Miag-ao Church: A Heritage Jewel
A Queen among Queens – that’s a title I would love give to the magnificent Miag-ao 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 church’s pediment. A huge coconut is the central figure of the facade; locally abundant, the coconut 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 clings on to his shoulders.
The bas relief 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 believe the inspiration is to attract locals to Catholicism with the church’s picturesque bountiful harvest – something that locals pray for before the coming of the Spaniards.
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 – the Royal Spanish Coat of Arms in the left side and a Papal Emblem at the right – all 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 it. 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 low-lying Ubos.
The frequent raids of the Moros prompted the town people to build the present church at Tacas, the 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 Igbaras. This was supervised by Fray Francisco Maximo Gonzales until its completion eleven years after (1797).
Now more than 220 years old, the Church of Miag-ao had withstood natural calamities such as the Lady Caycay earthquake (Magnitude 8.2) and typhoons.
As I observed, the base of the church is much wider than the apex. This was also supported by strong massive strong walls and buttresses.
The church’s architecture has no definite style but it is a blending of design tendencies into one local religious art style. By fusing local styles, the builders succeeded in erecting a national landmark with unique Filipino touch.
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 sangkatauan.”
Aside from UNESCO, the church was also declared a national shrine in 1973. A national historical marker was also installed in 1963.
Today, the Miag-ao church is one of the best preserved historical structures in the country. The people of Miag-ao take 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.
The Holy Sacrament
The National Historical Institute Marker featuring the importance of Miag-ao Church in preserving our heritage
From Iloilo International Airport:
– You can take the Shuttle Bus going to SM City Iloilo.
– From SM City Iloilo, take the SM Mandurriao jeepney to UP Visayas intersection and ride Oton or Villa-Mohon bound jeepneys.
– In Mohon Oton Terminal, there will be several Miag-ao jeepneys or Antique-bound Ceres buses ready to take you there.
Using 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.