The Holy Week is fast approaching and many of us now are busy making plans, or have already made plans and preparations, for the three-day vacation that comes with the holiday. While many Filipinos, especially those of the Christian faith, regard Holy Week as a chance to ponder on one’s life and renew or strengthen one’s faith (as Holy Week is the last week of the Lent, a solemn religious observance of many Christian denominations) it also means to some as one of the most-awaited times away from work and school, and an opportunity for rest and recreation.
Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Taal
Many families and friends also see the Holy Week vacation as a chance to get-together and so it isn’t strange to find people doing a side-trip to the beach or other tourist destination after they have fulfilled their religious observance. It is also usual to find Filipinos observing the popular Holy Week devotion called Visita Iglesia in provinces and then exploring the place as well for a short tour afterwards. If that kind of experience is what you want for the coming Holy Week, read on and let this article show you two ideal places in Luzon for Visita Iglesia and experiencing the local culture.
FIRST STOP: Get to know more about Visita Iglesia
The Philippines is a predominantly Christian country, with most of the Christians belonging to the Catholic faith. Traditionally, Roman Catholics, especially the devout ones, go through what is called Visita Iglesia during Holy Week. Literally meaning “church visit,” it is a practice that is done during the Lenten Season, which takes devotees to different churches where they pray and contemplate. To complete a Visita Iglesia, one must visit at least seven churches. The visit is timed to be done between Maundy Thursday until Black Saturday, but it may also be made days before Holy Week, as long as it is fulfilled before Easter Sunday. Believers say that completing the Visita Iglesia will grant one’s wishes afterwards.
VISITA IGLESIA IN LAGUNA
The province of Laguna offers several choices for the traveler who is budget-conscious, with numerous heritage churches which are rich in history and tradition, which are located in locales that have equally interesting local cultures.
Laguna is home to many majestic Catholic churches, most of which date back to the Spanish period, when the Philippines was still a colony of Spain. In the history of Catholicism in the Philippines, the province was Christianized by Franciscan missionaries who established several churches in its different municipalities. Owing to the presence of these historical churches, many travel blogs feature Laguna as one of the best places to have a Visita Iglesia, and they are on point.
The Saint Paul the First Hermit Cathedral in San Pablo City (Photo courtesy of Cathedral Parish of Saint Paul the First Hermit)
One of the best choices to start off one’s visit is in San Pablo City, Laguna. The city, which is said to be one of the oldest cities in the country, is also called the City of the Seven Lakes. The city also houses the Saint Paul the First Hermit Cathedral, where the seat of the Bishop of the San Pablo Diocese is located. The church is several centuries old, with the original church constructed in 1586. In 1714, groundbreaking for the construction of the stone church was done and the building was completed in 1721. According to the classification of church architecture, the San Pablo church is considered to be Romanesque in style. It has also been declared as a Cultural Heritage monument.
Lake Pandin can be your welcome treat after a visit to the church (Photo courtesy of Tony Santos)
After a visit to the church, the city has a lot more to offer to the local tourist. For nature lovers, a trip to any of the “Seven Lakes” can be a welcome treat. And since the lakes are located nearby, one can visit all seven lakes within a day. Sampaloc Lake is the biggest one and is most accessible. Bunot Lake is also accessible as it is situated near Sampaloc and to one of the city’s residential areas. Lakes Mohicap and Palakpakin are situated close to each other. The Twin Lakes of Pandin and Yambo require visitors to take a short trek while one lake, Lake Calibato is the most remote among them.
Facade of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle Chruch in Nagcarlan built on 1583 (Photo courtesy of Eka Francisco)
After San Pablo City, visitors can go to the nearby town of Nagcarlan. The municipality houses Saint Bartholomew the Apostle Church which was first established in 1583, also by Spanish missionaries. The church’s architectural style is Baroque, with its tall columns and pedestals and its semicircular archways and windows.
Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery (Photo courtesy of Arcie Corcega)
Once you complete your church visit, another interesting landmark is waiting to be explored – the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery, the only one of its kind in the country. It is also centuries old having been established in 1845.
Facade of Saint John the Baptist Parish Church, Liliw (Photo courtesy of Cecile Francisco)
Next up is the town of Liliw where another Baroque style church can be found. Named Saint John the Baptist Parish Church, it was founded in 1605. Like the Nagcarlan church, it also has a prominent red façade made of red adobe and clay bricks. For a worldlier visit, one can go to the many local shoe stores in the municipality because after all, Liliw is said to be the “tsinelas” capital of the Philippines.
Facade of San Gregorio Magno Parish Church in Majayjay built on 1571 (Photo courtesy of Wilson Araracap Arguson)
The town of Majayjay is located next to Liliw and is at the foot of Mt. Banahaw. The San Gregorio Magno Parish Church is found in this town, which has been recognized by the National Museum as a National Cultural Treasure. Established in 1571, it is also one of the oldest churches in the Philippines.
Taytay falls in Majayjay (Photo courtesy of Marie Antonelvie Mymy Sanchez)
The best side trip while in Majayjay is a visit to Taytay Falls, which is a two-story high waterfall found in one of the town’s inner barangays.
VISITA IGLESIA IN BATANGAS
Like Laguna, the province of Batangas also has several centuries-old churches which are worth the visit and three of them are also ideal for a side-tour. In the municipality of Taal, the largest church in the Philippines and in Asia can be found.
Minor Basilica of St. Martin of Tours, Taal (Photo couretesy of Allan Pardilla Martinez)
The Minor Basilica of St. Martin of Tours measures 88.6 meters high and 48 meters wide. Established in 1572, the church is made in the neo-classic style of architecture and is also listed as a National Shrine by the National Historical Institute.
The heritage houses in Taal municipality. (The Beauty of God's Creation Facebook Page)
Going around the town is one way to see its heritage. The town has ancestral houses and its main business district or the Poblacion has been declared a National Historical Landmark. If one wishes a more rugged adventure, Taal Lake is also accessible from the town.
Parish of the Immaculate Conception, Balayan (Photo courtesy of Fray Job Oar)
Balayan, Batangas is home to a National Cultural Treasure as declared by the Philippine government – the Parish of the Immaculate Conception, located in the town’s plaza. Done in the Baroque style, the church used to have stone fortifications around it to protect it from pirate attacks.
The beaches in Balayan are a worthy side trip after the visita iglesia. There are several resorts found along the town’s coastline that one can choose from.
The churches mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg, as there are plenty of churches in Laguna and Batangas, each offering its own unique attraction, with an interesting locale to boot especially for the adventurous traveler. Going around Laguna or Batangas province is easier using one’s own car, but even when commuting, going from one town to another is relatively easy. The biggest attraction of both provinces is that they are merely a 2- to 3-hour drive away from Metro Manila.
Do you know of other interesting places for Visita Iglesia and minor excursion at the same time? Let us know in the comments section.