7 go-to Manila churches for Visita Iglesia

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A HOLY WEEK tradition among Filipino Roman Catholics is Visita Iglesia (visit churches). On that day Catholics visit seven (or more) churches to reflect and pray before the Blessed Sacrament in each church. Many residents of the metropolis opt to visit seven churches within the original city of Manila as they are not too far from each other.

The Century Park Hotel in Malate has come up with a list of churches in Manila which can be visited on Holy Thursday (and suggests stopping by the hotel after for a bibingka [rice cake] and hot chocolate at Cafe in the Park before heading back home).

1. San Sebastian. Famous for being the only all-steel church in Asia, San Sebastian in the Quiapo district of Manila is more properly known as the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian. The original 17th century church was made of wood and was burnt to the ground during an uprising by Chinese residents in 1651. In a string of bad luck, the church, rebuilt in stone and brick, was destroyed three more times by fire and earthquake. Finally, the Gothic Revival-style church was rebuilt in steel to be both fire- and earthquake-resistant.

2. Quiapo Church. One of the most famous churches in the country, Quiapo Church is more formally known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, home of a statue of Jesus carrying the cross which is said to be miraculous. The image was carved in Mexico and was burned on its way to the Philippines — thus its descriptive name. In January, an enormous procession transports the statue from Luneta Park back to the church, taking hours to traverse the 2.5 kilometer route. It was estimated that this year’s procession drew 5 million devotees. Large numbers of devotees visit every Friday, walking on their knees to the sculpture to ask for miracle and for forgiveness.

3. Binondo Church. One of the oldest churches in Manila, Binondo Church is also known as Minor Basilica of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish. It was built by the Dominicans and is located in Manila’s Chinatown, Binondo. It became a place of worship for converted Chinese Christians back when the trade between Chinese and Filipinos started to increase. Destroyed by the British in 1762, it was rebuilt in 1852. Only the bell tower of the original 16th century church still stands, its octagonal pagoda-like which reflecting the composition of the area’s original residents. Today, it serves Binondo residents and curious tourists.

4. San Agustin. One of the few structures within Manila’s original walled city of Intramuros to survive the Battle of Manila at the tail end of World War II, San Agustin is the Philippines’ oldest church (it was completed in 1607). Built by the Augustinians, it was modeled after the churches in Mexico and has a richly decorated interior including an exceptional trompe ’loeil ceiling. The attached convent building houses a large museum focusing on the country’s religious history.

5. Manila Cathedral. San Agustin Church’s neighbor inside Intramuros — it is just down the road — the Manila Cathedral is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception or the Virgin Mary. Initially built as a simple parish church in 1571, it was reconstructed multiple times after being damaged or destroyed by fire, earthquakes, and war. Its current incarnation was finished in 1958. The cathedral now sports LED lighting, an advanced sound system, and carbon-retrofitted structural foundations which add a modern detail to its beautiful Roman stone facade.

6. Malate Church. Along Roxas Blvd., just behind Plaza Rajah Sulayman, one finds a small but beautiful house of prayer, the Malate Church, also known as Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church. The Baroque-style church houses a statue of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, the patroness of childbirth, that was brought over from Spain. The church has recently undergone considerable restoration.

7. Baclaran Church. Technically in the city of Parañaque rather than Manila, it is still within easy reach down Roxas Blvd. One of the largest Marian (a church devoted to the Virgin Mary) churches in the Philippines, the Baclaran Church is also known as the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The shrine was established by Redemptionists when they began the novena to the Virgin in 1948 which quickly drew a multitude of devotees who go to the church every Wednesday to attend Mass and pray the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.