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Heritage Architecture

Earthquake Baroque Churches in the Philippines

In the late 16th century, Spain built the City of God in Manila. And by the time they left in 1898, concrete memories of colonization were all over the country. Among them are the earthquake baroque churches in the Philippines. Today, these ecclesiastical structures still heralds the might of the sword cloaked in the sanctity of the cross.

san Agustin church manila

As its conquest & evangelization of the Catholic faith became expansive across the archipelago, Spain constructed more huge & beautiful churches. It was led by friars who brought inspirations of monastic architectures from the Antilles.

miag-ao church

Native laborers together with skillful Chinese artisans laid these massive architectures stone after stone. It incorporated indigenous materials & various folk influences, thus creating a unique Asian adaptation of the popular 16th century Baroque artistic styles.

Earthquake Baroque Churches in the Philippines: 500 Years & Beyond

heritage church philippines

Colonial churches were constructed to be quake-resistant as the Philippines belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire. Shorter & wider proportions, thicker sidewalls as well as heavily buttressed on the sides are characteristics of these kinds of churches.

san agustin church locos

Moreover, the interiors are heavily painted with illusory effects of frescoes & adorned with gilded sculptures. Altogether, this ornate architectural style is called Earthquake Baroque.

san agustin church manila

bas relief sculpture

UNESCO lists 4 earthquake baroque churches in the Philippines as World Heritage Sites. These are the San Agustin Church in Manila, Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur & San Agustin Church in Ilocos Norte. Further down, the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in Iloilo is the only one on the list south of Luzon.

Uniquely, these monuments of ecclesiastical art in the Philippines are the only ones in Asia.

San Agustin Church
Intramuros, Manila

earthquake baroque churches in the philippines

Originally known as Iglesia y Convento de San Pablo, the 1571 San Agustin Church stands at the heart of the walled city of Intramuros as the country’s oldest church. While the façade is less dramatic, its ceiling & walls scream of opulent trompe l’oeil frescoes.

Truly, the heavily gilded retablo in the altar & the intricate iron works speak of its history of power.

earthquake baroque churches in the philippines

The Order of the Augustinian Friars administers it since its inception more than 400 years ago. Furthermore, the church has been reconstructed several times after enduring earthquakes & wartime bombings.

san agustin museum manila

Its museum holds many of the country’s exquisite Catholic reliquaries too. On the church’ easternmost transept lies the tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the founder of the City of Manila. San Agustin is a national historical landmark & a national cultural heritage too.

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Santa Maria Church
Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur

earthquake baroque churches in the philippines

Among the 4 UNESCO recognized earthquake baroque churches in the Philippines, the church in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur is the only one prominently constructed on a hill. Church-goers ascend it on a wide flight of stairs made of ancient granite rock called piedra china.

Unlike most Spanish settlements where the church is in the center of the quadricula layout, this church is on a hill as a defense fortress from marauding pirates.

Santa Maria church locos sur

Dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion or Apo Baket, it was built in 1765 in the finest Ilocos bricks & mortar. Then there are huge pilasters & buttresses supporting its curvilinear façade. Adjacent to the church is the 30-meter octagonal bell tower capped by a cross on a cupola.

On its right side wall is a bas-relief image narrating the Virgin’s peregrination on a tree where the current church now stands.

Santa Maria church

Surpsingly, the church’s interior is bare, missing the real-life frescoes in many other churches. While its gilded altar serves as the focal point, however its large stained glass windows create the dramatic play of light inside.

Indeed, Santa Maria is one of the most successful missions of the Augustinians where it served as the base of indoctrination in the northern part of the Philippines.

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San Agustin Church
Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Paoay church

With its colossal pyramid finial façade, San Agustine Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte is the most iconic of all earthquake baroque churches in the Philippines. The Augustinian built it in 1694 using baked stucco-plastered bricks, coral blocks, tree sap as well as lumber.

On the inside, the church’s natural theatrical play of light & shade from its wide stained glass windows, additionally are classic characteristics of late high baroque art called chiaroscuro.

buttress church

In addition, San Agustin has enormous buttressing gracefully rising from the ground to the roof. To the right of the facade is the bell tower that the Katipuneros’ used as observation post in 1896 Philippine Revolution. Also, the Guerilleros’ did the same during World War II against the Japanese.

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Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church
Miag-ao, Iloilo

earthquake baroque churches in the philippines

Certainly, the town of Miag-ao in the Province of Iloilo is a great example of Spain’s colonial grandeur outside of Luzon as evidenced by the surviving Baroque-Romanesque church of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva.

miag-ao church Iloilo

Built in 1787 by the Augustinian friars, this massive building built of “igang” or sandstone. Particularly, it is bound by lime mortar, supported by thick buttresses & flanked by twin defense belfries. Likewise, the façade displays highly ornate bas-relief sculptures depicting the stories of faith, culture & time.


Inside, streaks of light coming in from stained-glass windows illuminate the gold-plated retablo. In fact, its design influences are from medieval Spanish motifs, Chinese & Muslim idioms, alongside Ilonggo folklore.


stone church philippines

For one thing, heritage churches in the Philippines are showcases of the religious, economic & political empire that Spain built in the East. It left unique architectural legacies that blend various cultural expressions.

Today, these ecclesiastical monuments of colonization still stand & continue to evangelize its faith amidst the endless threats of the earth’s tremors, changing weather & urbanization.

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