Visita Iglesia : Seven Old Churches in Rizal Province

Holy Week has been a meaningful tradition for Filipinos both Catholic and non-Catholic alike. For some, the long weekend is a perfect time to hit the road and strengthen friendship bonds while for others, it is a chance to reunite with the family in their home provinces. Catholics throughout the country observe Holy Week in a variety of ancient traditional activities. Visita Iglesia is just one.

Interiors of Tanay Church

Seven Churches Visitation is an ancient Roman Catholic tradition, dating back from 16th century, to visit seven churches on the evening of Holy Thursday, after the Mass of the Last Supper, to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in each church. In the Philippines where the tradition is known as Visita Iglesia, the practice has evolved into visiting no particular number of churches in any day of the Holy Week to pray at the fourteen Stations of the Cross in them. Most Catholics do it on a Holy Thursday when churches remain open until midnight.

It was my first time to do Visita Iglesia. Aboard our motorcycle, my wife and I visited seven historical churches in seven towns of my home province.

Our Lady of Light Parish | Cainta, Rizal

Cainta Church

A Jesuit priest built the first church in 1707 and was damaged by earthquake in 1853. During Filipino-American war in 1899, the church was burned down. In 1966, the church was reconstructed leaving the original fa├žade untouched. National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) declared Cainta Church as a historical site in 2007 for its role during the Filipino-American war. Cainta Church is located along Andres Bonifacio Avenue, near Cainta junction.

St. John the Baptist Parish Church | Taytay, Rizal

Facade of Taytay Church

Franciscan missionaries established the first chapel made with light materials in 1579 near the shore of Laguna Bay. Jesuit priests took over the administration and transferred the parish from the flood-prone shores to a higher location on a hill where the present church stands to this day. The church withstood the test of time when typhoon ravaged the structure in 1632, was set on fire in 1639, and fall into ruins during Filipino-American War in late 1800s. Taytay Church was rebuilt after the war with no traces of the old Jesuit church. St. Pedro Calungsod, the second Filipino declared as saint by the Roman Catholic Church, once served as an altar boy in Taytay Church. NHCP unveiled its historical marker in 1992. It was located at the heart of Taytay town proper.

Sta. Ursula Parish Church | Binangonan, Rizal

Sta. Ursula Parish Church, Binangonan

Franciscans established the parish in 1621 and built the church from 1792 to 1800. It has undergone major renovation in 1853 and just recently, the church belfry has undergone restoration. Unlike the other churches, Sta. Ursula Parish Church lacks ceiling, thus exposing the wooden trusses that supports the roof, giving the church a rustic ambiance.

I hail from Binangonan, got baptized in this church and finished my high school at the adjacent Binangonan Catholic College. I just have to mention that, just because. LOL.

Sta. Ursula Parish Church is located at the heart of Binangonan town proper.

St. Jerome Parish Church | Morong, Rizal

Morong Church

Of the seven churches we visited, Morong Church has the most striking structure and history. A story narrates that the church was built under forced labor during Spanish colonization where men, women and children had to dig stones, lime, sand and gravel from mountains and from Morong River. NHCP declared the church as a historical site in 1939 and as inscribed on its historical marker, the first church was built in 1586, was burned down in 1612 and the present church was constructed shortly afterwards. A local from Paete, Laguna built the picturesque frontispiece and belfry between 1850 and 1853. Morong Church is located in downtown Morong.

St. Joseph Church | Baras, Rizal

Historical marker of Baras Church

Baras Church seemed to retain its old structure. Of the churches we visited, it was the smallest and has the simplest gritty edifice but its interiors were the most rustic. Like Binangonan Church, it also lacks the ceiling. The structure was not plastered thus, aside from the wooden trusses, adobe bricks with which the church was made of was also exposed. Baras Church is located on hill a short distance from Baras Municipal Hall.

San Ildefonso de Toledo Parish Church | Tanay, Rizal

Historical marker of Tanay Church

Tanay Church, along with other popular destinations in Tanay, has put Rizal province on the Philippine tourist map. Not only did NHCP declared the church as a historical site in 1939, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) declared it as a National Cultural Treasure in 2001. It houses the relic of a piece of a bone of Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo given to the church in 2006 from Spain. Carvings of the fourteen Stations of the Cross inside Tanay Church were considered as one of the most beautiful in Asia. It was believed that the native artists of Tanay created these Stations of the Cross. First photo of this blog post shows the interiors of Tanay Church.

St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church | Pililla, Rizal

Pililla Church

Another church established by the Franciscans, Pililla Church was built in 1583. It stands a few kilometers away from the historic church of Tanay. NHCP unveiled the historical marker of the church in 1977. Pililla Church was made from adobe, similar to other churches in Laguna, and its bell tower has apparently undergone restoration just recently. Religious paintings adorn the whole ceiling of Pililla Church, distnguishing itself from the other churches we visited.

Facts and Other Trip Notes

  • All of the churches we visited were declared as a historical site by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines except Sta. Ursula Parish Church in Binangonan.
  • Tanay Church is one of the only two attractions in Rizal province declared as National Cultural Treasure, the other one is the Angono Petroglyphs in the towns of Angono and Binangonan.
  • The seven churches is accessible via Ortigas Avenue and Manila East Road and all were located downtown.
  • Pililla is the farthest town from Manila which is about 3 hours away. The town next to it is already part of Laguna province.

Frontispiece and belfry of Morong Church

Visita Iglesia is also an opportunity for a sightseeing. Avid travelers (those Catholics) usually opt to perform Visita Iglesia for the observance of the Holy Week, as well as for taking a walk from the past through century old Catholic churches around the country.


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