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Baroque Churches of the Philippines

Patrick wrote the general parts of this article, plus the parts about Miagao Church. Other writers who contributed: Noel Morata (about the Church of San Agustine in Paoay) and Imee (about the Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin in Manila).

What are the Baroque Churches of the Philippines?

There are four churches in this UNESCO designation, all of them in a local form of a European Baroque style, all built during the period of Spanish rule.

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Text: Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Images: facades of two of the churches.
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1. Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin (Manila)

San Augustin Church in Manila is a well-preserved example of Neoclassical-Baroque architecture. It is made of stone with lime mortar, and was completed in 1607. Much of the interior painting, dating to the 19th century, is in a very realistic trompe-l’oeil Neoclassical Revival style.

2. Church of San Agustine (Paoay)

St. Augustine is an iconic and well-preserved Spanish colonial church in a mixture of styles covering the Baroque period, Gothic and even oriental design. The foundations are made primarily out of coral stones and bricks which give it a very distinct and one-of-a-kind look.

3. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva (a.k.a. Miagao Church)

The Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, also called Miagao Church, is a Baroque-style Roman Catholic church located in the town of Miagao in the province of Iloilo, Philippines. Miagao Church was built from 1787 to 1797 by Spanish friars and the local community.

Seen from about the height of its roof, a view of the front facade of the church: the center above the central doorway has a huge sculptural element involving a palm tree. A tower on each side, one square topped and the other pointed.
Miagao Church. Photo by Patrick.

4. Church of La Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion

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Why are the Baroque Churches of the Philippines a UNESCO World Heritage site? 

This collective designation recognizes four Baroque-style churches in the Philippines that showcase exceptional examples of Spanish colonial architecture. According to UNESCO, they represent a Philippine version of that style and “the fusion of European church design and construction with local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition.” Their design influenced later church architecture of the Philippines.

What can you expect on a visit to these churches? 

1. Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin (Manila)

The church’s well-preserved Baroque architecture is awe-inspiring. The ornate facade, intricate details, and grand interiors offer a glimpse into the rich history and craftsmanship of the Spanish colonial period.

Within the church complex, a museum showcases religious artifacts, art pieces, and historical items related to the church and its history. Inside the church lies a tomb that serves as the final resting place for several archbishops, former governors-general, and prominent Spanish conquerors, including Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo, and Martín de Goiti.

San Agustin Church and other structures in the area are a testament to the rich cultural heritage and colonial history of the Philippines. Take a walking tour of the Intramuros area of Manila, including this church.

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Front facade of the church has classical columns on each of two stories on either side of the central entrance. One tower on the right, almost square but with angled corners.
Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin (Manila). Photo by Imee.

2. Church of San Agustin (Paoay)

Built in 1710 by the Augustine friars from the region, the church has withstood the many earthquakes that are prevalent in the region. Built with solid and massive buttresses to the side and back of the massive structure, it has been dubbed as “Earthquake Baroque” in its own distinctive style.

The detached bell tower is located across the plaza and was used for a watch tower to warn people of potential attacks. 

The surrounding garden to San Augustin is striking with colorful tropical plantings and floral blooms everywhere and sitting areas to enjoy the various views of the church.

After visiting the church and the convent, go into the town area to enjoy a delicious local meal, various seafood specialties and visit the many other attractions in the nearby areas and into the large city center at Laoag, the regional capital of Ilocos Norte.

Look for accommodations in Paoay.

The front facade is almost perfectly triangular, and the small amount of one side that is visible is covered in green growth. The front is symmetrical, with an arched doorway in the center and decorative elements above that and along the roof line.
Church of San Augustin (Paoay). Photo by Noel.

3. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva (Miagao Church)

One of the unique aspects of this church is its main material – particularly coral stones quarried from the nearby islands, cemented together with a mixture of lime, sand, and molasses.

The church combines Baroque, Gothic, and Native influences into a visually stunning structure. It features intricate carvings on its façade depicting biblical scenes, local flora and fauna, and other religious narratives. The church’s bell tower on the right side also served as a defensive watchtower against pirate attacks during the Spanish colonial period.

Miagao Church offers a serene and peaceful atmosphere like many churches. You can reflect, observe the religious practices, or simply appreciate the beauty of the surroundings.

The church is located in the town of Miagao, which is known for its scenic beauty. Depending on your interests, you may explore the University of the Philippines too or head over to the Miagao beach.

Find your accommodations in Miagao.

Seen from near the roof line at an angle to the side, the central palm tree motif is very clear, along with lots of other decorative sculpture adorning the front of the church.
Miagao Church. Photo by Patrick.

4. Church of La Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion

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Are the Baroque Churches of the Philippines worth visiting? 

Visiting these churches offers a glimpse into the Philippine’s colonial past, as well as the resilience and creativity of the Filipino people. Plus, many of them are still active places of worship. Visits will have a spiritual awakening to go with the churches’ cultural vibrancy. So, if you have the opportunity to visit the Philippine, take time to these Baroque churches. It’ll definitely be worth it!

1. Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin (Manila)

Yes. Aside from its impressive architecture and museum exhibits, a visit to San Agustin Church (Manila) offers a mix of historical, cultural, and spiritual experiences, making it a must-see destination for those interested in the Philippines’ past and architectural heritage. 

2. Church of San Agustin (Paoay)

Of all the UNESCO churches in the Philippines, the Paoay church is truly unique with a gorgeous garden that surrounds it. It is worth visiting if you plan on traveling around the northern part of the country.

3. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva (Miagao Church)

Yes, Miagao Church is definitely worth visiting. It is a stunning architectural masterpiece that has a story to tell. You can join a local tour and listen to the colorful and grandiose stories that mark the Miagao church’s coral walls.

4. Church of La Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion

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What sorts of travelers would like these churches? 

The churches will appeal most to history enthusiasts, architecture admirers, cultural explorers, and spiritual seekers. Certainly anyone with a particular interest in Baroque architecture should see the local take on this style. The churches’ artistic elements, such as paintings, sculptures, and ornate decorations, provide excellent subjects for art and photography. 

While some tourists might focus on more popular attractions in the Philippines, those seeking lesser-known destinations will appreciate the unique charm and historical value of the Baroque churches.

For those on a religious or spiritual journey, the Baroque churches offer sacred spaces for prayer, reflection, and attending religious services.

This two-week tour of the Northern Philippines includes the churches in Manila and Paoay, as well as the UNESCO-listed town of Vigan.

Tips for visiting the Baroque Churches of the Philippines

1. Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin (Manila)

2. Church of San Agustin (Paoay)

If you visit the Church of San Agustin (Paoay) and you are looking for more unique and historic sites to visit in the Philippines, there’s more to see in the region of Illocos. It is filled with fantastic historical Spanish colonial towns and architecture that are well preserved and worth visiting. You can arrange to do this as a customized tour or try to do this yourself DIY. Hire a local pedicab or taxi service to get to the area from Loag or Illocos sud. Another possibility is to rent a car so you can easily do your own tour of other local attractions in the area.

3. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva (Miagao Church)

Miagao is an hour south of Iloilo City, one of the Philippines’ more notable cities. It was also voted as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, so you’ll have an amazing culinary experience. When visiting Miagao church, you’ll land in Iloilo City, so spend a day or two there. To make the most of your visit, you might also consider visiting the beautiful beaches in the area. The most notable is Boracay, which will be around 4-5 hours away from Miagao. 

4. Church of La Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion

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Where are the Baroque Churches of the Philippines?

1. Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin (Manila)

San Agustin church is located in General Luna St, Intramuros, Manila, Metro Manila. There are many ways to get to San Agustin church, including a train, bus, taxi, or private car. 

If you travel by train to San Agustin church, you can take the LRT1; you can get off at either Carriedo Station or Doroteo Jose Station.

From Carriedo Station, you can board a Pier-bound jeepney and request the driver to stop at Manila Cathedral. The fare is approximately P8-10, and the travel time is around 10 minutes, subject to traffic conditions.

The church is open Wednesday to Sunday: 8:00 am – 12:00 pm & 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm CLOSED: Mondays & Tuesdays.

2. Church of San Agustin (Paoay)

You can book your flights from Manila to the regional capital city at Laoag in Illocos Norte. The town of Paoay is an hour’s flight north of Manila to Laoag International Airport, then a half-hour’s drive from there.

3. Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva (a.k.a. Miagao Church)

Miagao Church is located on Zulueta Ave, Miagao, 5023 Iloilo, and is just along the main highway of the town’s proper. 

To get there, you’ll want to land in Iloilo City, which is also a great place to visit. Some other destinations Iloilo is known for are the more modern Iloilo Esplanade, Molo Mansion, and Calle Real, among others.

From Iloilo, head over to the Antique Bus Terminal and get on a bus that’s going to San Joaquin or San Jose. Tell the conductor (the person in charge of ticketing inside the bus) that you want to get down at the Miagao Church.

4. Church of La Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion

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Take a look at the other World Heritage sites in the Philippines.

Patrick is a freelance writer and digital marketing consultant in the Philippines. He loves to travel with his family (his wife Ces and two kids, Alexa and Sam). He tells his stories and gives insights on their travel blog, Embrace the Epic. Patrick co-runs a marketing agency with his wife when he’s not traveling or eating and helps companies with their SEO and social media strategies.

Noel Morata is a professional photographer, freelance writer and travel blogger at This Hawaii Life, Visit Spain and Mediterranean and Travel Photo Discovery.

Imee blogs at The Backpacking Executive. Find her on Facebook at The Backpacking Executive.

Have you been to any of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

One Comment

  1. Great article on the Baroque Churches of the Philippines! It’s fascinating to see such detailed architectural heritage. Interestingly, cultural heritage isn’t just about buildings; it extends to food too. It’s all part of the rich tapestry that defines the Philippines!

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