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Miag-ao Church : Religion in Colonial Culture

Roman Catholicism was not only a religious empire during the Hispanic period in the Philippines, it also built a kingdom of economic and political powers. Among its showcase of massive conquest are the churches that were built for its people. The town of Miag-ao in the Province of Iloilo is a great example of Spain’s colonial grandeur as evidenced by the surviving Baroque-Romanesque church of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva. 
In 16th century Philippines, churches were the places of refuge of its people not only of their faith but also from aggression. Such is the story of Miag-ao Church. Built atop the highest level in the town called Tacas, it served as a fortress against raiding and looting Moro pirates. It had several watchtowers with unassailable view of if the mouth of Miag-ao River to look out for raging bandits. They retreated to the church in times of attack and goes back to the lowland when it dissipated. Filipinos are known devout Catholics and the church was there to cradle its people in a citadel of both spirituality and security.
It is one of the surviving Earthquake Baroque Churches in the Philippines and is acclaimed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. Built in 1787 by the Augustinian friars, this massive building built of “igang” or sandstone and bound by lime mortar is supported by thick buttresses and flanked by twin defense belfries. The façade of Miag-ao Church displays highly ornate bas-relief sculptures depicting the stories of its faith, culture and time. Inside, the gold-plated retablo is done in intricate design and is illuminated by the streaks of light coming in from wonderful stained-glass windows. Its design influences are from medieval Spanish motifs, Chinese and Muslim idioms and Ilonggo folklore. The massive size, imposing design and decorative elements of this indigenized colonial church are reflective of a unique blend of Spanish and Philippine artistry and engineering.
The Chuch of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva is declared as a National Shrine of national cultural treasure. It still stands mighty as an ecclesiastical monument to deliver the word of God after more than two centuries amidst the challenges of earthquakes, changing weather and urbanization. This architectural legacy of blended colonial idioms is undergoing restoration for the next generations to marvel how history is so much tied up to our faith, culture, traditions and aspirations.
How To Get There
From Manila
From Iloilo City
On Public Transport
  • From Mohon Terminal in Molo District, take the jeepney with the signage “Miag-ao”.
  • Public Transport to Miag-ao is also available in Iloilo Terminal Market.
  • Travel time is approximately a little over 1 hour.
On Private Vehicle
  • From Iloilo City, take the coastal route to Molo, Tigbauan and Guimbal.
  • Travel distance is 41 kilometers.

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