It is during Maundy Thursdays when people on Visita Yglesia make their way to fourteen churches as a Holy Week sacrifice. Fourteen churches representing the fourteen Stations of the Cross or Via Crucis. Some pilgrims would go to just seven churches since seven is regarded as sacred while others would go to as many churches as they can (ala Visita Ylgesia til you drop).
Nowadays, Visita Yglesia is no longer an exclusive Maundy Thursday spiritual devotion. Pilgrims on tour buses throng Metro Manila as well as the provinces to combine both religious and cultural fulfillment by visiting artistically and historically appealing churches at any day within Ash Wednesday up to Holy Thursday. This year we went on a pilgrimage to seven churches around the Lake Towns of Laguna de Bay beginning at Morong.
The town of Morong in Rizal can boast for having a church with a photogenic facade. Designed by Paete builder Bartolome Palatino, the church of St. Jerome was declared as a National Cultural Treasure for its unique “tropical baroque” architecture. The church has a three storey façade and an octagonal bell tower topped by a cross.
It was said that the bullet holes found along the sidewalks around the church are mementos of the fight between Katipuneros and Spaniards.
Dedicated to St. Joseph, Baras Church was completed in 1686. It has an altar and lectern made of stone which was unearthed from beneath the church. The tiles used for the restoration of the floor were taken from the ruins of Intramuros.
Listed as a National Cultural Treasure, the church of San Ildefonso in Tanay was built in 1783. Like the other Franciscan-built churches along the eastern shores of Laguna de Bay, church is made of adobe and it’s facade is ornamented with niches for saints, floral insets and cherubs.
The five rococo retablos are the gems of the interior which dates back in the 1780s. The main retablo contains the image of San Ildefonso, patron saint of Tanay. The nave has a remarkable 200 year-old wooden Station of the Cross crafted by a man only known as the Master of Tanay.
The church dedicated to Nuestra Senora de Candelaria in the town of Mabitac sits on top of Kalbaryo Hill. It can be reached by a 129 steps from the main road.
A well whose water was reportedly to have curative powers was once on the site. Cristobal de Mercado gave the image of the Nuestra Senora de Cadelaria to Paco in 1600. It was removed from Siniloan (a neighboring town) in 1615. The founders of Mabitac fought for the image’s permanent enshrinement to the town.
Like almost every church in the Philippines, Pangil has an image of the Virgin Mary and the Santo Nino. Except in Pangil the Virgin is Pregnant and the Baby Jesus is still unborn. The first time we saw the image of a pregnant Mary was during the Grand Marian Procession in Intramuros. The Pregnant Image of the Virgin is known as the Nuestra Senora de La O. Both images were given to the town of Panguil by King Carlos of Spain 1764 as a form of gratitude for the hospitality of the town’s people showed to him when he stayed in the town while still a crowned prince.
One miracle attributed to the La O took place in 1974 when a six-month old flood receded after the town’s people made a nine day novena and a penitential procession of the image around the submerged town.
The Church of San Pedro Alcantara in Pakil Laguna was completed in 1767. The church is the shrine of the Nuestra Senora de Dolores de Turumba, a venerated icon of Sorrowful Mother which was seen floating in a river near Laguna de Bay.
Enshrined in the main altar is the Virgin of Sorrows. The Turumba Festival is celebrated after the Holy Week and last until October 19, which makes it the longest festival in the country. Centuries old anda (or a carriage used for bearing the image during processions) is located near the main altar.
Paete church was constructed in mid-1600s. The church we see today was the result of the 1840 renovation. Around the same time, Paete painter Jose Dans painted the image of San Cristobal on wood. During a recent renovation, an earlier painting of San Cristobal painted on the church wall was uncovered under the huge Dans painting.
The church in Paete is the most florid of the Franciscan churches built along the Laguna lakeshore, befitting to a town famous for its carvers. A stone relief for Santiago Matamoro (St. James Slayer of the Moors) on horseback is carved on facade.