Of Souls and Saints
The one great thing about traveling alone is the mobility that allows you to change plans without the hassle of having everyone's buy in. You can work on your own time without considering how others may feel about these changes. This was one thing that I particularly enjoyed on this trip as I was able to make last minute changes in my plans as I went through my itinerary for my third day in Iloilo.
I boarded a jeep at "Super" in Iloilo City heading off to the town of San Joaquin. I had planned this part of the trip ahead after I read a blog about a "unique" site to visit in San Joaquin. Afterwhich, I planned to visit the iconic church of Iloilo before finally heading back to the city. As I was travelling through the different towns, I noticed a number of old churches that prompted me to check these churches out on the internet. The internet proved useful that I decided to change plans that very moment. I decided to go one town at a time as I head back to Iloilo City starting off with the sleepy town of San Joaquin.
San Joaquin Church
San Joaquin is a sleepy town that borders the provinces of Iloilo and Antique. I was told by the driver that another 40 minutes along the national higway would bring me to Antique. The reason why I included the town of San Joaquin in my itinerary was because of a century old cemetery that I read about in another travel blog. But I was quite surprised that the town has a few more attractions to offer.
I was dropped off along the national highway, just a few meters from the public market, and I can view the church belfry from that point. The church was just a few minutes walk from the highway so I headed towards that direction, as most Philippine towns have their church as an attraction.
The San Joaquin Church is a great place to visit when you visit the town as it boasts of its own architectural design. The church was completed 10 years after the initial construction started in 1859 and was made from coral stones and limestones. It is flanked by a three-story belfry to the left, if you are facing the church.
What makes the church unique is the facade mural of the church that depicts the Battle of Tetuan where the Spanish forces overpowered the Moors. The intricate design of the church is detailed that one can see the agony on the faces of the wounded soldiers. These design stands out that the National Historical Institute has declared the San Joaquin Church as a National Cultural Treasure. However, the beauty of this church is overshadowed by the more popular Miag-ao Church.
The interior is a wide expanse with a grand altar design with San Joaquin as its central figure.
Getting there: One can take a jeepney from "Super" in Iloilo for San Joaquin. The driver will drop you off near the market where you can take a 5 minute walk to the church.
San Joaquin Cemetery
A lot of people may find it creepy visiting a cemetery except during November but this cemetery is an exception. The San Joaquin Cemetery is one that we can consider as a "preserved" cemetery in the country. Built in 1892, the classical design of the cemetery is hard to miss as it stands out along the national highway as you enter the town.
The cemetery evokes peace and tranquility as you enter the compound. It probably helped that the sea breeze, as the cemetery faces the sea, provided a cool wind to counter the sun's heat a the time of my visit. The cemetery was properly maintained and was not cramped, compared to other cemeteries that I have visited.
The main attraction of the cemetery is the octagonal mortuary, also known as a camposanto, located atop a flight of stairs at the center of the compound. The flight of stairs was said to be constructed by the female residents of the town as an obligation to the Spanish monarch.
The San Joaquin Cemetery is a testament of Spanish influence in the country even in death. It has surpassed time and has kept the history and heritage of the town intact for the younger generation to see. It was great to see how the local community has preserved the site to give us a taste of history. A definite must see place when in Iloilo...although a bit eerie but definitely it is worthwhile to see.
Getting there: One can hire a tricycle for Php30 from the town center. Just tell the driver to bring you to the San Joaquin Cemetery along the national highway.
Mention Iloilo to any seasoned traveler and the first thing that will come into their mind is Miag-ao Church. A trip to this province will not be complete unless you visit this famed church reognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Who will not be awed by the artistic facade that is of Spanish influence infused with a local touch? I was captured by the beauty of the church and I know that a lot of work was invested by the locals in building the Miag-ao Church as it took ten years to finish its construction that started in 1897.
The intricate exterior design is in complete contrast to the simple interiors of the church. The only highlight of the church's interior is the gold-plated retablo which is the centerpiece of the church. The beauty of the church was further romanticized with a simple wedding happening at the time of my visit. The couple must be lucky to have a beautiful and historical church as their backdrop to their wedding.
The beauty of Miag-ao Church is captivating and it is best enjoyed by taking a seat in one of the benches along the church compound and just looking at its intricate design. Say a simple prayer of thanksgiving to the Almighty for giving you the privilege to see one of the mankinds greatest art work. Miag-ao Church was the highlight of my Iloilo trip and I encourage every Filipino to visit Miag-ao Church in their lifetime.
Getting there: Take a jeep heading to Iloilo City from San Joaquin Cemetery. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Miag-ao Church. It is hard to miss the church as it is located by the highway. Fare is about Php10 and the trip will take about 15 minutes.
Just 15 minutes away from Miag-ao is Guimbal Church, one of the oldest churches in the country. Built in 1744, Guimbal Church was constructed from adobe stones hauled from the nearby island of Guimaras. The church is in complete contrast with the intricate designs of San Joaquin Church and Miag-ao Church. The facade of the church evokes simplicity having two sculptures of saints guarding the church. It is flanked by a three story belfry on the right.
The simple beauty of Guimbal Church transcends to its interiors as you enter the church. A simple retablo with Jesus Christ as its central figure is the main highlight of the church. It is probably the simplest design that I have seen in Iloilo in terms of architectural design.
Getting there: Take a jeep from Miag-ao town center to Iloilo City. Ask the driver to drop you off at Guimbal Church. The fare is about Php10.
Tigbauan Church is a contrast of the churches in San Joaquin and Miag-ao. If the first two churches boasts its intricate exterior design, Tigbauan Church's pride is found within the walls of the church. Constructed in 1575, the church can be found at the center of the town of Tigbauan. The simple exterior of the church is of Mexican influence and a depiction of San Juan can be found at the front as it guards the church's facade.
The real beauty of the church is the modern design of the church's interiors. The interior walls of the church is highlighted by stone murals in full color that were created by local artists.
Getting there: Take a jeep for Iloilo City at Guimbal Church. Ask the driver to to drop you off at Tigbauan town center where the church is also located. Fare is at Php15.
Santo Nino de Arevalo Parish
I re-read the brochure that I was holding as I stood in front of the Santo Nino de Arevalo Parish. How could a church with a modern design be classified as one of the oldest churches in the region? Unlike the other old churches that I visited first, the Santo Nino de Arevalo Parish has a modern design inside out. The interiors of the church is highlighted with high ceilings and white colored interiors giving it a refreshing atmosphere. Furthermore, the walls of the church are lined with metal grills instead of stone walls that allow natural light and air inside the church. The church, with its modern architecture, gives its visitor a refreshing and light feeling as you enter the church.
One of the main attraction of the church is that it houses the third oldest Sto. Nino image in the country. Apparently, there are only three original Sto. Nino images in the Philippines - one in Cebu, the oldest image, one is housed in Tondo Church, and the third oldest in Sto. Nino de Arevalo Church here in Iloilo City.
Sidetrip: Replica of the Spanish Crown of Queen Regent Ysabel II
Located within the compound of the Santo Nino de Arevalo Parish is a shrine with a metal crown at the top. This is the Replica of the Spanish Crown of Queen Regent Ysabel II, a monument that symbolizes the strong relationship between Spain and Iloilo. The replica was a gift to the people of Iloilo from the Queen.
Now the monument stands as a reminder, not only of Spanish influence, but also to the brave heroes of Panay.
Getting there: Take a jeep heading to Iloilo City from Tigbauan Church. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Santo Nino de Arevalo Parish which is along the highway. The fare is about Php15 and travel time is about 30 minutes.
Molo Church is considered to be a feminist church as it houses the most number of female saints in the country. The church was offered to Saint Anne and has been a major landmark of Molo and Iloilo City. It has its own share of history having been visited by Gat Jose Rizal in 1896 and it also served as an evacuation center during World War 2.
The baroque architecture of the church is a dominating edifice in Molo District's skyline. In fact, the two pointed belfry of the church is hard to miss and is a stark figure in Molo's skyline as one can see it even as you enter the city from the new airport.
The grand interior complements the exterior of the church. The church is lined up with pillars that lead to the gold-plated retablo with its pointed steeples. The retablo complements the pointed belfry of the church. Each pillar is guarded by a female saint hence the title of a feminist church.
Getting there: One can take a jeep for Iloilo City at the Santo Nino de Arevalo Parish and you can go down at Molo Church as it passes by the church and the town plaza. One can also take a taxi for convenience.
Religion has greatly influenced the way of life of Filipinos. It is one of the most evident influences that we acquired from the Spaniards. Whether we are celebrating a new beginning through marriage or grieving for the dead, our faith plays a huge role in keeping us in the right state of mind.
The great artistry of Filipinos is also evident in all these landmarks. The religious influence, coupled by local artistry, has brought out the best in the integration of two extreme cultures that was immortalized in these structures. We definitely have a lot to be proud of as Filipinos and having seen these cultural artworks, it made me prouder to be Filipino.
Explore the Philippines and be proud of our heritage!
A Jaro Romance
Heading back to Iloilo from Guimaras, I was once again faced with the challenge of covering a large area in the next two days for my Iloilo trip. As I have mentioned earlier, I did not do a lot of research for this particular trip and I only had a list of interesting spots with me. There were no detailed plans on what to cover on what day and this made me apprehensive that I might not cover what is on my list.
The city of Iloilo is a huge city that comprises 7 districts. It is one of the old cities in the country having an existing community even before the Spanish occupation. Therefore, it was no longer a surprise that Iloilo has its own heritage sites to pitch in Philippine tourism.
One of the districts that caught my interest was the Jaro District - an old district of the city where one can find interesting historical and heritage sites. I love the romance of history so I felt that I shouldn't miss out on the history of Jaro. I decided to kick off my city tour with a walking tour of Jaro.
My first stop is really not difficult to find as it also one of the district's iconic image - the Jaro Cathedral. The cathedral stands as the center of the town and was dedicated to St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The cathedral also serves as the shrine of Our Lady of Candles, the only religious image crowned personally by the Blessed Pope John Paul during his 1981 visit.
The interior of the church may look simple from afar but a closer look would show the intricate paintings on its walls, ceilings, and dome. These paintings are the depictionsof saints and biblical scenes. One would also notice that the pillars of the church are lined up with images of saints, a very distinct feature in most of the churches in Iloilo city.
The facade of the church also has a distinct feature where stairs lead up to the external balcony of the church. The stairs lead to the shrine of the Our Lady of Candles. The church was declared a historical site in 1976 by the National Historical Institute.
Another iconic image of Jaro is the Jaro Belfry which stands across the Jaro Cathedral. The belfry is unique as it stands across rather than beside the Jaro Cathedral. It is now part of the town plaza of the Jaro.
The belfry was positioned adjacent to the old church however an earthquake that hit the city damaged the church. That calamity was survived by the Jaro Belfry, standing on its original location. It also ushered in the unique "face-off" feature of the belfry and the cathedral.
Jaro Town Plaza and the Graciano Lopez-Jaena Shrine
At the back of the Jaro Belfry is a huge open space park which houses a covered court and a mini zoo. The park is the Jaro Town Plaza. One cannot miss out on this park as it stands in the middle of town and this is where most of the residents of Jaro spend their lazy afternoons just to kill time. Similar to Bacolod, Iloilo has invested in setting up parks as part of the community design.
The park is also the home of the Graciano Lopez-Jaena Shrine. It was erected in memory of the local hero who hails from this town. He was the first and foremost Freemason hailing from Jaro after he founded the Order of DeMolay.
Magdalena Jalandoni's Residence
A few minutes walk along Commission Civil Street from the Jaro town plaza, you will find a quaint old house known as the Magdalena Jalandoni's Residence. The tourism brochures of Iloilo features the home of one of Iloilo's literature pride, Magdalena Jalandoni.
As you enter the premises, you would notice miniature sculptures depicting the arts and literature. You would also see a sign that will introduce you to one of Jaro's pride. Magdalena Jalandoni was the first recipient of the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in Literature. Reading excerpts of her biography, she really started to show her literature prowess at a very early age.
The brochure that I picked up at the airport indicated that the house still holds some of the personal belongings of the acclaimed artists. However, I was actually surprised to also find out during my visit that the house was already converted into a spa. It was sad that a heritage house would be converted to a venue for a more lucrative business opportunity.
A few blocks from the Jalandoni residences by foot is another distinct heritage site in Jaro - the Philippine-American Cemetery. It is the only cemetery of its kind outside of Luzon. It is a testimony of the long standing between Filipinos and Americans.
Casa Montinola Y Sanson
Located along E. Lopez St of Jaro is the Casa Montinola Y Sanson. The house is a heritage house that is privately owned so getting inside is really not an option especially for an unplanned visit.
It is located in one of the busiest streets of the district. The house can be associated with the Gaston House in Silay City having similar designs. The similarities is attributed to the transfer of some prominent Iloilo families to Bacolod during the height of the sugar industry in the region.
It is probably the most well kept heritage house that I have seen so far in my travels. I think it also helped that the property is also privately owned by one of the prominent families in media today - the Lopez family who hails from Iloilo.
Built in 1928, Nelly's Garden was named as such because of the huge lawn right in front of the mansion. It gives you a glimpse as to how the affluent lived back in earlier days where large mansions were built with huge manicured lawns. The heritage house is hard to miss and will surely catch your attention as its huge expanse is right smack in the middle of the business district.
Villa Lizares Mansion
The mansion was built in 1937 by Don Emiliano Lizares and the mansion's design uniquely stands out among the many mansions in the area. Now owned by the Dominicans, the mansion still exudes the old charm despite of it being part of Angelicum school.
The mansion is dressed up in lively colors during the Christmas holidays making it one of the spots to check out if you are spending the holidays in Iloilo city.
One can take a jeepney from Jaro town plaza to get to visit Villa Lizares Mansion. Just ask the driver to drop you off at Angelicum School.
Balantang Memorial Cemetery
A marker in the middle of the cemetery marks the spot where the one of the bloodiest battle was fought by the Panay Guerilla. On this hallowed grounds, Filipino guerilla fighters took their stand against the Japanese Imperial Forces during World War 2. These brave freedom fighters fought hard, despite the lack in numbers, and succeeded in putting the Japanese at bay that allowed American forces to land in Iloilo and liberate the island.
As a mute testament to this battle, a monument was erected to recognize the bravery of those who fought and those who died in the conflict.
It can be reached by taking a jeepney from the Angelicum School. It is about a kilometer away from the school.
My afternoon stroll in Jaro District of Iloilo was a romantic walking tour for me. The devotion to religion, the arts, the affluence, and to freedom was clearly shown in various ways. Whether it was built together with large mansions or winning a bloody battle to gain freedom, devotion to what one believes and stands for is crucial and important in order to achieve what one desires. I am sure that I probably missed out a lot in Jaro and I wish I had more time for intimate walks to unveil Jaro's heritage sites but it definitely made me want to comeback someday to continue my romantic walk in Jaro.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.