas.
12 Poro Church (Cebu)
Facing the sea, Poro Church in Camotes is one of the churches with a simple facade that I really like. It was built in 1884 and dedicated to the Sto. Nino as its patron saint. There is not much in the interior, as it has been heavily renovated.
From Poro, there are beautiful beaches like in Santiago Bay, biking around Danao Lake and nearby towns as well as passing through a mangrove forest where a road connects the islands of Pacijan and Poro.
From Cebu there are boats traveling from Cebu City or Danao City to Poro in the Camotes group of islands.
13 Jimenez Church (Misamis Occidental)
Built in 1862, Jimenez Church is the best preserved church in Mindanao. Tree lined road leads to this beautiful structure with a series of steps to the main entrance. Inside, be prepared to be surprised with an antique neo-gothic style retablo mayor, a ceiling painting on canvas done in 1898, hard wood tree trunks as posts as well as an antique organ at the choirloft.
At the belfry, you can still find the original clock similar to that in Tayabas Cathedral. Once your senses are filled, go around the church perimeter and admire the old houses then dine at a panciteria.
From Ozamiz City are jeepneys that travel to Jimenez. From the Jimenez market, hire a tricycle to the church.
14 Caraga Church (Davao Oriental)
Caraga Church was built by the Jesuits in 1884. It’s one of the oldest in Mindanao. Though small and has a very simple facade, there are antique bells inside the church plus century old church records. The location of the church, which is on a promontory, provides sweeping views of the barangay and the coast below.
Read more: Caraga, the oldest church in Mindanao
There are two ways to get to Caraga: a van or bus from either the Ecoland bus terminal in Davao City or in Mati. Check travel times as most of these depart in the morning. If you prefer a very leisurely trip that can stretch for several hours, take the jeepney in Mati.