The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur is among the four Baroque churches that are recognized as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines. The other three are the Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustín in Manila, the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Iloilo and the Church of San Agustín in Ilocos Norte.
These old churches are unique interpretations of the Baroque architecture. The drama and theatricality that is associated with the architectural movement is creatively executed in the said four churches using indigenous building materials. What results is a style that has an unmistakable Western influence but with strong Asian undertones.
If I had known about the Santa Maria church beforehand, I would have squeezed it in our itinerary of our Ilocos adventures two years ago. But we were pressed for time back then. So when the opportunity to visit the Ilocos region came up last December, I saw to it that I would drop by the often overlooked church this time around.
Even if the church sits on a hill overlooking the entire town, one may still be unable to see it from the highway since its front view is blocked by the convent. But you can make out its form when you are already at the foot of its 83 staircases. At the top, you may also find that the church’s plain brick wall façade may not be as impressive as that of Paoay or Miagao. But it exudes a beauty that grows on you the longer you look at it. It does have a lot of common with them – massive buttresses for structural support and bell towers that are separated from the main church structure.
Aside from the UNESCO inscription in 1993, the Santa Maria church was also designated as a National Historical Landmark in September 26, 1982. Indeed the old churches in the Philippines, including the Santa Maria Church, cease to be merely places of worship. These are also tourist spots that possess important reminders of our collective history as a nation.
If you are in Vigan and you have a few hours to spare in your itinerary, you may want to visit the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion. The municipality Santa Maria is just 30-45 minutes away via bus or van. If your bus would not pass through the Santa Maria town, alight by the junction. From there it is just a few minutes walk to the church’s staircase. Aside from the Bantay Abot Church, you would also see the Banaoang/Quirino bridge, other laidback municipalities of Ilocos Sur and the beautiful coastline of the province.