A collection of four Spanish era churches is officially designated as the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. The collection consists of the San Agustin Church in Manila, San Agustin Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, and Santo Thomas de Villanueva Church, located in Miag-ao, Iloilo.
These churches have stood out in the history of the Philippines by furthering Christianity in the island nation and providing political calmness and stability during the colonial rule of the Spanish, when the Church was regarded as the seat of power. Although they have been subjected to rebellious attacks revolts by locals, they have survived the test of time and were listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, in 1993.
The collection of churches portrays the fusion of local materials, decorations and techniques of construction, and baroque European church design, heralding a totally new tradition of church building.
The characteristic features of the churches include strong buttresses, helping them to withstand the effects of earthquakes, as the region is prone to regular volcanic and earthquake activities, and a separate bell tower.
The first church of this conglomerate to be built in the island of Luzon, in 1571 is San Agustin Church, to mark the Spanish conquest and the occupancy of Manila. Throughout the course of history it was almost constantly under attack and this led to the destruction of the church on more than one occasion. But it was rebuilt and renovated each time.
The church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria sits on a hill, along with its convent, surrounded by defensive walls. The Philippine-Hispanic combination of elite craftsmanship is vividly reflected throughout this church.
On the other hand, San Agustin Church in Paoay presents a perfect example of ‘Earthquake Baroque’, with 14 buttresses aligned linearly, so as to minimize the effects of a sudden quake. It also has a massive bell tower made of coral stone, which was added afterwards. Miag-ao houses the church of Santo Thomas de Villanueva Church, serving as the best example of ‘Fortress Baroque’. It also has a statue of St. Christopher, which rests on a pediment, with a Child Christ on its back.
Tourists can get a glimpse of history through them. They are not only magnificent creations but also focus on the development of the Philippine-Hispanic relationship over a period of 150 years, from the 16th till the 18th century.