Inspired Architecture: 16 Churches You Must Visit This Holy Week
Manila’s many churches reflect the country’s rich heritage, which has been deeply influenced by over 300 years of Spanish rule. The former colonial power not only shaped our religious and cultural history, but also built many of Manila’s most beautiful churches.
In the colonial days, it was common for friars to build beautiful churches. While erecting these hallowed halls of worship came at the expense of the hard-working indios, church goers centuries later are still able to enjoy these architectural marvels. The colonizer’s eventual departure did not end the long tradition of building architecturally noteworthy places of worship, with renowned Filipino architects and National Artists quickly filling the void.
If you’re a devout Christian or simply interested in visiting some of Metro Manila’s remaining architectural marvels, this list of the city’s 16 most beautiful churches is a comprehensive and insightful guide.
San Agustin Church
One of the four Philippine churches declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this place of worship was built in 1570. Patterned after the Augustinian temples in Mexico, its architectural highlights are the elaborately carved baroque pulpit, installed in 1627 and featuring native flora and an Augustinian motif, as well as a 19th century manually operated pipe organ.
Sixteen glass chandeliers, which adorn the chapel, were brought in from Paris; four of them in 1867 and the remaining twelve in 1872. Some of the treasures belonging to this national historical landmark, rivalling grand European churches, were unfortunately lost during the British invasion and during the Japanese occupation. The paintings inside the church were made by Alberoni and Dibella, two Italian freelancers, painters and adventurers, who arrived in Manila in 1875.
San Sebastian Church
Completed in 1891, San Sebastian Church is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece designed by architect Don Genaro Palacios. It isn’t just the lone all-steel church in Asia, it is also the only pre-fabricated steel church in the world. The steel structure was manufactured in Belgium and then transported to Manila in eight shipments, where its assembly was supervised by Belgian engineers. Other European countries have played a part in its design as well; the stained glass windows were imported from Germany, and it was rumored that Eiffel Tower architect Gustave Eiffel also worked on the church.
The Roman Catholic basilica was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1973 and a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2011.
The church is also called the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica but used to be known as the “Church of Manila.” Established in 1571, it underwent several major renovations, the most recent of which was in 2012, when it was reopened for the public. In 2015, Pope Francis celebrated mass in the basilica which features statues of famous saints sculpted in Roman travertine stone beautifying the façade and artworks created by Italian artists.
Santa Cruz Church
Built by the Jesuits in the 1600s, this beautiful baroque church unfortunately was completely destroyed during the Battle of Manila. Reconstructed in 1957, the church reflects the California Spanish Mission design and baroque ornamentation of the original building.
Also called Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, this Benedictine monastery was founded in 1895, at the eve of the revolution. In 1920, the priorate was erected and then eventually turned into an abbey. The church’s interior is the handiwork of Father Lesmes Lopez and Brother Salvador Alberich.
Alternatively known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, this imposing church’s façade wasn’t always this impressive. In fact, its original structure, built in the 1500s, was constructed employing modest materials such as bamboo and nipa palm.
Quiapo Church is famous for housing the shrine of the Black Nazarene, which devotees claim has miraculous powers. Reconstructed several times, the basilica has survived destruction and damage, including an incident in 1928 where its ceiling and sacristy caught fire.
Santa Ana Church
Franciscan missionaries established the town of Santa Ana and its parish in 1578. Also known as the Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned, this sacred place of worship was originally made from nipa and bamboo, and then rebuilt in 1720 using sturdier construction materials.
It was also during that time that a Franciscan friar, who had returned from Valencia, Spain became enamored with the image of Our Lady of the Abandoned, and commissioned for a copy to be made which was placed in the church.
Church of the Gesù
The Roman Catholic Church on the Ateneo de Manila University campus is a captivating landmark, designed by Jose Pedro Recio and Carmelo Casas.
Its triangular structure is said to symbolize the Holy Trinity and the three-fold vision and mission of the school, while the shape and design of the church is reminiscent of the Filipino house bahay kubo, and conveys the outstretched arms of the Sacred Heart.
As early as 1591, a convent and church already stood on the grounds of Our Lady of Remedies Parish Church. A few decades later, in 1624, an image of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Remedies was brought from Spain to decorate the altar.
The building’s façade features an interesting mix of Muslim and Baroque architecture, which is reflected in the church’s solid stone structure and the overall ornateness of the design. The flaming heart, an Augustinian symbol, is also carved into both sides of the entrance, adding to the church’s serene feel.
Parish of the Holy Sacrifice
Often mistaken for a UFO, the church on UP Diliman campus is actually a National Historical Landmark. It’s also the first circular and thin-shell domed chapel in the country.
Designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin, with contributions by three other National Artists, notable features include the murals of the Stations of the Cross by Vicente S. Manansal and Ang Kiukok, the altar and crucifx by Napoleon V. Abueva, and the floor mural on the River of Life by Arturo R. Luz. The most recent addition is the monument to the GOMBURZA martyrs.
Santo Nino de Tondo Church
This church, established by the Augustinians, contains a statue of Santo Nino or the infant Jesus. A gift from a rich merchant to the Archbishop of Manila, the statue was shipped from Acapulco, Mexico and has remained with the diocese since 1572.
The main architectural features are the church’s Ionic-style attached rectangular pilasters and massive buttresses supporting the disproportional domes of the bell towers.
Saint Andrew the Apostle Church
Located in Bel-Air Village, Makati, the church is one of many places of worship designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin.
The design is symbolic of the manner martyrs died crucified on an X-shaped cross, as evidenced by the butterfly-shaped floor plan mirroring the cruciform. Many other symbolic features mark the tent-like structure of this church, including the giant chandelier hanging over the altar, which serves as a halo over the copper cross made by National Artist Vicente Manansala.
Also known as San Bartolome Church, this church’s most striking feature is its imposing Pantheon-like colonnade. Consisting of two rows of massive Ionic columns, it serves important structural function as well, supporting the protruding triangular pediment, which is flanked by three-story tall twin bell towers. Also of note are the Augustinian symbol inscribed above the main entrance and the unique pillared portico.
The first Filipino Saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, served as a sacristan in this church which, in his honor, is also known as the Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz.
Originally built in the 16th century to help missionaries convert the surrounding Chinese neighborhood, this place of worship has been reconstructed several times due to environmental and man-made causes. Only the bell tower remains of the original structure, while the altar’s design is loosely based on St. Peter's Basilica’s in the Vatican.
Santo Domingo Church
Located in Quezon City, this church isn’t just Metro Manila’s largest, it’s also one of the biggest in Asia.
A National Cultural Treasure since 2012, it has been designed by renowned architect and National Artist Jose Maria Zaragoza. The church features a number of artistic highlights, such as the series of murals by National Artist Carlos Francisco, which depict the life and times of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the Spaniard who founded the Order of Preachers.
Also of note are the stained-glass designs by Galo Ocampo featuring the original 15 Stations of the Holy Rosary, the Battle of Lepanto and La Naval de Manila, and the first martyrs of Vietnam and China, San Vicente Liem de la Paz and San Francisco Capillas.
Clara de Montefalco Parish Church
This parish church, located in Pasig, is considered the country’s tallest at 57 meters. Its Grecian-inspired façade and dome are fashioned after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and quite uniquely, it contains a 7,000-crypt ossuary, a belfry with carillon bells, and a beautiful mural inside the dome.