Six Franciscan Heritage Churches in Laguna

St. John the Baptist Liliw, Laguna
St. John the Baptist Liliw, Laguna

I don't know why but I've also been partial to this Robert Burns line, "the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry". When I carefully plan things, often than not, it never materializes but if I do something spur of the moment it goes well.

One of these improvised events happened in January when I visited six Franciscan heritage churches in Laguna. In one afternoon, I journeyed from one town to another to complete this impromptu pilgrimage.

Conquistador Juan de Salcedo, the grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, was the leader of the military expedition that opened Laguna to the Spanish conquest. La Laguna or La Provincia de la Laguna de Bay became an important Spanish post. 

Rizal and the Franciscans

As you travel further in Laguna, you'll notice two things that connect all of these places --- memorials to Jose Rizal and churches established by the Order of Friar Minor or Franciscan Monks. 

Two symbols that if we based it on our historical past should not be copacetic. Every town has a statue dedicated to the National Hero since Laguna considers him its beloved son. Most of the statues are placed directly in the town plazas which also has the churches. 

I've always wondered why in his novel, Noli Me Tangere, it was the Franciscans embodied by Padres Damaso and Salvi who took the bulk of Rizal's animosity. I thought it would have been the Dominicans based on his family's difficulties with them in Calamba and his own experience at the University of Santo Tomas.

On the third church that we visited as I was reading the historical marker, I had an enlightenment. The Franciscans were the missionaries assigned by the Spanish Colonial Government to evangelized southern Luzon namely parts of present-day Rizal, Laguna, Quezon, and the Bicol region when they arrived in the Philippines in 1577. 

When the Americans took over in the early 1900s, the majority of their parishes were given to the Filipino secular clergy. They were also forced to sell their vast haciendas and farmlands to the American Civil Government.

Earthquake Baroque

Studying the remnants of colonial architecture, one can't help but marvel at how they were able to accomplish so much with what they had available during that era. The style of architecture known as earthquake baroque was incorporated in constructing these structures to minimize the effects of earthquakes. It also has to sustain typhoons and the ravages of fire. Colonial Philippine churches tended to be stout-looking and lower compared to its contemporaries in Europe or in South America. 

Adobe bricks were the main components in building these churches. Adobe was made of clay, sandstone, coral stones, and even animal waste. Philippine wood like Apitong, Yakal, Narra, Kamagong, and Tindalo were used for the main doors and interiors. Decorative carvings were created by local traditions and by Chinese artisans.

Franciscans churches differ in layout from Augustinian churches (e.g San Agustin in Intramuros and Basilica Minore del Santo Nino in Cebu). The Augustinians had courtyards between the main church and the convent with covered hallways while the Franciscans had simpler galleries. 

Visiting six churches in one afternoon took almost five hours. And because it was an impromptu decision, I didn't take into consideration that it was a Monday. Some of the churches were closed so I wasn't able to get inside. 

Most of the churches have that weathered look common to centuries-old structures. Mosses and overgrown roots cover the exterior and belfries. 

The churches are situated in the following places: Pila, Majayjay, Magdalena, Pagsanjan, Nagcarlan, and Liliw. And maybe in your next Visita Iglesia or trip to Laguna, you'll consider spending some time at these locales.

This is a way to connect with our culture and history.


San Antonio de Padua Parish Church Pila, Laguna
San Antonio de Padua Parish Church Pila, Laguna

The town plaza of Pila is considered one of the most accurate and preserved plazas in the country. It is an example of the town planning that King Felipe II propagated in his colonies.

Dedicated in 1581, San Antonio de Padua Parish Church is the first Antonine Church in the Philippines. It was originally located in Pagalangan but due to constant floods, it was transferred to the present site in 1600. The first church and convent were completed in 1616. The present church structure was built in the 19th Century. 

Inside San Antonio de Padua
Inside San Antonio de Padua

This was also where the first printing press in the Philippines was built in 1606. It was manned by Tomas Pinpin and Domingo Loag. The third oldest church bell was cast in 1681 in honor of the centenary of the founding of the parish. You can also see the Franciscan emblem carved on top of the main door.

Church bells circa 1600s

Another interesting fact about San Antonio de Padua are the tombstones located near the altar. Only the prominent members of the community were allowed to bury their dead inside the church.

The place also served as a convalescent house for Franciscans from 1618 to 1673.


Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church was rebuilt after World War II. Pagsanjan was devastated by bombings of the Filipino and American forces during the Liberation in 1945. The original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which was a gift from Mexico in the 1600s was destroyed during this time.

The church was totally destroyed during World War II

The original church was founded in 1687 by Father Agustin De La Magdalena, the first curate. By 1690, the first stone church was constructed. A transept was added in 1827. Renovation and reinforcement of the building started in 1847 and ended in 1852.


Santa Maria Magdalena
Santa Maria Magdalena

If you grew up watching Fernando Poe, Jr. movies on television, you'll recognize the Magdalena town plaza. Imagine FPJ riding a white horse fighting the evil forces single-handedly. He shot several of his period movies in this town.

Magdalena used to be a barrio of Majayjay until it became its own town in 1821. The church was named for Santa Maria Magdalena and the first cogon and wood structure was built in 1820. The first construction of the stone church took a decade to finish, it was started in 1829. Additional construction happened from 1849 to 1855. The bell tower was added in 1861 and the convent was completed in 1872.

Emilio Jacinto, Andres Bonifacio's trusted ally and a classmate of Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osmena Jr. in Letran, took refuge in the church after being wounded in a skirmish. His bloodstains have been preserved and can be seen by visitors. Unfortunately, by the time I got to Magdalena, the church was already closed for the day.


San Bartolome Apostol
San Bartolome Apostol

The first San Bartolome Apostol church was first built in 1583. The stone church was constructed by 1752 and destroyed by fire in 1781.

The church was reconstructed in 1845 and a choir loft was added. During this time, the unique Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery was also built by the curate Friar Vicente Velloc. The rectory was added in 1850.

Facade of San Bartolome Apostol

The church has a side door that is fronted by a small courtyard and an Adoration Chapel. Please do take note that the cemetery is closed on Mondays. And when we went there at around 2PM, the church was also closed. 


Centuries-old San Gregorio Magno Church
Centuries-old San Gregorio Magno Church

San Gregorio Magno Parish Church in Majayjay has been declared a National Treasure by the National Museum. The Augustinian friars were the first to establish a church in Majayjay in 1571. By 1578, the newly-arrived Franciscans took over. 

The present structure was built from 1616 to 1649. It was reconstructed in 1707, had been rehabilitated from 1711 to 1734. The monsoon season took a toll on the church and was further strengthened throughout the 19th century. It became an American Headquarters during the years of the Philippine-American War. 

The facade of the church is decorated with statues that stand on window alcoves.


St. John the Baptist Church

Originally part of Nagcarlan until 1605, the first wooden church structure was built in 1620. It was dedicated to the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. It took three years for the red-bricked stone church to be finished (1643-1646).

In 1880, the structure was damaged by an earthquake and eighteen years later partly burned. The facade has a relief of St. John baptizing Jesus Christ. 

The church features three retablos or altars. The inside has been accordingly renovated by the townspeople as they prospered through the years.

The three altars of St. John the Baptist

How To Get There
In the first chapter of Rizal's El Filibusterismo, the steamship Tabo was ferrying passengers from Manila to Laguna. Their route took them from the Pasig River up along the banks of Laguna de Bay. 

In modern times, that option is not available for tourists or locals alike. It's all about the land route for Laguna. We took the South Luzon Expressway and exited at Greenfield City which is right after the Sta. Rosa exit. On our way back, my dad drove through the mountainous range of Laguna and Rizal. It has an added attraction of seeing the giant windmills of Pililla, Rizal. 

Provincial buses are available 24/7 and when you get to each town, other modes of transportation can be obtained. Accredited tourist vehicles can be hired for the day as well.

Additional Readings:


Anonymous said…
The Franciscans had no haciendas in the Philippines. The so called Friar lands were owned by the Dominicans, Augustinians, and the Recollects. Please see lower part of this article: . Even the Jesuits owned lands though they were not called friars.
Thanks for reading the post. The Franciscans did have haciendas or estates mostly located in Central Luzon. Spanish orders were provided with lands. Difference could gave been in terms of the volume or acreage.