I have always made plans of visiting 7 old Catholic Churches as part of my travel itinerary every year. My choice of churches are those that date back to the Spanish times or those that have a rich and colorful history. I usually time the visits during the Holy Week to align with the Filipino tradition of the Visita Iglesia - an annual tradition where Filipinos visit at least 7 churches where they offer prayers and offerings during the visitations. It is not only a great time to explore but it is also a good time to see Filipino faith in action.
Initially, I planned out to explore the old churches in Manila area. I had a travel buddy who mapped out our itinerary but we had to cancel on the last minute due to conflicts in our schedule. With nothing else to do, I suggested to my wife that we head up on a road trip and discover a new place, as we were headed up to Baguio anyway. She agreed. We then decided to head up to Alaminos, Pangasinan to visit the Hundred Islands National Park before we head up to Baguio.
With everything packed, loaded, and armed with google map on my mobile phone, my family and I were off to our first road trip for the year. We were blessed with fair weather and as I made my turn on Romulo Highway, the journey to search for the hundred islands began. We met a couple of penitents along the way and it was a learning experience for my little girl as I explained this particular custom of some Filipinos. As we continued our journey, a discovery along the way gave way to a minimal diversion on our original plan.
Sa Unang Simbahan: Saint Michael the Archangel Parish Church (Camiling, Tarlac)
As we entered the municipality of Camiling, a dominating structure loomed ahead of us that caught my attention. It looked like the ruins of a church and curiosity got hold of me. I suggested that we make a brief stopover - a stopover that led to our own version of the Visita Iglesia.
Camiling is a first class municipality found on the northwest of the Tarlac. It borders the province of Pangasinan. It is a fast growing municipality of the province having a number of businesses opening in its commercial centers probably because of its strategic location to Tarlac and Pangasinan.
The Saint Michael the Archangel Parish Church was built in 2009 and is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in the province. Located at the center of the town, the simple facade of the church is in contrast to its wide interiors. The high ceilings and the open sides of the church allows natural lighting and the breeze to circulate inside the sanctuary giving it a refreshing feel. The interior of the church is highlighted by a gold-colored retablo unfortunately the saints of the church were covered in purple cloth because of the Holy Week celebration.
The wide interiors of the church is one of the most beautiful in Tarlac.One of the gems of Camiling sits right beside the church - the ruins of the San Miguel Church or the Catholic Church of Camiling. The church was built in the 18th century and was considered to be the oldest in the province. It has survived catastrophes and was a silent witness to the history of the municipality. As you enter the ruins, you would be in awe as to how big the church must have been during its glorious days. It is said that the church also has a war tunnel where the Japanese soldiers hid during the World War 2. The church was destroyed by a fire in 1997.
Sa Ikalawang Simbahan: St. Raymond de Penafort Church (Mangatarem, Pangasinan)
Mangatarem is the largest municipality of Pangasinan. The name of the municipality was derived from the Ilocano phrase "Manga ken Terem" which means "Mango and Oyster". Most of the locals rely on agriculture for their livelihood.
As you approach the center of town, one would notice a huge green dome looming from the horizon. It is the dome of the St. Raymond de Penafort Church. It is located at the heart of the town, alongside the market and the municipal hall. The first church was constructed under Father Perez but the structure was later destroyed by fire. The initial plan was to built two towers but the work was never completed.
The facade of the church includes 3 windows with glass-stained windows. The three story belfry on the side of the church gives the facade a more sturdier and stronger look. But the most dominant part of the church is still the green roofed dome of the church which stands out along the Mangatarem skyline.
The interiors of the church was simple and it is probably the simplest that I have ever seen. The high ceiling of the church gives visitors an impression of a wide space within its walls - a sense of security. The altar is also very simple which is probably reflective of the community's way of life.
Sa Ikatlong Simbahan: St. Joseph The Patriarch Church (Aguilar, Pangasinan)
I was surprised when I saw the belfry of St. Joseph the Patriarch Church jutting out of the horizon after maneuvering a blind curve as we were entering Aguilar, Pangasinan. It was a beautiful sight to see.
The construction of the church started in 1809 and the cementing of the church and the tower started in 1846. The church was also saved from destruction from bombs recovered from its altar.
The beige colored belfry stands out of the horizon and it is the most prominent feature of the church. The facade of the church looks like a retablo where the images of the Virgin Mary and St Joseph are displayed to guard the church. The gates are also adorned by sheeps. A convent was also constructed beside the church.
The white washed walls and ceilings of the church make the interiors look huge and wide. Intricate flower designs adorn the ceilings of the church. The altar have three retablos that also display images of the town's saints but I was not able to view them as they were covered in cloth.
Sa Ikaapat na Simbahan: St. Isidore the Farmer Parish (Labrador, Pangasinan)
A simple church in the midst of a simple community - that is how I will describe the St. Isidore the Farmer Parish in Labrador. The beige facade of the church stands out with the summer sun. The simplicity extends towards the interiors with its simple altar and simple design. It is relatively the smallest church among all the churches that we visited this year.
The history of the church stands with the Dominicans after it was recognized in 1755. But the very first mass in the area was held in 1575 after the Spaniards set-up camp while pursuing Limahong, a Chinese pirate.
Sa Ikalimang Simbahan: St. Joseph Cathedral (Alaminos City, Pangasinan)
The procession has ended when we arrived at the St. Joseph Cathedral. The procession featured the town's collection of images of saints and as they slowly filtered inside the church compound, one could really feel the excitement of those who attended the procession.
St. Joseph Cathedral's facade was designed like a retablo that featured images of the town's prominent saints. The facade was simple but solid that commanded attention when you pass by the area. The first church was built in 1770 but was later destroyed by a fire that razed the whole town. The construction of the present structure and the adjacent convent started in 1837.
The interiors of the church is highlighted by three gold-colored retablos where the saints are safely kept by the parishioners. I was not able to explore the interiors of the church as parishioners flocked inside the cathedral after the procession. One thing that stood out for me was watching how devoted many Filipinos are with their faith.
Isang Daang Isla: The Hundred Islands National Park
Excited is an understatement to describe my feelings as we were preparing for our tour of the Hundred Island - one of the tourism gems of Pangasinan. The national park, which has a total of 123 islands, is a geological wonder that is a million years in age.
Lucap Wharf is the jump-off point to the Hundred Islands National Park. Located in the mainland, Lucap houses a lot of inns and hotels that can accomodate tourists who visit the area. This is also where tourists can make arrangements for island hopping tours. A major tip is to haggle to get the best price.
The park has three developed islands - Governor Island, Quezon Island, and Children's Island. These islands are also the most visited. You can also ask your guide to bring you to a secluded beach if you do not wish to mingle with the crowd. On our end, we decided to head up to Quezon Island - an island that is ideal for camping and picnics.
Quezon Island offers a great beachfront with its powdery white sand but our visit to the island was not that exciting as we had to contend with throngs of visitors sharing a small patch of beach strip in a small island. The beach was just full to the brim. It didn't help that we came to visit these islands on a long holiday weekend. Nevertheless, my little girl and I enjoyed swimming along the deeper portions of the beach.
Quezon Island offers a spectacular view of the other islands. I took the liberty to walking around and exploring it. It has a lot of nooks and crannies to explore and a helipad to boot. Atop, the highest point of the island stands a statue of The late President Manuel L. Quezon. The statue seems to overlooking the other 122 islands.
Unfortunately though, I hope that the local government can upgrade the facilities on the island. Most of the amenities were already rundown and it would be a good tourism boost if they upgrade the facilities.
Sa Ika-anim na Simbahan: Co-Cathedral Parish of the Three Kings (Lingayen, Pangasinan)
The Co-Cathedral Parish of the Three Kings is hard to miss when you are at the city center of Lingayen. With the yellow and red facade of the church and its belfry, it looms over the city like a strict watchman. The old church was once the best in Pangasinan but the heavy bombing that affected the city damaged the church and the adjacent convent.
The church have also a taste of history as they have also installed the old bells of the church. It now stands as a reminder of the rich history of the church and the city.
Amazingly, the altar is one of simplicity, one that I did not expect from a city church. I probably was expecting a more lavish and intricate design as Lingayen is the seat of power for commerce, politics, and religion. Except for the gold colored chandeliers, the church interior was void of any fancy.
Sa Ikapitong Simbahan: Parish of Our Lady of Purification (Binmaley, Pangasinan)
Another church that is a mute witness to the cruelty of war is the Parish of Our Lady of Purification in Binmaley. It was constructed during the 16th century and is the home of one of the biggest bells in the archipelago. The church got damaged during the heavy bombing of the American forces leaving only the walls of the church and the belfry partly damaged.
As you enter the compound, you would notice the simple facade of the church. The belfry on the right side of the church is the only evidence of the old age of the church. In between the facade and the belfry, a grotto was installed in honor of Our Lady of Purification where devotees can offer prayers and their petitions. A huge bell was also installed right in front of the belfry to remind the locals of the glory the old church once had.
The interior of the church is highlighted by a chandelier hanging from the dome of the church. A two-tiered retablo was installed to house the saints most revered by the community of Binmaley.
Post Roadtrip Notes:
Our road trip to Pangasinan's Hundred Islands pulled a lot of surprises for me. What started out as a simple road trip turned out to be an adventure in search of 7 churches to visit in line with the Holy Week celebrations. It was good to discover and immerse with some of the culture and traditions that make us Filipinos.
The one thing that I enjoy during road trips is the flexibility during the trip. What matters is the final destination and whatever happens between your starting point and the end point all depends on what you feel like doing.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.