There are some 300 churches within the province of Batangas. Every city and municipality that was a significant population center during the Spanish times still has at least one church over a century old that remains standing today.

Like the rest of the country, Batangas has suffered terrible typhoons and earthquakes, and because of its proximity to Taal Volcano, has experienced more than its fair share of earth-shattering convulsions. The worst of these paroxysms forced entire towns to migrate away from the volcano, away from the shores of Taal Lake (then called Bombon), and resettle inland.

Illustration by Patrick Kasingsing

Such occurrences also dictated the architecture and construction materials of churches. Those that were established in the 1500s to 1600s and rebuilt in the 1700s to 1800s forsook the masonry arches employed in earlier structures. Their walls grew thicker, braced by massive buttresses, and their towers were erected with immense substructures.

READ MORE: Sculpted illusions at the Basilica Minor of Immaculate Conception in Batangas

Despite such defensive measures, virtually all churches in Batangas built before the 20th century have undergone major repairs or reconstruction work due to the earth’s upheavals, not to mention bombardment by Japanese and Americans during World War II.

Because they have undergone much repair work and ‘enhancements’ over the decades, it is a challenge to determine which alterations are an authentic part of our cultural heritage. There has not been a restoration effort in the region that can claim to have restored a church to its original state. Truth be told, there has not been a post-war renovation effort in Batangas that did not compromise the integrity of a church’s architectural and interior design. The churches of Batangas are chockfull of Romanesque, Baroque, Neo-classical, Gothic and Rococo elements sitting cheek-by-jowl with 21st century Filipino adornments of the horror vacui persuasion.

Taal’s colossal landmark, the Basilica of San Martin de Tours, is as wide as a 15-storey building is tall. Built atop elevated ground, fronting the town plaza and overlooking nearby Balayan Bay, it was designed by Spanish architect Don Luciano Oliver with two belfries, which crashed to the ground in April 1942 during a strong earthquake.

Still, the tradition of Visita Iglesia, of visiting seven or fourteen churches to say prayers at each for a special intention, is one that should be encouraged enthusiastically amongst young and old. There is nothing like walking down the aisle of an old church, staring up at its ceiling, running one’s fingers along its cracks and peering through layers of time to contemplate one’s history and heritage.

Ancient churches echo with the muttered prayers and cries of joy and sorrow of our ancestors, whose forebears laid stone upon stone with blood sweat and tears. We don’t need our bastions of history to be remodeled, renovated or revamped. One need not be a religious person to go on Visita Iglesia, or to say an invocation for the lords and patrons of our heritage churches to become reverential defenders instead of re-writers of the nation’s patrimony. 

This article first appeared in BluPrint Vol 1 2014. Edits were made for

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