Miagao Church: The Baroque Fortress Church of Iloilo

Miagao Church: The Baroque Fortress Church of Iloilo
facade of church of santo tomas de villanueva

Built in 1786, Miagao Church, also known as the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church, is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Iloilo. More than a place of worship, it also served as a fortress. Hence, it is called the Baroque fortress church.

It was designed with the baroque features with touches of Chinese and Filipino style imposing designs, ornaments and motifs, making it a one of a kind church. That’s why the Miag ao Church architecture is among the Philippines’ most beautiful architectural gems. Its old structure, history, and its UNESCO World Heritage mark make it a treasure not only for Iloilo but for the Philippines.

Throughout the years, it has gone to many wars and revolutions, fires and earthquakes and survived. Miagao Church also stands as a living legacy of the culture and way of life of the people of Miagao centuries ago.

Miagao Church History

detailed miagao church architecture

Before Miag-ao, there were two churches that were built in town but both were burned by Muslim raiders and pirates. 

It was just in 1786 when the construction of Miag ao Church Iloilo started and completed in 1797. Since then, it served two purposes: a place of worship and a fortress against Muslim raiders. 

For centuries since 1797, Miag ao Church was not only a garrison of the Christian faith but also an indomitable refuge for citizens during the Spanish-Moro wars. Battle after battle, its walls stood steadfast like San Cristobal under the weight of a centuries-long struggle. 

During the revolution in 1898, the church was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt in the same year. In 1910, the church was damaged by fire. While in 1948, it was damaged by an earthquake and the restoration was completed in 1962. Due to the disasters and calamities it went through, Miag ao Church underwent restoration work several times already. 

In 1974, Miag ao Church Iloilo was declared as a National Landmark. And in 1993 it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Miagao Church being one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites

facade of church of santo tomas de villanueva

Now that you know the history of Miagao Church, let’s talk about it being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

UNESCO has chosen Miagao Church as one of the World Heritage Sites because it exhibits various architectural designs with the predominance of baroque architecture and local artistic elements. 

The church’s foundation runs 20 feet deep into the ground, and it’s one-and-a-half-meter thick walls are reinforced with four meter-thick buttresses. As the town of Miagao was constantly invaded by the “Moros” for almost a decade in the mid-18th century, the church had to be moved to a more secure place, so a new fortified church was then built at the highest point of the town to guard against potential invaders. But what makes this church even more special is its unique ochre color.

The church was built using a combination of Spanish Baroque and Romanesque Early Medieval architectural styles, with the addition of Chinese, Muslim, and local Filipino elements in the decoration of its facade. For instance, St. Christopher is wearing a traditional Filipino attire, and it’s surrounded by decorations like papaya and palm trees which are very common in the country. The Miagao Church’s distinctive yellow-ochre color comes from the inclusion of coral, ground into dust, and egg whites in the mixture for the adobes. Egg whites are customarily used by Spaniards to make mortar for their churches, in order to make the mixture more durable.

The adobe used in building the church is made from silt and clay that can only be found in this part of Iloilo, giving also the building a unique warm-yellowish glow. The towering buttresses from the side of the church walls are typical of the “earthquake baroque” design reminiscent of churches in Ilocos, particularly Panay Church and Vigan Cathedral, while the church’s simple interior is highlighted by a striking gold-plated retablo.

The church is what put Miagao on the map. 

Places you can visit near Miagao Church

1. Islas de Gigantes

tourists arriving at islas de gigantes

After visiting the prominent church, make sure to include Islas de Gigantes in your itinerary. It is a set of islands that make up a paradise of pristine beaches, clear water, and huge rock formations. But what truly sets it apart are its stunning, secluded beaches. From the city proper, Islas de Gigantes is a five-hour trip. It’s untouched beauty is one of Iloilo’s best kept secrets.

2. Camiña Balay Nga Bato

facade of Camiña Balay Nga Bato
Photo from iloilo.net.ph

Aside from being known as the home of the sweetest and softhearted people, Iloilo is also filled with history from the old churches and ancestral houses. One of the most famous ancestral houses is the Camiña Balay Nga Bato. It was built in 1860 and was strategically located beside the river to have easy transportation of the family’s business of hand-woven textile products.

While learning its history, you can sip a hot chocolate that they’re also famous for, or dine at the restaurant, or just shop for pasalubongs.

3. Miagao Rice Terraces

dried rice terraces in miagao iloilo
Photo from mybeautifuliloilo.blogspot.com

Surprisingly, there are many rice terraces in the Philippines, not just only in Ifugao. In fact, Miagao has its own. Miagao Rice Terraces is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the province. Situated in Cabalaunan village, Miagao Rice Terraces covers a 500-hectare rice fields with beautiful terraces carved in perpendicular slopes that will surely engulf the mountain climbers.

It was built with minimal equipment, mostly by the meticulous hands of its inhabitants in order to adapt to its mountainous environment.

4. Nelly’s Garden

facade of the nelly's garden in iloilo
Photo source

Built in 1928 by Ilonggo Statesman Don Vicente Lopez and Doña Elena Hofileña. The Beaux Art Mansion was named after their first daughter. It is called the “Queen of Heritage Houses.” An icon of old Iloilo Grandeur. It is a mansion where you can experience what it’s like to live like the aristocrats in the old times. There’s also a shop inside where you can buy pasalubongs.

How to get to Miagao Church

There are three ways to reach Miag-ao Church in Iloilo: by plane, ship, and bus.

By plane

From Manila, there are direct flights to Iloilo that will take around 50 minutes of travel time. Upon arrival, you can ride a shuttle van or taxi going to Iloilo City. 

By ship

From Manila Ports, you can reach Iloilo Domestic Port, located along General Hughes St.,  in about 20 hours.

By bus

There are also buses from Manila bound for Iloilo City. The terminals are located in Cubao and Pasay. These buses will then ride the roro (roll-on-roll-off) services going to Iloilo. 

Upon arrival in Iloilo, there are many available transportation services that can tour you around. There are taxis, jeepneys, and vans. From the city proper, it will take about 45 minutes to reach Miag-ao Church.

Miagao Church history proved us that no matter how many times we fall for the challenges we face over time, we can still recover. This church stands proud, a testament to resilience and faith of its people.

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