The Baroque Churches of the Phillipines represent a fusion of European church design (baroque) and local construction techniques and decorations.
Their specific characteristics include a separate bell-tower and strong buttresses to withstand the powers of earthquakes common in the region.
Four churches were selected to make up this WHS, as samples of the development of this Phillipine-Hispanic style over a period of more than 150 years (16th-18th century). These four are:
- San Agustin (Manila)
- La Asuncion (Santa Maria)
- San Agustin (Paoay)
- Santo Tomas (Miag-ao)
Map of Baroque Churches
- ●● Cultural
Visit December 2005
San Agustin in Manila was the first Phillipine baroque church that I visited. It's located conveniently in Intramuros, Manila's small historic center, the only building to survive WWII there. From the outside this is a bulky church with a Latin American touch. On the inside it's more refined. It can be visited from the adjoining monastery complex, a quiet refuge from Manila's hustle and bustle.
A more exemplary exponent of the so-called Earthquake Baroque I saw in Paoay, a village 1.5 hours by bus from Vigan (Northern Luzon). This church is also called San Agustin, the Agustinians being the first order to arrive in the Phillipines in 1565. This San Agustin church has a spacious setting, so you can have a look at it from all sides.
The large buttresses every few meters that keep the church standing look sturdy enough to withstand any earthquake. While I was looking around this pleasant site, an also visiting Filippino family told me that there even had been an earthquake here last night. "Oh, we have them here all the time...", they said (obviously without worrying). The San Agustin Church will undoubtedly survive a few more.
Gary Arndt USA - 16-Mar-17
I visited the Church of Church of San Agustin in 2007 and in 2016.
The Baroque Churches of the Philippines are a collection of 4 churches scattered throughout the country.
By far the most popular and visited church is San Agustin in the Intramuros section of Manila. It is the only church to have survived the bombing by the Japanese in WWII in the Intramuros.
In addition to being a functioning church, it is also home to a museum documenting the city, and the church in the Philippines.
Read more about the Baroque Churches of the Philippines on my website.
Michael Turtle Australia - 26-Jan-16
I visited just one of the churches listed, San Agustin in Manila. It is the oldest of the churches and I thought represented the site quite well.
There are two sections - the church itself and the attached monastery. Both are beautiful and very well maintained. I found the monastery really interesting because there are a lot of exhibits of artefacts and information.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the information presented was very biased. If you take it at face value, you would believe that the natives welcomed the colonising Catholics with open arms and converted straight away. Personally, I think it's a pity there isn't a more realistic depiction of what happened centuries ago.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
Frederik Dawson Netherlands - 28-Nov-12 -
In the middle of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, is the historic district area called Intramuros, protected by old Spanish fortifications and magnificent golf courses, while inside is crammed with post war reconstruction offices, slum and colonial buildings including the famous San Agustin Church, one of the four churches registered as WHS under the name the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Apart from the very bad state of scaling concrete on the front facade of the church, from outside this church really looks nothing special and unbelievable to be the head-quarter of once powerful Augustinian order. However after I opened the grand carved wooden door, I was really surprised with the very amazing interior of the church. The church is highly decorated with baroque elements; the altar and the pulpit are just lovely with pastel green colors and gilded details.
However the real star of the church is the magnificent ceiling with unbelievably beautiful trompe l'oeil, I looked at this great piece of art with surprised and hard to believe that I was in Asia while so many European arts around. The other interesting is that the church side aisles have been divided into many small chapels by the very thick wall that acted like buttress to support the church from earthquake. Another interesting from this church is that it is a very popular place for wedding; the central aisle is always decorated for wedding ceremony with many beautiful flower and white satin. I decided to join the holy mass to see the church during its best moment, all chandeliers were lid and the grey ceiling was transformed to be bright yellow! The chant by priests echoing the place was just indescribable, and hundreds of Filipino were sitting, standing or even jumping to see the ceremony! And not surprised that outside the church, couples and their curious relatives were waiting for their turn on wedding rites after mass.
Since I only saw San Agustin Church, I prefer not to make any conclusion on this WHS, also the earthquake baroque element which made these churches famous is not quite easily obvious from my visit. However, from my observation, San Agustin church is in awkward state and need better preservation, the scaling concrete and paint is obvious evidence and some of the stained glasses at rose window are missing. The severe pollution of Manila already deteriorates the craving details of beautiful wooden doors as well as other details of building exterior. It would be tragic if this old church that survived many earthquakes and the sole survivor from the Battle of Manila succumb by lack of good preservation despite UNESCO registration.
Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero The Philippines - 03-Sep-12 -
I am fortunate enough to be residing just 3 houses behind Paoay church -considered as the best example of earthquake baroque architecture. I have seen the four churches and each has its own unique characteristics. One of the better sides of visiting churches is that they have no entrance fees at all!
What makes Paoay church interesting is its rather unusual design. Prior to the Spanish era, the town of Paoay used to be called Bombay due to the presence of Indian traders near its coastal area. With the strong Hindu-Malay influences occurring within the town, oriental motifs were incorporated in the design of the church. This can be seen with the spirals on its buttresses, a highly Malay insignia. The best way to appreciate the structure is to see it from the corners of front lawn so as to see the 3D effect created by its imposing facade and wonderful rows of buttresses. Contrary to popular beliefs, Paoay church is not the oldest in the region - in fact, it is one of the youngest. It was built in 1704, while other nearby town-churches were built in the 1570s. Paoay church is made of coralstones and some bricks. The coralstones were harvested from the coastline of Pangil in the nearby town of Currimao (8Km away). Pangil boasts the longest stretch of "exposed" coral rock formations in the Philippines, ca. 2-3 km. long. Sunset photos here are superb! More photos at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150112670412613.282329.694602612&type=3
The Sta. Maria church sits on top of a fortified hill. I never got to appreciate this one before as I found it lacking in grace compared to the other 3 inscribed churches. But having paid closer attention to its details from my succeeding visits, I was convinced that this is truly a gem worth celebrating. It is the only baroque church in the Philippines that is isolated from the town plaza (back in those days, normally, the churches would dictate where a town center should be established), and the only access to the church is through a 85-step staircase made of granite slabs imported from China. Like Paoay Church, Sta. Maria is heavily supported by massive buttress along its sides. Sta. Maria is entirely made of bricks. More photos at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150533714237613.380811.694602612&type=3
San Agustin Church of Intramuros (Spanish: Ciudad Murada) is the oldest standing stone church in the Philippines. Unlike Paoay and Sta. Maria, San Agustin does not have external buttresses. The earthquake-proof system are its internal buttresses (that forms the side chapels inside) and vaults. The trompe l'oeil ceiling paintings were made by two Italian painters in 1875. Several conquistadores are also interred within the church. If given the opportunity to go inside the monastery and alleys, grab it - it is the church's best kept secrets. Notice as well the presence of Chinese fu dog statues on its facade. These were donated by the Chinese merchants who were in peaceful coexistence with the meztizos and Spaniards residing within the walled city. The church is largely made of volcanic tuff.
Maig-ao Church is a squatty church (similar to most Latin American churches) in the Visayan region. Due to the threats of Moro pirates in the Visayas, the church was made following the tradition of "fortress baroque" architecture. Miag-ao Church, together with Paoay and Sta. Maria does not boast a magnificently decorated interior. It prides, however, its facade - a real masterpiece of Filipino creativity. Notice how the towers are of unequal heights. The church is made using limestones and coralstones.
Kyle Magnuson California - United States of America - 26-Dec-11 -
While in Manila for a brief time, my short excursion into Intramuros was enjoyable. Like others have mentioned Manila is a chaotic city (both good and bad!) and San Agustin Church is an enjoyable moment of solitude. For anyone visiting Manila, there are two churches worth visiting, San Agustin and San Sebastian Church. If and when I make it back to the Philippines I would love to visit some of the more remote churches included in this serial site. While the complex seems almost interchangeable with some churches in Latin America, if you look closely you will notice the small lion statues (guarding) the entrance of the church.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
Maries de la Victoria Philippines - 21-Nov-11
Santissima Trinidad Parish In 1795 the Loay was separated from Loboc to which it belonged as a visita. Other authorities give 1815 as the foundation date. The church complex is built on a plateau facing the sea and near the mouth of the Loboc River. A flight of stairs connects the church complex to the rest of the town located below the hill. The vehicular entrance to the complex is via the road to Loboc.
The church is cruciform, has two facades: the older is decorated with low relief and the newer was apparently completed in the 20th century as its upper register is in reinforced concrete. The whole is surmounted by cement statues depicting the virtues. The bell tower is a separate structure built at a short distance from the church. Like many Bohol churches the interior is painted with trompe o'eil and with Biblical scenes. The altars are in the Neoclassical style
Just been to the Ilocos region to see Paoay and the Sta. Maria churches. I have visited San Agustin church in Intramuros likewise. Seeing these churches felt like I was thrown back in time.
The Paoay church surely made an impression on me. Perhaps it's because one can see the whole structure without any distractions around it and also it is very imposing, really. I loved it.
What I like in the San Agustin church in Intramuros is its grandiosity, that trompe l'oeil ceiling.
The Sta. Maria church impressed me with its location the most though.
I think something should be done for Paoay church. Its kind of falling into neglect.
My husband and i was able to visit miag-ao church just last year.it was so historical!amazing structures!thank GOD it was open during our roadtrip.recite our silent prayers then continue the journey till san joaquin church.left aganan,pavia,iloilo 1:30pm started church visit at molo-very beautiful.oton,tigbaun,guimbal-with very clean plaza,miag-ao lastly san joaquin church.then head back home just reached home for dinner 7pm.wasn't able to experience foodtrip just exact budget for fuel.we brought our own "baon".it was a very memorable trip for us...
Last month I've been to Paoay Church. It's as if I'm back in the 1700s. The whole place was so peaceful. The church is old but sturdy. It's good to be back there.
I am working at the national commission for culture and the arts (ncca) in intramuros, manila. I have visited these baroque churches. i am amazed by the structure of paoay church and sta. maria de la asuncion. although the facade of these two are not ornately decorated yet i feel like coming back again and again.
i would like also to show the world that my hometown in san joaquin has kept a treasure. our church has been declared a national cultural treasure of the national museum. now the municipal government is working to include the catholic cemetery known as the campo santo.
spanish cemeteries should be also given attention as they are part of the architectural heritage particularly in san joaquin, iloilo and in nagcarlan laguna.
I visit Manila regularly and check out its beautiful churches all the time. The church of San Augustin always astound me, even if I visit it a lot of times. However, it usually is closed, but can be accessed via the monastery, which also doubles as a museum. For a sum of 100 pesos, I can visit the museum and also I am granted access to the choirloft. This gives a breathtaking view of the church. A must see! I really like the trampe'oleil paintings and the lectern on the choirloft. The exterior is very simple, actually not that impressive on my opinion but do check out the carved wooden doors on the portals and also the chinese guard dogs- a perfect example of east meets west influence.
Another notable church is the San Sebastian. It is a complete stand out, being built in Neo Gothic Style, not common in most churches in the Philippines. Also it is made entirely of steel! A rare gem. And the good part is, it is always open! Even if the portal doors are closed, just go to the small door on the right side of the church, walk past the small, office like room and to a sort of courtyard where the side portal of the church is kept open. It is usually empty. Perfect for quiet medittation and prayer.
Boj Philippines - 31-Mar-09
I checked the UNESCO WHS Site and read that there are a few more Baroque churches on tentative list. (For extension) I do hope they will be inscribed soon.
These churches deserve protection.
Boj Philippines - 31-Mar-09
Visited Paoay and Santa Maria last March (2009).
Both churches are amazing. The huge buttresses of Paoay church are unparalleled. One can still notice the corals used to build the church. (This material is stronger than ordinary stone/brick.)
Santa Maria Church is situated on a hill - giving the impression that it was used both as a place of worship and a fortress.
I visited San Agustin Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte this past summer. It is truly a very special exerience just to walk inside the aisle of the church and to sit infront of the main altar tp pray. The church is clean but it sure needs a lot of repairs. I hope visitors can be generous so that this beautiful church can be painted, windows repaired and stain glass windows fully cleaned. I imagine how beautiful it would be if the parish can afford to maintain it. Nevertheless, I wish God will allow me to visit this beautiful church again. nita
Elisabeth Fransisca Situmorang Indonesia - 20-Aug-08
I visited the San Agustine one in Manila. The timing was bad because I couldnt see inside. But from the outside, I couldnt see very much of it's "greatness" to be submited as of the WHS.
Yet, it is surely old, and well maintaned. The statue detail is beautiful...
I have just been to Miag-ao last Saturday (i was touring around Visayas even with typhoon Caloy doing its own tour all over the country :D) and i think it was resplendently beautiful. I have seen Paoay and Baclayon also but I think Miag-ao is incomparable. and i'm glad i've visited this site and have come to know more about the history of Miag-ao.
You should also give details of the Miag-ao church in Iloilo not just becuase of its beauty but also because of its historical value. it is dubbed as the "most filipino of all churches" because in the facade you can see bas relief details of Philippine fauna and flora with St. Christopher at the center. Aside from being a church it served as a fortress where native Visayan Christians took refuge during muslim raids (as evidenced by very thick walls--captured natives were sold as slaves in Mindanao). The belfies are asymmetrical because they were built at different periods, one being toppled down by an earthquake and was replaced. The entire church has a beautiful glowing yellowish color because of the sandstone stucco.
In addition to the earlier info I posted about San pedro Macati Church (Sts. Peter and Paul), the representatives Archdiocese of Manila discovered that 2 of the 3 Bells in that Church is the Oldest and 3rd oldest Bell in the whole Archdiocese of Manila. Tha main Altar of this church is wonderfuly hand crafted and very detailed.
Ivan ManDy Philippines - 22-Jul-05
I didnt know San Pedro de Makati church had such an interesting background, unfortunately, it takes more these features to be included in the WHS list and Im sure those who nominate and approve these sites have their own criteria in doing so. If you ask me to nominate another church in the Philippines, it would the the San Sebastian -Asia's first and only all-steel church.
There is another Baroque church located in the heart of Makati City. It is now called Sts. Peter and Paul Parish. It was originally known as San Pedro Macati Church and was built by the Jesuits as Noviciate in 1620. The Church remains standing there. It should be included in the list of Baroques Churches of the Philippines. It is full of historical past including being the camp/hospital during Filipino-American War.It is the only church in the Philippines who has a Papal Tierra in its facade. It is still the original Tierra carved in wood that can be seen there. It is also here in this church that a very unique image of Virgin Mary called "Nuestra Senora dela Rosa" can be seen. This image is said to have a strand of hair of Virgin Mary placed in its chest. It was brought to this church from Acapulco around 1720 if I'm not mistaken. It was recognized during that time as one of the most beautiful image of Mary according to an Artist named Atlas. In the main altar along with Nuestra Senora dela Rosa is a very old Image of Sto. Nino de Passion which is also unique and one of a kind. I hope that the World heritage Site commission will look into this matter.
I just visited Miag-ao Church and it is indeed very beautiful. We went to Iloilo for the Dinagyang Festival which is held on the last weekend of January. We went to Miag-ao and loved the rod trip going there. You should not miss having lunch at Allan's (Oton) or in Doming's (Miag-ao) for their oysters and other seafood (and they're very cheap too). The Miag-ao Church was extraordinarily beautiful - with the buttresses and the intricate design of the front facade of the Church. Too bad we weren't able to enter the Church because it was closed (I don't know if it was closed because it was a Monday or if it was because we were there during lunch time).
Ivan ManDy Philippines -
The very first WHS I visited. San Agustin in Manila (one of the 4 listed) was where we once had a school trip. It wasnt one of the things I noticed then but I was enthralled at the ornateness (and musty smell)of this 400 year old place that is so redolent of our country's Hispanic past. I remember not being able to sleep that night because I remembered seeing a room full of tombs! Something really to remember by.
Ive been back countless times eversince and have even drove 8 hours just to see the 2 other World Heritage Churches- Santa Maria and Paoay in the Ilocos provinces and feeling as giddy as an eight-year old getting his first lollipop!
Unique gems that truly represent a merging of the East(Chinese/Filipino) and West (Spanish/Mexican) culture!
Share your experiences!
Have you been to Baroque Churches? Add your own review!
Full name: Baroque Churches of the Philippines
Unesco ID: 677
Criteria: 2 4
- 1993 - Inscribed
The site has 4 locations.
The site has 17 connections. Show all
- Prison: Wiki "During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, the Church of San Agustin became a concentration camp for prisoners. Japanese soldiers held hundreds of Intramuros residents and clergy hostage in the church during the final days of the Battle of Manila; many of the hostages died during the three-week long battle"
- Leaning Tower: The bell tower of the Sta. Maria Church
- Freestanding Bell Tower: two of the baroque churches in the Philippines have free standing bellfries -- Paoay Church and Sta. Maria Church. This is one of the characteristics of the "earthquake baroque"
- Gates depicting Lions: the gates of San Agustin Church in Intramuros are adorned with Chinese Lion Dogs (Also called as Fu Dogs) that were given by the Chinese people coexisting with the christians that time.
- Tombs: San Agustin church in Manila houses the sepulchre of the conquistador Miguel Lopez De legazpi, among others.
- Damaged in World War II: Wiki "The Church of San Agustin ....survived the bombardment of Intramuros by American and Filipino forces with only its roof destroyed, the only one of the seven churches in the walled city to remain standing. The adjacent monastery suffered total destruction. Architect Angel Nakpil designed the rebuilding of the structure as a museum in the 1970s."
- Piracy: The Miag-ao Church, one of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, became a "fortified church" to counter the attacks and pillaging by pirates.
Religion and Belief
- Built in the 16th century: Stone church of San Agustin dates from 1587
WHS on Other Lists
- World Monuments Watch (past): La Asuncion (Urgent need for preservation action to prevent further collapses) (2010)
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