When you’re already in Iloilo, you should not miss the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva or the Miag-ao Church, which is located approximately 40 kms southwest of the city. Iloilo’s notoriously fast jeepneys would take you to the municipality of Miag-ao in just under 45 mins or even less.
This 16th century church is one of the four Baroque churches in the Philippines inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993. These are unique interpretations of the prevalent architectural movement in Europe at that time, as each was made using indigenous materials and was built by local artisans who may have never seen an actual Baroque building in his lifetime. This resulted to a pseudo-Baroque style that has strong Western influences but with undeniably Filipino undertones as well.
Among the four, only the Miag-ao church is located outside Luzon. Although additional Baroque churches located in the Visayas have been considered as extensions to the list: the Church complex of Patrocinio de Maria in Cebu, the Church of La Immaculada Concepcion in Samar, the Church complex of San Pedro Apostol in Bohol and the Church complex of San Isidro Labrador in Siquijor.
The Miag-ao church is considered to be the finest surviving example of ‘Fortress Baroque‘ as its towers served as lookouts against Muslim raids. Like the other Baroque churches in the Philippines, it also has formidable buttresses for a stronger structural support against earthquakes. But what would probably separate the church from the rest is its wonderful facade that depicts St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child on his back, amidst a tropical ensemble of coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. Supporting this charming facade are its uneven belfries, the left one is a storey higher than the other.
The church construction was started in 1787 and completed in 1797. It was damaged by fire and numerous earthquakes since then but it still stands there to this very day. There are no more Moro raids to watch out for too. Instead, the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva continues to welcome the usual tourists, some historical junkies and its many faithful devotees.