Miag-ao Church: A Queen among Queens
A Queen among Queens – that’s a title I would give to this magnificent church. No other church in the Philippines will rival the beauty and majesty of the Miag-ao Church, also known as Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva – a precious piece of Filipino heritage that has withstood the test of time and nature. Your Iloilo experience will never be complete without a visit to this historical site. Come and join me in exploring this wonderful masterpiece of Ilonggo ingenuity and art.
A Masterpiece of Art and Filipino Culture
One of the church’s features that really captivated me is the huge bas-relief in the facade of the church. A huge coconut is the central figure of the facade; locally abundant, the tree is an important part of Filipino lifestyle. Coconut is popular in our myths and legends – a true Pinoy icon. No wonder, the facade of Miag-ao church, with its coconut rising high above the apex, is a masterpiece of Filipino craftsmanship. But to look deeper in the scene, the tree is a source of life upon which St Christopher hangs on to while a Child Jesus is clinging on to his shoulders.
The facade also includes several fauna commonly found in Iloilo which includes papayas, guavas and other fruit bearing trees. Isn’t the designer of the facade obsessed with fruits? In reflection, I guess this means to attract the locals to the religion with its picturesque bountiful harvest. Something that the locals pray for way before the Spaniards introduced Christianity.
And to add more to the Pinoy touch of the design, also incorporated are shells and flowers in the bas-relief. Another interesting feature of the facade – a Spanish Coat of Arms (above St Henry) in the left side and a Papal Emblem at the right – frozen in time.
Inside, the wonders of the church never cease. The high altar is a delicately sculptured masterpiece. Painted in gold ink, the altar glistens when the sunlight touches. The design also mirrors the front of the church, from shells, flowers, to trees.
A Military Fortress, a Place of Worship and Refuge
The present church of Miag-ao is the third to be constructed in the town. The first church, built in 1734, was burned down by Moro pirates less than ten years after it was completed. The second one, built in 1746, was also burned and looted by the pirates. Both of the churches were erected at Ubos.
The frequent raids of the Moros prompted the town people to build the present church at Tacas, highest elevated area in the town where they have a commanding view of the coasts and of the Miag-ao River. Construction started in 1786.
The materials used in constructing church were quarried at Sitio Tubog in nearby San Joaquin town and in the mountains of the town of Igbaras. This was supervised by Fray Francisco Maximo Gonzales until its completion eleven (11) years after (1797).
Now more than 220 years old, the Church of Miag-ao had withstood natural calamities such as the Lady Caycay earthquake of 1948 (Magnitude 8.2) and typhoons. This may be attributed to the use of sturdy materials and the fortress-like design of the church. As I observed, the base of the church is much wider than the apex. This was also supported by strong massive walls and buttresses. Using Baroque-Renaissance Design, (which I’m woefully incapable of telling), the church was erected six meters below ground.
The church’s architecture took into account the tropical climate, the frequent earthquakes and typhoons and fire.
But sadly, the church was burned twice – during the 1898 Philippine Revolution and the Japanese Occupation.
Damage after damage, the town people painstakingly but lovingly rebuilt and restored the church.
An Icon in World Heritage
In 1993, UNESCO honored Miag-ao Church with its inclusion in the list of World Heritage sites. A marker now stands in the church’s courtyard. What I like about the inscription is its reminder that the church should be preserved “para sa kapakinabangan ng buong sangkatauhan.”
Aside from UNESCO, the church was also declared a national shrine in 1973. A national historical marker was also installed in 1963.
Other Pictures of Miag-ao Church (A very photogenic church, truly!)
Inside the Church:
The Windows and Doors:
Santo Tomas De Villanueva:
Today, the Miag-ao church is one of the best preserved historical structures in the country. The people of Miag-ao takes pride in their most precious treasure – a jewel shared upon by all Ilonggos and Filipinos. A Queen among Queens – that’s the Miag-ao Church.
From Iloilo International Airport:
– You can take the Shuttle Bus going to SM City, Iloilo.
– From SM City, Iloilo, take the SM Mandurriao jeepney and take a stop at the nearby intersection under the overpass and ride the Oton or Villa-Mohon bound jeep going to the jeepney terminal located in Mohon, Oton.
– In Mohon Oton Terminal, there will be several Miag-ao jeepneys ready to take you there.
From Iloilo City Proper
– Take the Miag-ao bound jeepney from Super terminal, Iloilo City.
– You can also take buses going to Anini-y or Dao Antique in Molo Terminal. Tell the bus conductor to drop you off in Miag-ao.
For Private Transportation:
– Miag-ao is 37 kilometers southwest of Iloilo City.
– Take a drive along Iloilo- Antique National Road would get you to Miag-ao in about 45 minutes.
– The church is right at the heart of the town of Miag-ao.