UNESCO has inscribed four Philippines churches built in the late 16th Century as World Heritage Sites. These are located in District of Intramuros, City of Manila, Santa Maria, Province of Ilocos Sur, San Agustin, Paoay, Province of Ilocos and Miag-ao, Province of Iloilo.They are culturally significant for their unique architectural style which is the Chinese and Philippine craftsmen interpretation of this European architectural style.
This group of churches established a style of building and design that was adapted to the physical conditions in the Philippines and had an important influence on later church architecture in the region. The four churches are outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of the Baroque style, and represent the fusion of European church design and construction with local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustín was the first church built on the island of Luzon in 1571, immediately after the Spanish conquest of Manila. A site within the district of Intramuros was assigned to the Augustinian Order, the first to evangelize in the Philippines. In 1587 the impermanent earliest building in wood and palm fronds was replaced by a stone church and monastery in stone, the latter becoming the Augustinian mother house in the Philippines. It was the only structure in Intramuros to survive the liberation of Manila in 1945. Miag-ao became an independent parish in 1731, when a simple church and convento were built. However, destruction of the town by Muslim pirates in 1741 and 1754 led to the town being rebuilt in a more secure location. The new church, constructed in 1787-97, was built as a fortress, to withstand further incursions. It was, however, damaged severely by fire during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and in the Second World War. Two bell towers were added in 1854, but the northern one cracked in the 1880 earthquake and had to be demolished. In the interior of the church the wall paintings date from the 19th century, but they overlie the original tempera murals. As a result the church was richly endowed, with a fine retablo, pulpit, lectern and choir-stalls. Of special interest is the series of crypto-collateral chapels lining both sides of the nave. The walls separating them act as buttresses. The stone barrel vault, dome, and arched vestibule are all unique in the Philippines. A monastery complex was formerly linked to the church by a series of cloisters, arcades, courtyards and gardens, but all except one building were destroyed in 1945.
Miag-ao Church, Iloilo
The Spanish colonizers in the late 16th century not only brought their culture with them but also the seeds of the Catholic faith. The missionaries who went with the expeditions of the would-be Spanish colonizers were the Augustinian friars. They accomplished many significant firsts in the history of the Philippines. It was an Augustinian who officiated the first Catholic mass in Limasawa (Mazua). It was also an Augustinian who baptized the first native converts of Catholicism upon their arrival in Cebu. It was, furthermore, the Augustinians who built the Santo Niño Church in Cebu. It was they who fanned out from Cebu to the other islands of the archipelago, including Panay.
Th Augustinian missionaries, Fr. Martin de Rada and Father Diego de Herrera, laid the foundation of Catholicism in Panay in 1569. These two servants of God went with the Spanish expedition to the islands to look for a safer place due to the danger of the Dutch attacking them in Cebu. Upon their arrival in Panay, the two missionaries took in the whole island as their religious mission. Despite the initial suspicion and indifference of the Panayanons, gradually the two priests were able to stay long in Panay due to the demand for their presence in the other parts of the archipelago.