As a largely Catholic nation, Filipinos give much value and respect to the many churches that dot our archipelago.
While many of these structures remind us of colonial rule, these are, more importantly, representations of how life was lived and how faith was held and expressed centuries ago. Each church is not just a repository of prayers and intentions, but also of stories that toggle between encouragement and curiosity.
Many of these churches and many more of these stories exist in Laguna. The southern province has parishes that have existed for half a millennia, and, as such, have our national history built into their foundation. Here are five of them.
San Sebastian Parish in Lumban
J.P. Rizal Street 4014 Lumban, Laguna
Lumban is regarded as one of the oldest towns in Laguna and was once the center of missionary activities in the province during the Spanish occupation. When Christianity was introduced in 1578 by Franciscan friars, the townspeople here built a structure out of nipa and bamboo in a site they called “Entablado” (stage).
This simple church, however, was destroyed when a flood hit the town. A wooden church was made to replace it but was destroyed by a fire. For the third rebuilding of the church, then Parish priest Padre Pedro Bautista suggested stone as the main material.
San Sebastian Parish, which is also called the Lumban Church, then became the first stone church in Laguna and the first Franciscan stone church outside of Metro Manila.
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BasteOfficialPage
St. John the Baptist Church in Liliw
9th St. corner Gat. Tayaw St., Liliw, Laguna
St. John the Baptist Church is famous for its Baroque architecture and facade of red bricks, which are still the original ones from the 16th century. Because of a series of natural calamities, the insides of the church had to be renovated with the help and generosity of Liliw citizens.
Most churches will have Jesus’ cross behind the altar. St. John the Baptist Church, in contrast, will greet you with striking retable altars, which house Franciscan holy men, the family of Mary, and other saints like San Lorenzo Ruiz and San Isidro.
Another important figure for Liliw residents is San Buenaventura, who, according to Franciscans, cried tears of blood in 1664.
Devotees from even outside Laguna would flock to the province, and fill a small chapel dedicated for him inside the church. There, they can pray for their special intentions using color-coded candles: blue for wisdom, pink for success, violet for forgiveness, green for good health, white for holiness, yellow for family, and red for strength.
- Facebook: https://facebook.com/SJBP.Liliw/
St. Peter of Alcantara Parish in Pakil
Tavera St., Pakil, Laguna
It took the St. Peter of Alcantara Parish 35 years to finish building, starting in 1732 and finally finishing in 1767.
Early residents of Pakil, stories say, were allowed not to pay government taxes for five years to collect more funds for building the church. Today, the Corinthian and Ionic style structure is located right in front of the spacious town plaza, making it easily accessible to locals.
While its main patron is St. Peter of Alcantara, Spain, the church is also the designated diocesan shrine of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba or Our Lady of Sorrows of Turumba.
The image of Turumba was discovered in 1788 by fishermen who decided to bring it to the nearest church. Strong waves led them to the shore of Pakil where they dropped the image. The next day, a group of women found the image, which was surprisingly dry despite the storm.
As the ladies could not carry the image, they decided to seek help from the church. Its priests then came and successfully lifted it, to the amazement and joy of the crowd. From then on, the Turumba has been venerated by devotees from Laguna and other nearby provinces.
Apart from being the shrine of the Turumba, St. Peter of Alcantara Parish also takes pride in its religious paintings made by local Pakil artists.
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TurumbaShrine/
National Shrine and Parish of San Antonio de Padua in Pila
82 Burzagom St., Pila, Laguna
If you happen to misplace something important, you might want to visit this church as it is dedicated to the patron saint of the recovery of lost things.
The National Shrine and Parish of San Antonio de Padua is also known as the Pila Church. It was inaugurated in 1581 as the first Antonine church in the Philippines and possibly in the whole of Asia.
The church was first located in Barangay Pinagbayanan but was transferred to Barangay Pagalangan because of flooding. It flooded again in its second site and was finally moved to its current location in Barangay Sta. Clara.
While it may be smaller compared to other churches in Laguna, the National Shrine and Parish of San Antonio de Padua has a significant claim to fame.
It has the fourth oldest surviving church bell in our country, which was supposedly submerged in Laguna de Bay during the British occupation to keep it safe. Now, visitors can see the bell up close by the church’s main entrance. Other kampana (bells) previously used by the church are also displayed by the church’s side entrance.
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NationalShrineOfSanAntonioDePadua/
San Bartolome Apostol Parish Church
Poblacion, Nagcarlan, Laguna
The San Bartolome Apostol Parish is also called the Nagcarlan Church and was made from the collective effort of its townspeople. According to stories, its workers mixed egg whites with lime to stick stones together, which was a popular adhesive of the time.
Though located in Laguna, the church is also frequented by Batangueños, possibly interested in the decidedly graphic story of San Bartolome.
The saint was skinned alive due to his Catholic faith, which is why his image holds a knife. As makers of balisong (butterfly knife), Batangueños may have found a connection with the saint.
Early stories also say that Nagcarlan did not gravely suffer during the Japanese occupation because they were protected by the grace of San Bartolome. Over the years, his devotees have prayed to him in times of disasters or natural calamities.
This church also had its contributions to the world of entertainment. Film or TV buffs might recognize Nagcarlan Church as the location of Kampanerang Kuba (hunchbacked bell-ringer), both for the 1974 movie starring Vilma Santos and the 2005 teleserye with Anne Curtis.
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/parokyanisanbartolomeapostol/
These are just five of the historic churches in Laguna that you ought to visit. You may add these on your Visita Iglesia list for the next Holy Week or just drop by if you have special intentions meant for the venerated patron saints of the churches. Getting to Laguna would approximately take a 2-3 hour drive from Manila if you pass through the South Luzon Expressway. You may start your church visits in Pila, then travel to Nagcarlan, Liliw, Lumban, and finally, Pakil.
Have a safe trip!
All tourist destinations in Laguna have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks and face shields, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip, check the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel, or download it from the Google Play or Apple Store.