The Santa Maria in my mind. Roman Catholic churches in the Ilocos

the virgin ioMANILA - As a journalist, I just made a 1-week photo-prose journey to the Ilocos Region, up to Laoag City, about 500 km north of Manila, a whole day's journey into night. I am going after a coffee-table book that I will tell you more about in another place and time.

Meanwhile, let me tell you I happily visited the famous churches of Laoag, Paoay, Vigan, and Santa Maria. The churches of Paoay and Santa Maria are extra-special as they have been declared World Heritage sites, 2 of only 4 notable Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Wikipedia). On my own, easily, I could make the historical connection with them and an unknown church that I know, the San Agustin Parish Church in Bay, Laguna. The Spanish church in my hometown of Asingan, Pangasinan I cannot compare - it was destroyed by an earthquake years ago and it was not restored; it was simply replaced, modernized beyond recognition and admiration, and the architect isn't sorry! This is one Roman Catholic church that is modern history.

I did not have the urge to explore the church in Laoag City; I don't know why. The more famous San Agustin Church in the town of Paoay was forbidding, as pipe scaffolding was being built inches away from its façade for the evening's concert that I didn't bother to ask what about. The Vigan Cathedral wasn't imposing, but this was my 2nd visit, after many years, and I shot it from the outside and visited the inside and took pictures of the 14 Stations of the Cross. I noted that Vigan's Via Crucis is the traditional one, that which begins with Jesus being condemned to death and ends with Jesus to be buried. Which tells me the church in Vigan is really biblical history.

The door of the Vigan Cathedral - the concrete at the bottom of your feet, not the rectangular hole - was slippery even when not wet, and I almost slipped. I told the guy who was selling rosaries (among other items) just inside the door to please tell the church authorities to do something about that slippery approach but he didn't promise anything. I rather think he didn't appreciate the fact that I almost became history.

That was the beginning of my Vigan Way of the Cross. The devotion to the Via Crucis may have started with the Franciscans, to whom sacred places were entrusted in 1342 ( If you're a Catholic, you pray going the Via Crucis and you earn indulgences. In 1520, Pope Leo X granted 100-day indulgences to each set of sculptured Stations, the Seven Dolors of Our Lady (7 Sorrows).

I had lunch at the foot of the hill that sits the Santa Maria Church. I remember the rice was nice, a pleasant surprise after all those popular places with their awful rices. And the meat dish (don't ask me the name) was nice too.

This was my first time to see the Santa Maria, and I fell in love with the view from down the stairway. I also fell in love with its fortress-like body in red bricks. Intruding into my perspective was the façade with the bridge emanating from convent. This is the view that destroys the view. But it's history, and you cannot change history even if you can rewrite it.

Looking at that fortress of a body, looking at that bridge, knowing that the Santa Maria sits on top of a high hill and the Filipinos were not all that friendly to the friars, this tells me that the church and the convent were built to protect the priests from intruders at any time. The Santa Maria was a Church and a haven – even heaven - for threatened souls.

Enamored with the Santa Maria on top of the hill, I forgot to take photos of the stairway to heaven - but there's a beautiful image if you click this (, from, showing the granite staircase with the church on top. I say the Santa Maria is romantic in the high sense of the word, as it requires the pilgrim like me to ascend in degrees to the level of my possible holiness. (I decided not to take the stairway because I was toting a heavy traveling bag on wheels, so I had a tricycle take me to the top via a proper road. Two roads diverged on a storied slope; sorry I could not travel both. On second thought, I should have also taken the hard route and enjoyed my slow climb to the top, reminding myself step by step that that's exactly how life works.) I shall come this way again.

The Santa Maria is also referred to as the "Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion," also called "Santa Maria de Asunta" (the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption) (Berniemack Arellano, I translate it as Our Lady of the Ascension, as Catholic dogma states that the Virgin Mary ascended into heaven body and soul. Look at the photograph I took (which I photoshopped); on top of a guava tree, Virgin Mary looks up to heaven. As a Catholic, as you go up the stairway of the Santa Maria, it is well to remind yourself that you are ascending to the level of your possible saintliness.

Inside, I took shots of the 14 Stations of the Cross and noted that the Via Crucis of the Santa Maria is similar to that of the Vigan Cathedral: traditional. If you're looking simply for Roman Catholic history, visit the churches in Vigan and Santa Maria. Me, I was looking for any glorious Catholic history, and I did not find it there - I had found it earlier in the San Agustin Parish Church of Bay, Laguna (see my "Bay's Way of the Cross. I saw the beginning in the Last Supper," 04 April 2011, American Chronicle). This San Agustin Via Crucis is the one instituted by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Not based on biblical accounts, gone are the 3 falls; now there's only 1 fall. Gone is Veronica with the Faces of Christ. Not biblical. This one begins with the Last Supper and ends with the Resurrection. I say, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit." Santa Maria! You go up a long stairway and end up with a magnificent view.

Don't forget the stairway to the Santa Maria. If you are a true Christian, you know Suffering always ends in Resurrection.

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