When people think about travelling around the Philippines, they immediately think of spectacular beaches and spending time snorkelling and diving. They would not be wrong! Of course, amongst over 7000 Islands, these things are sure to be found. However, one thing that was a really pleasant surprise for me (the culture vulture AKA Templeseeker!) was the number of amazing Churches to be explored in the Philippines. The Philippines, you see, is Asia’s only Christian nation, with over 80% of Filipinos being Roman Catholic. Once you are aware of this religious make up, along with the Spanish Colonial history, then the number of beautiful Churches in the Philippines becomes expected, rather than surprising. In today’s blog, we are going to explore the Churches of Iloilo on Panay island.
Heading to Panay Island to Explore the Churches of Iloilo
So, 2 weeks into my backpacking trip round The Philippines, I headed out on our Tale of Two Spanish Cities FAM Trip with TBEX bloggers. Our first destination was the educational and business centre of Panay Island – Iloilo.
Flying Manila to Iloilo with Cebu Pacific
The flight with Cebu Pacific from Manila to Iloilo was extremely comfortable and just 1 hour and 20 mins. It’s a cheap airline and you can book online with Opodo. Just make sure that you carry some cash with you, as food and drinks on board are not free. There’s also a guess the object or activity quiz on board and you can win Cebu Pacific goodies – I guess that’s the in flight entertainment!
An Introduction to Iloilo
There are actually 7107 islands in The Philippines in total, so with Panay only being my 5th I have barely scratched the surface! In actual fact, if you ask a Filipino how many islands in the Philippines, he may respond with another questions: High tide or low tide?!
From Cebu, the Spanish colonisers sailed to Iloilo for supplies. The name Panay Island actually comes from the word bread! It is abundant in agricultural resources. After Iloilo, the Spaniards then went on to build Luzon with Manila as the capital, and so Iloilo is seen as one of the oldest cities in the Philippines.
Here’s a question – If the Spaniards colonised The Philippines, then why don’t many Filipino’s speak Spanish as a second language? The answer is simple – The Americans! They came for around 48 years and English was adopted as their second language. The Japanese came after that, but only for the short period of 5 years.
Now, the interesting thing about Iloilo is that many people do read and write fluently in Spanish, and the reason is that Iloilo was an international trading post.
As well as there being 7107 islands in the Philippines (still not sure whether that’s high or low tide!) there are also 72 dialects. In Iloilo they speak Ilongu, so if you learnt any Filipino in Manila, it may not work here. However, English is widely understood, and I have found the Philippines to be the easiest place to travel in Asia in that respect.
You can guess what the first thing I noticed in Iloilo was?! Yup – the Jeepneys! My new obsession! They aren’t like the ones in Manila. Iloilo Jeepneys are like SUV’s at the front! Another great thing about Iloilo is that they are building cycle paths and they have the longest in the Philippines. If they continue to extend this all the way to the airport as planned, it will be the longest cycle path in Asia!
The city of Iloilo is investing 1 billion dollars in the old airport area and turning it into a business park – mega world. Basically, the runway was too small for the bigger planes. But as Iloilo was growing in business and IT, it was decided that this would make a great business development area.
Why is it called Iloilo?
The city is called Iloilo because of the shape the river – it bends like a nose! They have created esplanades around the river that serve as a buffer zone. Exercise is an important part of Iloilo culture, and many people walk and jog along the esplanade every morning. The also have outdoor morning Zumba! There are 22 species of mangroves along the river.
The two esplanades either side of the river are connected by bridges, and the river has been voted one of the cleanest urban rivers in the world. This will soon have water taxis, and will be the first of its kind to use a solar powered boat! Wow!
‘I am Iloilo’ is the concept that the residents have of feeling like part of the city. There is an intense community vibe and sense of pride. We were greeted by a wonderful ‘I am Iloilo’ sign at the start of our esplanade walk.
A Traditional Iloilo Lunch
During our traditional lunch, we were serenaded by a singer, singing traditional lullabys and songs in Ilongu. Philippino food is so diverse, offering Filipino, Spanish, Japanese and American influences.
We were then taken to see them make traditional barqillos. These crunchy wafers can be made with an added flavour – we tried some gorgeous mango ones. The practice originated from the Church. This guy has been practicing for 15 years and makes 2000 Baquillos a day! Believe me, you won’t go hungry in the Philippines!
Top attractions in Iloilo on TripAdvisor
The Cathedrals and Churches of Iloilo
I was so pleased to be welcomed to Iloilo by Lorna Longo, who was co-ordinating our trip with the tourist board. And it certainly is ‘more fun in the Philippines!’ Lorna became known as our fairy Godmother on this trip, as it was as if everytime we asked for something, she waved her magic wand and said ‘your wish is my command!’ And my wish to see the Cathedrals and Churches of Iloilo was certainly granted!
The three main Churches that you should see in Iloilo are Jaro Cathedral, Molo Church and the San Jose de Placer Parish Church.
We visited the Cathedral of Iloilo (Jaro Cathedral) which was built in 1864 and finished in 1874 (it usually takes at least 10 years to build a Church in the Philippines!). This is my favourite of all the Churches in Iloilo. Jaro Cathedral features a combination of Gothic, Romanesque, and Byzantine architectural styles. The bell tower, standing beside the cathedral, is one of its prominent features and offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
The Jaro Cathedral is closely associated with the devotion to Our Lady of the Candles, also known as Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. The image of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus, adorned with candles, is enshrined within the cathedral. The faithful devotees flock to the church to pay homage to the Virgin Mary and seek her intercession.
In 1981 Pope John Paul II visited Iloilo and they made some additions, Jaro Cathedral contains the shrine of our lady of candles, where you can light different coloured candles for different things (e.g. love, family, health, wealth, career).
We also visited the beautiful Spanish colonial Molo Church, also known as the Church of St. Anne Parish, which is one of the most beautiful Roman Catholic Churches in the region. I loved it’s Gothic-Renaissance architecture and feminist approach. You see, Molo Church stands out from other Catholic Churches of the region, because most Saints are usually male, but the Molo Church displays female Saints. For this reason, it’s one of the moist distinctive and well-known Churches of Iloilo.
Construction of Molo church began in 1831, and it was completed in 1888. The facade of the church is made of white coral stone, giving it a unique appearance. The interior features intricately designed stained glass windows, antique chandeliers, and a beautiful altar. Molo Church also has a museum where religious artefacts, historical documents, and religious vestments are displayed.
Aside from its architectural beauty, Molo Church has cultural and historical significance. It has been recognised as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. This is because the church played a vital role during the Philippine Revolution and World War II, by serving as a refuge for Filipinos during these challenging times.
The Town Hall and San Jose de Placer Parish Church
We were taken along to the City Hall. If you can, get up to the rooftop terrace for a phenomenal view of the city. As we were classed as ‘VIP’s’ in the Philippines, we were lucky enough to meet the Mayor of Iloilo! From the rooftop of the Town Hall, we could see the San Jose de Placer Parish Church.
San Jose de Placer Parish Church was built in 1607 by the Jesuits and is considered the first ever church in the city of Iloilo. In fact, this used to be the original Cathedral, but it was moved to the Jaro Cathedral further inland to protect it from Moro attacks by sea. The church houses the replica of Santo Niño de Cebú, the patron saint of the Dinagyang Festival, which you will learn more about if you go inside the exhibition in the City Hall.
Visiting Other Points of Interest in Iloilo
The first millionaires row in the Philippines was in Iloilo, and this was as a result of the growing sugar industry. This is in the district of Jaro. Drive or walk through and you will see numerous colonial mansions, some of which have been converted into museums.
The City Hall offers a spectacular display of the annual Dinagyang festival which occurs from January 20th – 22nd. During the festival, the streets are filled with 100 drummers and 100 dancers who display rhythm, discipline, endurance and creativity through their performance.
We even got to try on the head dresses of previous festivals – damn – that thing was heavy, how the hell do they dance in that?!?!
The area of Molo is the educational centre, home to 4 universities. In the 17th Century, the literacy rate of Iloilo was even higher than that of Europe.
Oh, and we have now progressed beyond the police escorts of Manila – hell, we even have our own SWAT team! Deborah from 101 Colored Doors has a bit of a thing about them, so Deborah, here’s a shout out to you! Hope you marry a SWAT officer one day!
Where to stay in Iloilo – Richmonde Hotel
We were well and truly spoilt at the Richmonde Hotel in Iloilo. The rooms were so luxurious, with international plug sockets to charge our gadgets. To add to our VIP treatment, we were left a beautiful gift from the hotel manager. It was a local cake perfectly wrapped, and enclosed with a note to thank us for our visit.
The Richmonde is just a couple of kilometres outside of the city (in the new Mega business park). There is a phenomenal breakfast which will probably mean that you don’t even need lunch! I highly recommend it.
Book the Richmonde Hotel on booking.com.
*Many thanks to my sponsors Cebu Pacific, The Philippines Tourism Promotions board and It’s More Fun in the Philippines. Thank you for making this happen! This blog post may also contain affiliate links, which help me to keep travelling and get this information to you for free.
You might also like to read about Tale of Two Spanish Cities FAM Trip – Iloilo and Bacolod