Bisita Iglesia, which is the Holy Week tradition of visiting a series of churches, usually 14 of them, to do the Stations of the Cross is one popular Catholic tradition here in the Philippines. As it literally means “visiting churches,” it is increasing its popularity nowadays when Filipino families are becoming more “outgoing” and are in constant search of things to do and places to visit. This activity usually happens on Maundy Thursday.
Most recently this has also been adopted by cyclists. Dubbed as Bisikleta Iglesia (a play of words from Bisita– Visit and Bisikleta– Bicycle), it is the same activity, this time done via a bike tour. It is like giving purpose to a long ride made affordable by the long holiday break brought about by the Holy Week break; one of the chief hollowed days in this part of the world.
Rizal and Laguna are two of the popular provinces for Bisita Iglesia. This is due to the fact that the province has rich historical and cultural heritage closely tied up with its colorful Catholic traditions. The towns surrounding the lakes are some of the oldest predating the Spanish era as the Lake, like any other, was and will always be the bearer of life. After the conquest of Spain, it has become the premier colonial towns of this new government.
Here is a suggested itinerary in doing this religious- historical and cultural trip. Note that since the purpose is more of historical and cultural, towns with newer church structures are intentionally skipped. (Last April 21, we did this ride; me, Deo Cas and Beth Policarpio- her first Bugarin!. But since she is a newbie, we were only able to reach Longos and we decided to call it a day. Nevetheless, the list is still my advised route as the last 3 churches are some of the more historical ones).
Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo Rizal. Though the church structure itself is not that old, this seat of power of the Antipolo Diocese (covering the towns of Rizal) is a good place to start as it known to be the protector of those travelling- sort of a blessing and good luck to start the tour. This was attributed to the history of the Lady as it was said that it has protected the galleon, El Almirante that carried it from Mexico to the Philippines in 1626. The Lady went to a series of places before it settled in the present site, which was not the original intent. It was said that every time there was an attempt to transfer it to a newly intended place, the statue went missing and is often found in the Tipolo tree of its current site thus it was also named as The Lady of Antipolo (Ang Tipolo). During Holy Thursday and May 1, a popular activity, an Alay Lakad– a walk which traditionally starts from Quiapo to Antipolo, commemorates the pilgrimage of the statue from Quiapo during the Japanese Occupation where it seek refuge from the bombing of the old Antipolo church and back to Antipolo after the liberation of the Philippines.
Sta. Ursula in Binangonan. The church was built from 1792 to 1800 and was renovated in 1853. The church’s historical structure remains but it was greatly renovated. I think this is the one of the oldest church existing in the first district of Rizal with the exception of the Boso-boso Church- the old Antipolo church, as most of the first district churches was either rebuilt after being bombed during world war II or renovated during the time when being old and antique was not valued at all. The feast day of Sta. Ursula is on October 21 and she is known as the patron saints of young girls.
St Jerome in Morong Rizal. Was built in 1615 by Chinese craftsmen and according to its marker was designed by Bartolome Platino of Paete Laguna. The Chinese touch was more evident by the presence of the Chinese lion statue at the base of the bell fry (one of the original two as the other one was reportedly stolen). The Morong facade and bell tower is easily the most striking of all church facades along the towns of Laguna Lake. Described as baroque, the façade and bell tower is more properly described as neo-baroque because the baroque period ended in thePhilippines before 1780. The interior though is somewhat “newer” as the original one was damaged by war. Another attraction in the church ofMorong Rizal is the first class relic of the town’s patron saint, St. Jerome. The first class relic (a part of the saint’s body) was given to the parish in 2006 from theVatican. His feast day is held on September 30.
St Jospeh in Baras Rizal. This small and seems crude and intimidating church (lacking symmetry and using dark adobe stones), was first built by the Franciscan in 1595 and was completed in 1686. The town of Baras was transferred to Ibayo in 1636 but the church was returned to its present site in 1682. It was briefly held by the Jesuits from 1616 to 1679. It was said to be one of the oldest in the area. It also has this unique checked pattern of stones, bricks and mortar in its facade. This structure was made popular by the Meralco lighting advertisement as the church seems located in a remote small and sleepy provincial town.
- San Ildefonso in Tanay Rizal. Built in 1778, the church was named after the Archbishop Ildefonso of Toledo,Spain. From the local archives the story of the church and its town is so colorful- Monte Tan-ay separated from Pililla in 1606. It was made an independent parish with San Ildefonso de Toledo as its patron saint and with Fray Pedro de Talavera as its first parish priest. It was also in 1606 that he founded the mission of San Antonio in Pantay. The town was
subsequently transferred to San Antonio, the second site of Tanay, in 1620 shortly after the church made of wood and cogon was burned down by hostile Aetas by means of flaming arrows. According to church records, only a very old image of La Purisima Concepcion painted by the Spanish painter, Murillo was saved. It was believed to have been left in haste by the retreating Spanish forces of Captain Juan de Salcedo that were defeated and driven back by the natives. In 1639 a serious Chinese uprising erupted in Laguna that spread to Manila and Bulacan. When government forces subdued the uprising, a very big remnant of Chinese rebels in flight numbering around 13,700 arrived in the mountains of Tanay and established their camps in Monte Tan-ay, now called Inalsan and Pantay. Fearing that the Chinese might harm the image, the Franciscan parish priest, Fr. Geronimo de Frias, hid the La Purisima Concepcion inside the jungle nearby. When the combined Spanish-Filipino forces discovered where those Chinese were encamped, they made a well-planned attack, had their first engagement with the Chinese on January 23, 1640, and Monte Tan-ay fell. The Chinese garrisoned at Pantay became so alarmed so that the following day, January 24, 1640 they left in haste after placing the town to the torch. The town people fled, then dispersed and most of them took refuge in Pililla. In the same year, Fr. Geronimo de Frias and Fr. Diego de San Yldefonso urged them to regroup and with their consent decided then and there to transfer the town of Tanay to its present site although some families opted to remain in Inalsan and Pantay to continue their livelihood there. So they came down in 1640 and established the town of Tanay and parish of San Ildefonso de Toledo in the present site. Tradition has it that three of the fleeing Chinese soldiers unwittingly discovered the image of La Purisima Concepcion that was hidden in the jungle. Two of them threw their spears at the image but these miraculously turned around at the throwers and killed them both. The third soldier who witnessed this event became so terrified that he committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree, on account of which, the place is still called Binitinan or Pinagbigtihan (Place of Hanging) to this day. This story is attested to not only in tradition but is also recorded or accounted in the church annals of the Franciscans in the Philippines. In memory of that event, a feast in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated the following year on January 24, 1641, the day after the feast day of San Ildefonso de Toledo, the patron saint on January 23, and onwards up to the present. In 1678, Fr. Pedro de Espallargas initiated the building of a stone church like the one in Pililla which was built in 1673 and is still in use. This first stone church in Tanay faced east, occupying a large part of what is nowTanayPark. On July 31, 2001 it was declared a National Cultural Heritage by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts along with 25 other churches all over thePhilippines.
St Peter of Alcala in Pakil Laguna. Originally built of bamboo and nipa in 1676 and was reconstructed of stone in 1732, by Fray Fernando Haro but destroyed by fire in 1739 and rebuilt in 1777. The miraculous image of Our Lady of Turumba was enthroned in 1788, which attracted Marian devotees up to the present. An earthquake destroyed again the church in 1937, reconstructed in 1957 and fully refurbished in 1980-84. The church of Pakilis one of the best preserved in Laguna. Built in 1684, it stands as a fine example of colonial baroque architecture. It was the Franciscan Father Pedro Bautsita (later a saint) who designated a place for the church and plaza in Pakil. In 1602, Pakil became a visita of Paete. Tradition has it that when the people of Pakil had to hear mass in Paete, they had to carry some stones to help build the church of Paete. On May 12, 1676, Pakil was separated from Paete. It was Padre Francisco Barajas who helped established the first church under the patronage of San Pedro de Alcantara. An intriguing artwork inside the church is the painting Judicium Finale by Paete artist Jose Dans. The huge painting illustrates heaven, purgatory and hell. Enshrined on the main of Pakil’s Church is the carved statue of the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba, the main attraction in the town’s Turumba sa Virgen festival.
- St James the Apostle in Paete Laguna. St. James the apostle is the patron of this church built in a town famous for its woodcarvers. Although the church has been recently renovated, and the construction materials are not like the original, the designs remain mainly the same. Paete was founded in 1580 by Rev. Juan de Palesencia, and Diego de Oropesa of the Franciscan Order. The first church was built in the year 1646 by Paete natives under the supervision of Fr. Andres de
Puertellano. In 1717, a new church was erected. It was made of adobe bricks and a mixture of egg white and other native materials to “cement” them. The building was constructed in elaborate baroque style with an infusion of oriental artistry. The intricate retablo pieces were made by Paetenian natives, among them were Bartolome Palatino and Francisco Macahumpan. The large paintings inside the church were executed by another notable son of Paete, Luciano Dans–these are the Heaven, Earth, Hell and the large murals of St. Christopher. The church with all its ornate designs and architecture was completed in 1840. It sustained major damages in the earthquakes of 1884 and 1937. The town was proclaimed “the Carving Capital of the Philippines” in March 15, 2005 by then Philippine President Arroyo.
- San Juan Bautista Old Stone Church of Longos, Kalayaan Laguna. There are currently no information about the church except that the first parochial buildings were probably built in 1590 and probably replaced by other structures with the present church as the latest. This was supposed to be the original parish church of Kalayaan and was later relegated as a chapel for Barangay Longos of Kalayaan. Though the façade is entirely original, most of the other structures were rebuilt. The church is located in a lovely place with mountains as backdrops and the church facing the lakeshore except that there are existing structures built obstructing this view. If things will be restored and the church yard given an un-obstructed view of the lake, then this church will be one of the most romantic along the shores of Laguna.
- St. Sebastian the Martyr in Lumban Laguna. Lumban is also one of the oldest towns in Laguna, older even than Sta. Cruz, Pagsanjan, and Cavinti. In fact, these three towns were once part of Lumban. Lumban was once the heart of all missionary activities of the friars in the province. In 1578 Reverend Juan de Plasencia O.F.M. ministered in the town. The first church built there was only
thatched and wooden. It was later destroyed by fire. In 1600, a church made of rocks, stone, and lime was built. It was the first of its kind in Laguna. However, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1680. New buildings were built and rebuilt because of damages wrought by typhoons, fires and earthquakes. Lumban’s present church building was rebuilt from the ruins of the American bombing raids during World War II.
- Transfiguration of Our Lord in Cavinti Laguna. Cavinti lies at the foot of the Sierra Madre Mountains facing the majestic Mount Banahaw. The first Tagalog settlers of Cavinti, after the Aetas are the Puhawan brothers. Early Franciscan missionaries baptized them Antonio, Dionisio, and Gabriel. Records says that the Puhawan brothers began hewing Cavinti from the wilderness on March 7, 1606. In 1619, Cavinti separated from Lumban. The Royal Audiencia declared the former barrio an independent municipality. Cavinti constructed its own parish church in 1621, although local parishioners had founded the congregation in 1606. The parish dedicated its church “Our Lord of the Transfiguration” affectionately called by its devotees San Salvador del Mundo. The adoption of San Salvador as the town’s patron saint also has a story. The first settlers, the Puhawan brothers, while clearing the forest allegedly discovered an image beneath a Binayuyu tree. Appalled, the pious brothers knelt and prayed.
Afterwards they took the image home. They told other farmers of their find. They become curious and insist to see the image at the Puhawan home. However, it was not there. Everyone searched for it, until the next morning when the villagers saw it on the same place where it originally stood. The villagers decided to put a shed over the icon to protect it from the elements. However, the villagers were so inspired, the supposed to be roof and post they intend to construct, built-up to become a chapel. The Puhawan brothers went to Lumban to report what they believed is a miracle to the cura, who obligingly went with them to investigate. The Franciscan monk identified the image “Our Lord of the Transfiguration,” whom they adopted to protect the village. The priest immediately celebrated a mass in the newly finished chapel on August 6 which was also adopted as its feast day.
- St. Gregory the Great in Majayjay Laguna. Listed as a National Cultural Treasure and is reputedly one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. It was built around 1571 using forced labor or Polo. Antique relief statues of saints, which were brought by the Spaniards, are preserved in this church. Its belfry houses four small bells and one big bell which are probably the oldest in the country. The rooftop of the church offers an obstructed but nonetheless, breathtaking view of Mt. Banahaw and Laguna de Bay. The first chapel made of bamboo and nipa was built by the Augustinian Missionary in 1571 but was burned in 1576. Upon arrival of the Franciscan Missionaries, Fray Juan de Plasencia rebuilt it in 1578, but was again burned in 1606. The present stone church was constructed in 1616-1649. It was slightly burned in 1660 but restored in 1707 by Fray Jose de Puertollano. Damaged by storms but immediately repaired and fortified in 1839, 1842 and 1808, it became the American headquarter during the Filipino-American war in 1912. It has remained intact in spite of some minor alterations on the structure and its convent was converted into a school. The church is recognized by its catwalk above the ceiling that leads directly to the bell tower and is called langit-langitan.
St. John the Baptist Church in Liliw Laguna. Liliw was founded in 1571 by Gat Tayaw. The church is known for its bricked baroque style architecture and elegant facade. Its one of the red (bricked) churches in Laguna (those locatd uphill which includes Majayjay, Nagcarlan and Magdalena). Its immense belfry gives one a good view of Laguna de Bay. From the church entrance, there’s a small passageway to the left that leads to Capilla de Buenaventura.
- St. Bartolomew in Nagcrlan Laguna. In 1583, the town, was formalized by the Franciscan missionary, Fr. Tomas de Miranda, the Spanish priest who held the distinction of having brought from Spain the first seed of wheat that ever sowed in the Philippine soil. The first church, of light materials, was also built in 1583. The second church, of brick and stone, was built in 1752 under the supervision of Fr. Cristobal Torres, but was partly destroyed by fire in 1781. A choir loft was added to the reconstructed church in 1845 by Fray Vicente Velloc, who built the Nagcarlan cemetery and its underground crypt. Pilgrims flock to this church to pray before the images of St. Bartholomew and San Diego de Alcala known for their miraculous healing. The cemetery according to the early church historian is the only one of its kind in the entire Philippines.
- St Mary Magdalene in Magdalena Laguna. Dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, this church called Magdalena Parish Church took 16 years to build and was finished in 1855. The bell tower was added in 1861 and later on, the convent in 1872. All the materials used in building the church including sand and stones were transported by the townsfolk through the river. The first parish priest was stationed on August 5, 1821 in the person of Friar Antonio Moreno. In this little corner of the church convent, the wounded Filipino hero, General Emilio Jacinto, took refuge on February 1989 during the revolt against the Spanish Government. This church, being part of the national history, is being preserved and was used on several occasions as back draft or location of many Philippine
Rizal- Laguna Churches (Sequential List along the Route)
- Antipolo – Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage
- Taytay – St John The Baptist
- Angono – San Clemente
- Binangonan – Sta. Ursula
- Cardona – San Francisco
- Morong – St.Jerome
- Baras – St.Joseph
- Tanay – San Ildefonso
- Pililia – St Mary Magdalene
- Siniloan – Sts, Peter and Paul
- Mabitac – Nuestra Senora de Candelaria
- Pangil – Nuestra Senora Dela Natividad
- Pakil – St.Peter of Alcala
- Paete – St James the Apostle
- Kalayaan – St.John the Evangelist
- Lumban – St Sebastian the Martyr
- Pagsanjan – Nuestra Senora De Guadalupe
- Cavinti – Transfiguration of Our Lord
- Lusiana – Our Lady of the Holy Rosary
- Majyjay – St Gregory the Great
- Liliw – St John the Baptist
- Nagcarlan – St Bartolomew
- Magdalena – St Mary Magedalene
- Sta Cruz – Immaculate Conception