A fortress church in southern Iloilo is part of the 4 Baroque Spanish-era churches of the Philippines inscribed by UNESCO in 1993 as a World Heritage Site. In Miag-ao, set on the highest point of the town to guard and watch out from the Tacas or the Moro invaders, the beautiful church dedicated to Sto. Tomas de Villanueva was built.
It is said that this church is of Baroque-Romanesque style. It is Baroque because elements like colonnades and domes, the chiaroscuro as well as the bold play of volume and void is present in this church. This style was common in Europe during the 1600s. Romanesque on the other hand is characterized by bold semi-circular arches, typical during medieval times.
The church of Miag-ao is distinct. The external façade is a display of dramatic central projection. It is ornately decorated with bas relief which is influenced by Medieval Spanish, Chinese, Muslim and local elements. At the center of the pediment is a coconut tree. St. Christopher in local garment, is holding the coconut tree while he carries the Child Jesus on his back. The pediment is also filled with papaya, guava and palm trees.
Sto. Tomas de Villanueva
Below the pediment is the image of Sto. Thomas de Villanueva, Miag-ao’s patron saint. Near the church door are the images of St. Henry of Bavaria and Pope Pius VI. The façade alone is a stunning masterpiece of carved stone.
St. Henry of Bavaria
Pope Pius VI
Coat of Arms
Miag-ao Church is ochre. It is made of adobe, egg, coral and limestone. As a fortress church, its foundation is 6 meters deep. Its stone walls were massive, fortified with buttresses to protect the town from the invading Tacas.
Built in 1786 by Spanish Augustinian missionaries, Miag-ao Church was a witness to historical accounts in Iloilo. As the third version of the church, it answered the clamor of people to have a place of worship that could survive the attacks and the earthquake.
My first visit to this church was in 2009. After the Ati-atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan we traveled south to Iloilo City. From Iloilo, Miag-ao is 47 kms or about 30-45 mins. To reach Miag-ao, you need to go to “Super” (that Iloilo market near Robinson’s Place) and get into a southbound jeepney with signboards of either Miag-ao or San Joaquin. Fare is Php 50.
Another option is to go to Mohon Terminal in Molo District. You may take a jeepney (Php 40) or a Ceres Bus bound for San Jose, Antique. It is also noteworthy that the form and design of these jeepneys are for speed. So don’t be surprised if these vehicles move so fast, as if trying to take off and fly to Miag-ao in no time.
Just tell the driver that you are getting off in front of the church. Miag-ao Church is the focal point of the town. The town proper has a Spanish set-up where-in the town plaza, the church and the municipio (town hall) are in close proximity.
Of the 4 baroque Spanish-era churches, the Miag-ao Church is the one I have visited the most. Whenever I go to Miag-ao for work-related visit, I always made sure to drop by to pray and to take photos after. Looking at this church and marvel at its beauty, I couldn’t stop myself from saying that this is an architectural gem. A lovely church built to last a lifetime.