Adventure Drawing to a Close
Joy and I spent a restful two days at Isla de Gigantes. In spite of the challenges (early morning rain and rough waves) and lacking amenities (there was no electricity during the day time), we still had a great time being away from the tumult that we are usually caught in. The noise from the din was barely perceptible.
Sadly, it is time to head back to Iloilo City. Just thinking of the long trip is exhausting. Two to three hours on boat and another two to three hours on a van – my butt started aching even before I rode them. The weather was a little bleak but thankfully, the tides weren’t as challenging. We smoothly sailed towards the port in the main island without any untoward incidents.
It is in the same spirit that we arrived in Iloilo City but I still cannot get my bearing after experiencing how daredevilish Iloilo’s UV express drivers were. They drove as though there was no tomorrow. Haha!
Upon reaching the city, Joy and I contemplated where we are going to go next as it was still early in the afternoon. Our flight was later in the day. After some discussion, we decided to proceed to Miag-ao Church, a popular tourist destination. The catch: it is located quite a way from Iloilo City.
After searching how to go to Miag-ao Church, Joy and I rode a Miag-ao bound jeepney at the Iloilo Market Terminal. Luckily, the terminal is located within a striking distance of our previous accommodation where we left our things before heading out to Isla de Gigantes. Thus, we are on our way to yet another prime tourist spot in Iloilo Province.
A UNESCO Heritage Site
About an hour and a half after departing from Iloilo City, we reached the quaint town of Miag-ao on western Iloilo. Upon alighting, we were greeted by a stunning structure which, palpably, is the heart and soul of everything that goes around the town. Located at the center of Miag-ao is St. Thomas de Villanueva Church, which, in 1993, earned a UNESCO Heritage Site designation in 1993, under the collective title of Philippine Baroque Churches.
The Philippine Baroque Churches is currently comprised of four churches from all over the country. Another tentative set of five more churches were submitted for appreciation by the UNESCO, including Boljoon Church in Cebu which I also got to drop by during my 2015 South Cebu-Negros Oriental excursion. St. Thomas de Villanueva Church is one of these four Baroque churches.
Locally referred to as Miag-ao Church, construction of the church begun in 1787, on an elevated part of the town. At the time of construction, the town has experienced repetitive Moro siege. By constructing the church on the highest point of the town, it serves as guard against the invaders. It took about a decade before the church was completed in 1797.
The church is a monument to the tests of time. During the 1898 Spanish revolution, it was badly damaged but was later rebuilt. It also sustained extensive damages during the Second World War and the 1948 earthquake. But after every adversity, just like the phoenix, the church rises from the ashes, stronger than ever. The current structure is the third church built since its establishment in 1731.
Because Joy and I are flexible in terms of religion, we decided to join the afternoon mass. It was the eve of All Saint’s Day (and I believe some kind of a church feast was going on). A flock of churchgoers have converged in the cavernous halls of the church. Unfortunately for us, the mass was in the colloquial. We tried to listen and discern the things that are being said but gave up soon after. We quietly exited and explored the church’s peripheries.
While running through the structure, one thing stands out – the thick and reinforced walls and buttresses. This served as protection against Moro invaders. Like most of the Spanish era churches, the chief materials used to construct the church were corals and limestones, reinforced with the secret ingredient: egg. The difference from its contemporaries is the use of crushed abode. This gave the church a unique ochre-ish hue.
The church’s façade was embellished with ornate bas reliefs which depicts (surprisingly) different facets of Chinese, Muslim and medieval Spanish cultures. Some of the bas reliefs showcase different elements of local living. The center of these bas reliefs is the image of the church’s (and consequently, the town’s as well) patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova.
The bas reliefs captured my imagination and attention for their vividness and intricateness. I have surmised that these are probably amongst the reasons why the church is one of a kind and why it earned a UNESCO Heritage Site designation. I was reminded of Miag-ao Church’s bas reliefs when I was wandering in Siem Reap’s Bantay Sreay Temple last July 2018. Both have the same vivid bas reliefs. Uncannily, both have the same color.
The façade of the church is flanked by two huge bell towers, or campanarios, which were unequal in height as they were commissioned by two different priests. The taller bell tower doubled as watchtower against Muslim marauders who were active in the coastal areas.
Vestiges of history is engraved in the walls of Miag-ao Church but before we could appreciate more of it, darkness begun to envelope us. Joy and I then decided to go back to Iloilo City as we have to fix our things before flying back to Manila. Moreover, we have to buy some obligatory “pasalubongs” as well.
This short excursion in Panay Island made me appreciate even more the beauty of my country. Iloilo and Guimaras were both extraordinary, both possessing individual charms and beauties that no word can totally capture. As they say, to see is to believe. It was just unfortunate that our stay was too short. There was so much more to see; we weren’t able to fully explore Iloilo City. I guess there is always a next time. See you again Iloilo!
How To Get To Miag-ao Church
To get to Miag-ao Church, ride Miag-ao bound jeepneys. Jeepneys can be found in Iloilo Terminal Market in the city proper and in Mohon Terminal. The last destination of these jeepneys is Miag-ao town proper where the Church can easily be seen. To be safe, always ask the drivers if they will pass by the church. The locals are warm and are always willing to accommodate travelers who ask.