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World Heritage Listed Baroque Churches of the Philippines

  • UNESCO has inscribed four Philippines churches built in the late 16th Century as World Heritage Sites. These are located in District of Intramuros, City of Manila, Paoy, Santa Maria, Province of Ilocos Sur San Agustin, Paoay, Province of Ilocos and Miag-ao, Province of Iloilo. They are culturally significant for their unique architectural style which is the Chinese and Philippine craftsmen interpretation of this European architectural style.
  • The four churches are nominated as outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of the Baroque style. Several examples of Latin American Baroque churches and ensembles have been found worthy of inscription on the World Heritage List, and the peripheral development of this style in the Philippines deserves equal recognition.
  • The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin was the first church built on the island of Luzon in 1571, immediately after the Spanish conquest of Manila. A site within the district of Intramuros was assigned to the Augustinian Order, who were the first to evangelize in the Philippines. In 1587 the impermanent earliest building in wood and palm fronds was replaced by a church and monastery in stone, the latter becoming the Augustinian mother house in the Philippines. As a result the church was richly endowed, with a fine retablo, pulpit, wall paintings, lectern, and choir stalls. It was the only structure in Intramuros to survive the liberation of Manila in 1945.
  • The mission at Santa Maria, founded in 1765 on a narrow, flat plain between the sea and the central mountain range of Luzon, was one of the most successful Augustinian houses in the Philippines. It served as the base for the Christianization of the northern parts of the archipelago.
  • The Augustinian mission station of Miag-ao became an independent parish in 1731, when a simple church and convent ( parish house ) were built. However, destruction of the town by Muslim pirates in 1741 and 1754 led to the town being rebuilt in a more secure location. The new church, constructed in 1787 to 1797, was built as a fortress, to withstand further incursions. It was, however, damaged severely by fire on two occasions, during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and in World War II.
  • The town of Paoay is called " Bombay " in early documents, in keeping with the legend that the earliest inhabitants came from India. It is first mentioned in 1593 and became an Augustinian independent parish in 1686. Building work on the present church started in 1694 and it was finally completed in 1710.
  • The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin is box-like and rather plain. Two bell-towers were added to the squat facade in 1854, but the northern cracked in the 1880 earthquake and had to be demolished. The interior of the church is more important than the exterior. The existing wall paintings date from the 19th century, but research has shown that they overlie the original tempera murals. Of special interest is the series of cryptocol lateral chapels lining both sides of the nave. The walls separating them act as buttresses, similar to the Wandofeiler of German Baroque churches. The stone barrel vault, dome, and arched vestibule are all unique in the Philippines. A monastery complex was formerly linked to the church by a series of cloisters, arcades, courtyards, and gardens, but all except one building were destroyed in 1945.
  • Unlike other town churches in the Philippines, which conform with the Spanish tradition of sitting them on the central plaza, the Church of Nuestra Sefiora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria with its convent are on a hill completely surrounded by a sturdy defensive wall. Also unusual are the sitting of the convent parallel to the facade of the church and that of the separate bell-tower ( characteristic of Philippine-Hispanic architecture ) at the midpoint of the nave wall. This arrangement was dictated by the topography of the hill on which it is situated. Built in brick, the church follows the standard Philippine layout, with a monumental facade masking a straight roof line covering a long rectangular building. It is alleged to be built on a solid raft as a precaution against earthquake damage. The walls are devoid of ornament but have delicately carved side entrances and strong buttresses, also designed to resist earthquakes. The curved pediment motif is repeated in the church, school, and cemetery.
  • The Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva stands on the highest point of Miag-ao, its towers serving as lookouts against Muslim raids. These and the squat appearance of the church underline its role as a fortress, and it is the finest surviving example of " fortress Baroque ". The sumptuous facade epitomizes the Filipino transfiguration of western decorative elements, with the figure of St Christopher on the pediment dressed in native clothes, carrying the Christ Child on his back, and holding on to a coconut palm for support. The entire riotously decorated facade is flanked by massive tapering bell towers of unequal heights. 
  • The Church of San Agustin at Paoay is considered to be the most outstanding example in the Philippines of " earthquake Baroque ", first defined by Pal Kelman in relation to Latin America. Fourteen buttresses are ranged along the lines of a giant volute supporting a smaller one and surmounted by pyramidal finials. A  pair of buttresses at the midpoint of each nave wall are stairways for access to the roof. The lower part of the apse and most of the walls are constructed of coral stone blocks, the upper levels being finished in brick, but this order is reversed on the facade. The massive coral stone bell-tower, which was added half a century after the church was completed, stands at some distance from the church, again as a protection against damage during earthquakes.  All four churches are authentic in that they represent the progressive evolution of the structures of places of worship that have been in continuous use since their original construction.

Miago Church