It was a little over a year ago when out of the blue, my friends and I decided to do the annual Visita Iglesia. You know the Roman Catholic Lenten tradition of visiting seven churches or religious sites? It can actually be done on any day of the Holy Week but we followed tradition and did the church hopping (oops, I don’t know if I can call it as church hopping, Pope Francis?) on a Maundy Thursday.
The plan was to visit churches within Manila and probably do a little food trip on the side. Yeah, I know Lent is suppose to be a time for fasting but we could not help but eat our way through the divine field trip. We’re not going to perish in hell for that right? Let me just say that I am not a regular church goer so this was a bit of an achievement.
We decided to start our little pilgrimage in the historic Walled City of Intramuros. Our first stop: The San Agustin Church. It was inscribed as a World Heritage Site under the collective Baroque Churches of the Philippines by UNESCO in 1993. The church was completed in 1607 and has endured earthquakes and the Second World War where it was used as a concentration camp by the Japanese forces.
The only church within Intramuros to survive the destruction of World War II, this structure features trompe l’oell paintings (An art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions.) in its interior as well as the country’s earliest dated retablo, pulpit, choir lectern, and choir stalls. The church also features a crypt of Manila’s founder, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, Filipino,patriot and artist Juan Luna, and other prominent historical personages. (Source: Wikipedia and the NCCA)
The church is on Gen. Luna St. and it is usually closed to vehicles on this time of the year so people can easily walk around. There are also vendors around the area so you can buy snacks when you feel like you are already starving. We spotted one selling crispy chicken skin (a very sinful street food), buttered corn and one selling wigs. The last one I do not really get. Maybe some church goers would like to wear a pink wig, oh well, this is a free country so I am not going to argue about that.
After San Agustin Church, our next stop was the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, informally known as the Manila Cathedral. A few blocks away from San Agustin, the cathedral was still undergoing renovation and retrofitting to make it earthquake proof so we were just contented to see its facade. It is going to re-open its doors this April 9 just in time for Lent.
The church is a popular venue for weddings but some say that couples who wed here are doomed to separate. Not sure if that’s true, maybe it’s just coincidental. Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion had their wedding here and that’s an example of doomed relationships that naysayers would love to cite.
Next stop: Santa Cruz Parish Church.
We rode a jeepney to this church in the Sta. Cruz district which faces Binondo. You can actually walk from Intramuros but it was a hot summer day so riding the king of the road was a better idea. A jeepney ride would cost you 8 pesos.
The church has a very interesting art work in its altar, very psychedelic, again another word that I am not sure if it’s appropriate but I’ll let you decide when you get the chance to see it for yourself. Or maybe I just have different way of seeing things. We also saw some people at the stations of the cross outside the church.
Three churches down, 4 to go so we decided to walk to the Minor Bassilica of the Black Nazarene which is colloquially known as the Quiapo Church. My mother is a devotee of the Black Nazarene so we used to go here every first Friday back when I was a kid.
.Quiapo Church and the area around it is known for the fortune tellers and vendors selling herbal medicines. It is also close to Hidalgo St. (a whole street where you can buy photography equipment and accessories) and Carriedo St. (shopping haven for clothes and other knick knacks).
We were again starving after all the walking that we did so I decided to bring my friends to the Globe Lumpia House located on Raon St. A few blocks down the road from Quiapo Church, the place is popular for its fresh lumpia (spring rolls).
I don’t know if they have raised their prices but it was 16 pesos per piece when we visited last year. The place has been featured in a number of lifestyle programs particularly the defunct Kay Susan Tayo on GMA 7. It has no branch so Raon St. is the place to be for their fresh lumpia. They also sell empanada if you’re not into spring rolls.
With our tummies filled once again, we were off to our fifth church, the San Sebastian Church on the other side of Quiapo.
They say Gustave Eiffel, the same guy who designed the Eiffel Tower, may have been involved in the design of the church but Eiffel or not, the San Sebastian Church is still an awe inspiring architectural wonder. Completed in 1891, it is the only all-steel church in Asia and was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 1973.
It was interesting to see a dog also doing a Visita Iglesia with its owner. That made us smile. This is where we again took another food trip by buying sorbetes (dirty ice cream), of course I had mine in a bun. Ice cream filled hamburger buns always brings me back to my childhood. Instant happiness.
After seeing the church going canine, we then went to St. Jude Church, formally known as the National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus in J.P. Laurel, Manila (near Malacanang). It is said that those who are in a desperate situation should pray to St. Jude as he is the saint of lost causes. Hmm, am I in a desperate situation? No comment.
The last one on our non-existent itinerary was the San Beda College Chapel or The Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat in Mendiola.
It was already early evening so we decided to cap the day by going to Binondo, no not to the church, but to Wai Ying Fastfood to eat dimsum and have a refreshing glass of lemon Coke. Nothing like a glass of soda to sooth our tired mortal bodies after a day of church hopping. Till the next Visita Iglesia.
In review, we visited the following churches:
- San Agustin Church, Gen. Luna St., Intramuros, Manila
- Manila Cathedral, Cabildo cor. Beaterio St., Intramuros, Manila
- Sta. Cruz Church, Plaza Lacson, Manila
- Quiapo Church, Quezon Blvd., Manila
- San Sebastian Church, Quiapo, Manila
- St. Jude Church, J.P. Laurel St., Malacanang, Manila
- San Beda College Chapel, San Miguel, Mendiola, Manila
Tips for anyone who wants to do a Visita Iglesia?
- Wear comfortable clothes and footwear.
- Bring bottled water. Hydration is a must.
- Don’t forget to stop and eat.
- Don’t forget to pray.