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UNESCO – Baroque Churches of the Philippines

Posted by on Apr 23rd, 2009
Filed Under: Churches, Featured, Photos, UNESCO

The Baroque Churches of Phlippines is the official designation of 1. Church of San Agustin in Manila, 2. Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, 3. Church of San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, 4. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo, when the four spanish era churches were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993. The unique design of these four churches reflects the integration of Spanish and Latin American architecture to indigenous architecture of the Philippines, including a fusion with Chinese style.

”These were men of God, not architects, who could only rely on memories of Baroque churches seen in Spain or Latin America when giving instructions to build Philippine churches. Thus, intentionally, these friar-builders and their native craftsmen reinterpreted the European Baroque to establish a peripheral Baroque style, deceptively Western in appearance
but totally Philippine in spirit and context.” In reference to the Filipino and Chinese craftsmen, architects and priests who built the church.

Built during time of chaos and war, these churches were not only designed to withstand attacks during revolts and rebellions, they are also made to withstand tremendous earthquakes since Philippines is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire. Powerful buttresses and foundations gave the churches the support they needed to survive earthquakes intact as well as a fortress image. The unique architectural style became known as Earthquake Baroque.

Church of San Agustin, in Manila


UNESCO Baroque Churches of Philippines - Church of San Agustin, in Manila
Deisgn of The Church of San Agustin, Manila is derived from Agustinian churches built in Mexico, representing almost an exact copy of Puebla Cathedral in Puebla, Mexico. The Church of San Agustin is the only structure in Intramuros (the southern district of Manila) to survive World War II bombardment.
Photo by Erick Photomurals

Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion, in Santa Maria Ilocos Sur


UNESCO Baroque Churches of Philippines - Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion, in Santa Maria Ilocos Sur
The Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion is located on top of a hill, it served as a citadel during times of crisis, providing the best example of the blend of purposes in the architecture. Two huge columns flank the church façade and what makes the church attractive is the reddish exterior due to the exposed brickwork.
Photo by Karmacamilleeon

Church of San Agustin, in Paoay, Ilocos Norte


UNESCO Baroque Churches of Philippines - Church of San Agustin, in Paoay, Ilocos Norte
Based on the nomination dossier submitted to UNESCO, the Church of San Agustin in Paoay is considered the most outstanding variant of the Earthquake Baroque architectural style. Unlike other bell towers in the country, the Paoay Church’s coral stone belltower is detached from its main building. The church has featured 24 curved buttresses.
Photo by NathanielChoi

Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, in Miag-ao, Iloilo


UNESCO Baroque Churches of Philippines - Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, in Miag-ao, Iloilo
The Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva withstood the occasional attacks from Muslims coming from the south. The church and its watchtowers had been built with thick walls and secret passages to defend the town and its people. The defensive purpose of the Church led to the popular name The Miag-ao Fortress Church.
Photo by Serdenia Arlon

Article Sources

UNESCO World Heritage Center – Baroque Churches of the Philippines
WIKIPEDIA – Baroque Architecture, Earthquake Baroque, Baroque Churches of Philippines

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Grace is loving every minute she spend traveling around Philippines, meeting people and making new friends. Her travel mantra - “Live, breathe. It is never too late to feel alive.”

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28 Responses to “UNESCO – Baroque Churches of the Philippines”

  1. Tatiana says:

    Although only these 4 churches are under the unesco world heritage list, but there are alot more worth seeing churches around the country. Very informative post, but i hope that you will be able to do individual write up for each of these 4 churches – and how are they different from one another – and of course the other wonderful churches in the Philippines.

    I’ve made plans to go Philippines next year, and this site only make me wish that I can be there sooner. :)

    • Grace says:

      Thanks Tatiana, I’m glad that the effort we putting here have been appreciated. I’m currently working on some other guides, but will definitely come back to cover all 4 of the Baroque Churches in a more detailed individual writeup.

      • Ryan says:

        Grace,San Joaquin Church (Iloilo) is beautiful… San Sebastian Church (Manila) as well… :)

        • Grace says:

          Ryan, yap i agree on those two, hopefully i can find time to write on them too.

          • Job says:

            Back to Philippine history class… my great history professor in college once mentioned that because the Philippines is too far from Spain, it took a few years for businessmen to reach this new “colony.” From Acapulco to Manila, the boat ride takes a full year. Because of this, it has been said that the ones very eager to arrive in the new territory are religious missionaries.

            One possibility is that the priests forgot to bring architects with them. So the churches were built based on how the missionaries remember the churches in Europe. Eventually, vernacular design of locals is incorporated with Western – creating a unique Baroque style. Church height is restricted, huge buttresses are added on the sides and bell towers are separated from the main church – designs which may be weird for a Westerner; but for the Philippine topography and climate, perfect. Oh, the churches are both a place of worship and a military post – Santa Maria church for example, is situated on a hill. On top of the tower, one can get a good view of the South China Sea and can be on guard to pirates and Moros.

            • Ryan says:

              Ah yeah Santa Maria Church, we sadly skipped that one, it was out of the way when we went to Ilocos last month but yeah, apparently it has a very good vantage point and the design was a tad militaristic as well.

      • Jick Dizon says:

        Hi, Ms. Grace… Im currently working on my master’s thesis (Century-Old Churches in Pampanga), just to let you know that Pampanga also offers a lot of Spanish era churches…

        More power…

        Jick

  2. Flugo says:

    The 1st church looks so boring from the outside, unlike the 3rd and the 4th one. Actually the 3rd one doesn’t look like a church at all! Looks more like a military barrack!

    • Ryan says:

      I agree, San Agustin is not pretty from the outside, but, man, the church inside is awe-inspiring from the quality of craftsmanship – carvings etc…I actually saw possible ancestors buried there.

      Although San Sebastian is not a Baroque Church (it is in Neo-Gothic style), it is also recognized by UNESCO as the only steel church or basilica in Asia, possibly the first prefabricated building in the world, and the definitely the only prefabricated steel church in the world. The steel was shipped in from Belgium, and the stained glass shipped in from Germany. It was completed in 1891.

      Guess who was the engineer behind this project?

      It is no other than Gustav Eiffel, of the Eiffel Tower fame. Eiffel also constructed the Quezon Bridge in Manila. I.M.Pei, the man behind the design of the famous Bank of China tower in HK inspected the structure and gave imprimatur that Eiffel, designed this church.

      • pktan says:

        That’s something new to me! I’ve yet been to the San Sebastian church, i guess it is worth a visit someday then, hah, altho’ I’ve been up the Eiffel tower – prefer the Arc de Triomphe while i was there tho’

        • Ryan says:

          Hi Pk,

          Not alot of Filipinos know that too – Manila and the Philippines takes a lot of work to discover its hidden gems. However, Gustav Eiffel designing the church is no surprise to me. After all, the Philippines was Southeast Asia’s centre of international commerce, culture and education for quite a while Singapore, and other neighboring capitals were just little fishing villages then.

          Ryan

  3. Job says:

    Just recently, the Tubbataha Reefs were extended by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. I checked their site and for next year, Mt. Apo will ready for inscription. http://www.worldheritagesite.org/forums/index.php?action=vthread&forum=8&topic=291

    When I checked the tentative lists for Philippines I found other Baroque Churches, mostly in Visayas. I do hope they get added to the list soon.

    Batanes, plus Chocolate Hills are hopefuls, too.

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Job,

      I checked whc.unesco.org/en/list but it didnt list Mount Apo there (not even for inscription- could you provide the link where it says so? the link you gave earlier was a comment on a forum and is not totally verified at all for its authenticity)- although – it is on the tentative list submitted along with others -

      * Jesuit Churches of the Philippines (1993)
      * San Sebastian Church (2006)
      * Angono Triglyphs (1993)
      * Spanish Colonial Fortifications of the Philippines (2006)
      * Batanes Protected landscapes and seascapes (1993)
      * The Tabon Cave Complex and all of Lipuun (2006)
      * Paleolithic Archaeological Sites in Cagayan Valley (2006)
      * Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves (2006)
      * Butuan Archeological Sites (2006)
      * Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Extension) (2006)
      * The Maranao Settlement of Tugaya (2006)
      * Petroglyphs and Petrographs of the Philippines (2006)
      * Neolithic Shell Midden Sites in Lal-lo and Gattaran Municipalities (2006)
      * Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (2006)
      * Chocolate Hills Natural Monument (2006)
      * Ligawasan Marsh (2006)
      * Taal Volcano Protected landscape, Batangas (2006)
      * Panglao Island, Bohol (2006)
      * Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape (2006)
      * Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park (2006)
      * Mt. Pulag National Park (2006)
      * Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary (2006)
      * Apo Reef Natural Park (2006)
      * El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (2006)
      * Coron Island Natural Biotic Area (2006)
      * Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park (2006)
      * Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park and outlying areas inclusive of the buffer zone (2006)
      * Mount Apo and Mount Hamiguitan: Sanctuaries of Endemism in Mindanao (2008)

      Cheers,

      Ryan

  4. Job says:

    Hi, Ryan,

    If you go back to the forum link, you can scroll down to entry #13, where you will find a list of 2010 nominations to the heritage site list.

    It wrote Mindanao’s Mt. Apo. The thing is, this long list included both complete and incomplete documents. The forum is for WHS enthusiasts so there isn’t much proof. I’d like to believe they have insider tips from heritage committee members. ;-p

    I do hope, though, that will be inscribed next year.

    Yours

    • Ryan says:

      Hey Job,

      Oh yeah I checked that out but it says there that they are just for nominations but not necessarily for inscriptions. For the 2010 nominations- I found this link- http://www.iucn.org/about/union/commissions/wcpa/wcpa_work/wcpa_worldheritage/wcpa_nomination/wcpa_actnomination/ There is nary a Philippine entry. IUCN as you know usually evaluates the World Heritage Sites nominees don’t know why. I am getting confused.

      I really hope the list of Philippine sites would be included in the World Heritage List. Btw, the Apo Nomination is labeled as Mount Apo and Mount Hamiguitan: Sanctuaries of Endemism in Mindanao and it was submitted 10/09/08. Actually there was a big debate before whether naming an area a World Heritage Lister would be beneficial to the site itself because in some cases apparently, it hastens the degradation and decline of some of those listed sites. In one case, the WHC delisted a site in Oman because the Omani government systematically destroyed that site by reducing the protected area for Arabian Oryx. Tch. Bad eh? Tubbataha Reef faces continuous risk from mostly Chinese poachers as well as some ignorant Filipino fishermen (a group of fishermen from Iloilo was caught dynamite fishing in the area a few months ago) while the rapid urbanization and unsustainable tourism is putting the Rice Terraces at risk as well. Not to mention fewer Ifugaos farm nowadays. What do you think?

      Cheers

  5. Job says:

    Just wanna share these sites:

    One of GMA’s speech mentioned the extension of the Tubbataha Reefs and possible inscription of Mt. Apo in the heritage site:
    http://www.ops.gov.ph/speeches2008/speech2008_may19.htm

    And yet another: “Mt. Apo proposed as world heritage site”
    http://www.partenariatmontagne.org/news/news_2008.asp

    Sorry, the final (and official) list of nomination will show only about a few months/weeks before the 2010 Committee Meeting.

  6. Ryan says:

    Hey Job,

    Oh yeah I checked that out but it says there that they are just for nominations but not necessarily for inscriptions. For the 2010 nominations- I found this link- iucn.org/about/union/commissions/wcpa/wcpa_work/wcpa_worldheritage/wcpa_nomination/wcpa_actnomination/ There is nary a Philippine entry. IUCN as you know usually evaluates the World Heritage Sites nominees don’t know why. I am getting confused.

    I really hope the list of Philippine sites would be included in the World Heritage List. Btw, the Apo Nomination is labeled as Mount Apo and Mount Hamiguitan: Sanctuaries of Endemism in Mindanao and it was submitted 10/09/08. Actually there was a big debate before whether naming an area a World Heritage Lister would be beneficial to the site itself because in some cases apparently, it hastens the degradation and decline of some of those listed sites. In one case, the WHC delisted a site in Oman because the Omani government systematically destroyed that site by reducing the protected area for Arabian Oryx. Tch. Bad eh? Tubbataha Reef faces continuous risk from mostly Chinese poachers as well as some ignorant Filipino fishermen (a group of fishermen from Iloilo was caught dynamite fishing in the area a few months ago) while the rapid urbanization and unsustainable tourism is putting the Rice Terraces at risk as well. Not to mention fewer Ifugaos farm nowadays. What do you think?

    Cheers

    • Job says:

      A lot can be debated on whether this title proves beneficial or disastrous to a site. In the end, I think it boils down to site management.

      In China (where I am now), most parks increase entry fee once the “heritage site” title is awarded. This is manifested in the tourist books the government publishes every year. The price increases significantly immediately a year after a site gets inscribed. And it pays off! The tourists (both local and foreign) actually rush to these sites. For natural sites, e.g, holy mountains, the issue might be a little different – pieces of garbage can be found almost everywhere.

      As for our beloved Pilipinas, I have read somewhere that the Rice Terraces may be delisted if it stays in the Heritage List in Danger for too long. I would like to believe UNESCO is doing its part to preserve the terraces, its “outstanding universal value” to humankind.

      Arguably, the title can be both blessing and curse. I am not totally familiar how the heritage sites in Philippines are managed, so I hope my opinion will be taken with a grain of salt – we do need the title, primarily because it will help a lot in gaining popularity; at the same time, it will help in preservation. Already, I read news about mining in Chocolate Hills, vandalism in churches, illegal logging, etc.

      • Ryan says:

        I was in Chocolate Hills twice now in 3 years – and I noticed that the last time I was there (last year) – it was significantly cleaner (they have proper rest rooms now). They opened a new view deck as well, when it comes to Churches, the main problem is not vandalism IMO but the preservation of the sites as these Churches are prone to antique robbers.

        In China, I reckon the Great Wall is on that list, from what I have read and told by my friends who had been to the Great Wall (I only went to Shanghai when I was in China), the wall is basically deteriorating because of the millions of people who walks on it. It is highly commercialized as well. I would like to see the Wall for myself next time I visit China (en route to Mongolia).

        For sure there are still a lot of places in the Philippines way deserving to be put on the list. Actually the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River is slowly slipping in the New 7 Wonders of Nature ranking, so it would be a big help if you could help spread and encourage everyone you know to vote for it. Btw, we have a Facebook Fanpage account that you may want to add as well.

        Cheers

  7. Job says:

    An official document; seems no Philippine nominee site for 2010 World Heritage Committee.

    http://whc.unesco.org/ > The 33rd session (2009) > Documents > WHC.09 /33.COM /INF.8B3
    List of nominations received by 1 February 2009 for examination by the Committee at its 34th session (2010)

    You can download the file and will see the 2010 hopefuls. Mount Apo shows incomplete status. :-( Will have to wait until 2011 for the next world heritage site in the RP.

    Nevertheless, next year will be an interesting list. Looking forward to Hanoi, Hahoe and Yangdong (Korea), Matheran Train & Jantar Mantar (India).

    P.S. at the moment, Facebook is banned in China. :-(

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Job,

      Yeah I already saw that official document about the 2010 nominations. Well, I guess it does take some time and much needed follow through for the listing on WHC. On another topic, the voting for the New 7 Wonders of Nature is back on with the selection the voting of the 21 finalists which includes the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (the longest navigable underground river in the world). Please support it and spread the news around. Puerto Princesa was second in ranking after the Amazon in its category the last time. Thank you!

      Re: Facebook in China, for some reasons my friends in Shanghai seem to be able to log on to Facebook today. That sucks though because Facebook was still on there the last time I visited China in 2007.

      Cheers,

      Ryan

  8. leslie says:

    good day everyone,
    im leslie obiso of argao cebu…can st. michael the arachangel parish church of argao cebu be included in the baroque churches of the philippines. eventhough vandalism and mismanagement of renovation has undergone to it still it reatin its uniqueness as a baroque rococ church in souther cebu and it is ocnsidered as one of the richly furnished church in southern cebu. thanks….

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Leslie, this list refers to the ones inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. :) I hope the church in Argao would be included as well but it will the effort of your entire community to restore it to its former glory. You may also check with UNESCO regarding the process of nominating the Church to this prestigious list. Cheers!

  9. Job says:

    Hi, Leslie!

    You can refer to this site: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/state=ph
    The following churches are being readied for inclusion (either under Baroque Churches extension, or under new entries, i.e., “Jesuit Churches of the Philippines” and “San Sebastian Church”):

    Boljo-on, Cebu
    Guiuan, Eastern Samar
    Loboc, Bohol
    Lazi, Siquijor
    Tumauini, Isabela
    Maragondon, Cavite
    Baclayon, Bohol
    San Sebastian Church

    Just wanted to share. :-) I have other churches which deserve this title, but I guess ICOMOS Philippines has adifferent idea on which to be submitted.

    Apart from the churches, I think UNESCO Philippines should work on an entry like: “Historic Center of Manila, Intramuros” or something to that effect. I believe this was already done in 1989; but was rejected by the Heritage Site convention.

  10. Job says:

    2010 World Monument Watch List adds Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur church.
    http://www.wmf.org/watch/project-map?list=1
    Partial collapse of the wall.

  11. wils grant says:

    HI! Grce, what about Sta. Ana Church in Sta. ANA, Manila..

  12. MP says:

    Grace,

    Thank you for this lovely post! I was doing an assignment for my art class, and was curious about Baroque churches all over the world. It’s great to know that there’s numerous churches in our home country, the Philippines.

    Now that I know of these places, I will have to visit these places when I go back home.

    Thank you again.

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