#VisitaIglesia2022: Time to drive to seven churches around Laguna de Bay

Published April 13, 2022, 5:48 PM

by Johannes Chua

Everyone is out after two years of restrictions and lockdowns. If you don’t want to hit the beaches (because your body is not ready or you still want to avoid the crowd), why not try to visit the churches that line the local tourism highway?

In a world full of uncertainties especially in this pandemic season, it is perhaps nice to visit a church for a moment of silence, reflection, and thanksgiving.  Add to that, a trip to a church also opens a window of history and gives one a preview of local life.  For example, the Calamba Church is where National Hero Jose Rizal was baptized, or did you know that the Church of Nagcarlan features an underground cemetery that has a tunnel as an escape route? 

The historical trivia would surely guarantee a good time and give everyone in the trip new insights – which is something you can’t get after spending eight hours in a mall. It is also very budget-friendly since there are no entrance fees to be paid and it’s up to you to impart a small donation.  It is also a chance for you to try out local delicacies sold outside the churches.

One of the easiest seven churches tour – and very interesting, too – is the Laguna de Bay loop. The road is well paved, there are restaurants and convenience stores along the highway and gas stations with clean restrooms.  There are also visible signs informing you where you are and how far in kilometers is the next town. I have done this trip many times either with family or friends – and most of the time, everyone returns back home physically relaxed and spiritually recharged.

There are a lot of churches along the Laguna de Bay loop since it straddles two provinces: Rizal and Laguna. You can even visit more than seven and still arrive in Manila early in the evening.  You can also go north first (entering Rizal via Sumulong Highway) or go south (entering Calamba via SLEX). Either way, you are guaranteed a good time.

Here’s my sample itinerary for a seven churches tour of Laguna de Bay, which will also complete your Visita Iglesia list.

1. Cathedral of Antipolo

I always had an affinity with the Cathedral of Antipolo. Perhaps, it is because whenever we have a new car, or I knew someone who has, the first destination outside Manila is Antipolo Church since this is where the car is blessed.  People believe that before a car is taken to farther places, it has to visit first the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage.

Built in the later part of the 1500s, the church survived various earthquakes and was declared a National Shrine in 1954. This is always on the list of those doing a religious pilgrimage.

Cathedral of Antipolo

The Cathedral of Antipolo is a modern structure with a spacious interior and features a circular edifice topped with a large dome where a huge cross stands. Above the main altar is the shrine of our Lady – a marble balcony encased in glass.

It is suggested that you depart early to avoid the traffic rush along Sumulong Highway. For an authentic experience, there are small restaurants near the church where you can have your breakfast. Order the suman paired with hot chocolate for a comforting meal. Make sure to buy cashews since this is great as a pulutan during the road trip. As for pasalubong, mangoes are a good buy since they are relatively cheaper and sweeter here.

2. Morong Church

A few kilometers away from Antipolo is the town of Morong.  You can’t miss the town’s church since its belfry can be seen from afar.  What makes the church very interesting is its design. The church, the St. Jerome Parish Church, is a fine example of neo-Baroque design. Architecture students from all over the country flock to the church to view it upfront – and learn a thing or two about this rare design.

Morong Church

Built in 1615 by Chinese craftsmen, the church has withstood natural calamities and a tumultuous history.  Records show that Spaniards and Katipuneros even faced off inside the church.  With its historical significance, the church has been able to preserve its rustic charm and some interiors inside are still intact.  Now, a three-story building beside it houses a seminary and school, giving students a view of the creativity and ingenuity of our forebears each day.

3. Paete Church

Paete is a town known for its wood craftsmanship of its people and the best place to preview it is at the church’s altar.  In Paete Church, you don’t only look at the altar to say grace but also to marvel at the art and craftsmanship devoted by the Paetenos showcased at the altar’s intricate wood design and bold structure.  In fact, all the images at the altar were either carved or painted by the local craftsmen, proving to everyone that Paete is a wood carvers’ town. 

Paete Church

Also known at St. James the Apostle Church, it was built starting in 1580. Through the years, it has withstood the test of time and was renovated years back.  Inside, one really gets the feeling of being “transported” in the past since the aged wood and the life-size murals, which have gathered the dust of time, all evoke an Old World charm.

As compared with other churches around Bay, Paete Church is more compact with only circular windows to let the light in. Nevertheless, it sets the mood for the wood craft to retain a certain aura for it to be appreciated by generations to come.  

4. Liliw Church 

When I first visited Liliw, the footwear capital, I have to admit that I was much more impressed with its church.  The St. John the Baptist Church has a striking façade made of red bricks.  It was so different from the other Laguna churches that it is a popular selfie site. 

Liliw Church

From the church entrance, there’s a small passageway to the left that leads to Capilla de Buenaventura, where you can light a candle and whisper a prayer. If you have more time and energy, you can climb up the belfry which gives one a good view of Laguna de Bay.  

Since you are in the footwear capital, might as well go around the town center and visit the clusters of shops selling sturdy yet affordable footwear. They have every imaginable shoe or sandal there and I know a lot of enterprising individuals who purchase dozens in order to resell at a higher price in Manila.

5. Majayjay Church

Majayjay Church, or the St. Gregory Church, is one of the oldest in Laguna having been built in 1575.  It is also perhaps one with the cooler atmosphere since the town is located at a higher elevation.

The church’s altar features antique statues of saints, which were brought by the Spaniards. Its belfry houses four small bells and one big bell – which are probably the oldest in the country. The rooftop of the church, like the one in Liliw, offers a breathtaking view of Mt. Banahaw and Laguna de Bay.

Majayjay Church

The church has its share of history and records show that it was used by the Americans as headquarters during the war. It has also undergone several rehabilitations and endured countless natural calamities.

 6. Pila Church

I included Pila Church here since I’m also very impressed with the town. Don’t only visit the church but also tour the town to appreciate the ancestral houses that have withstood time. A local organization has spearheaded the preservation of the houses and if you’re lucky and the homeowner is around, you can even enter the house to marvel at the interior. 

The Church of San Antonio de Padua of Pila was the first church to be dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua in the Philippines (1578) and most probably, in Asia as well, according to author Dr. Luciano Santiago who wrote extensively about Pila’s history.  He also noted that the parish of Pila is the first Antonine parish in the country when it was established in 1581.

7. Calamba Church

Though the façade of Calamba Church is not “antique” enough, having only been built in the late 18th century, it is nevertheless the one which has the most historical significance.  In June 22, 1861, just three days after his birth, our National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal was baptized in this church by Fr. Rufino Collantes. The cistern where Rizal was baptized still stands – and still even used to this day.

Calamba Church

Outside the St. John the Baptist Church, a Stations of the Cross provide a relaxing ambience and fresh air. Just in front of it is the now “green” house of Rizal which is open from Tuesdays to Sundays. Farther down the road is the Calamba plaza featuring a large clay pot. 

These are just seven churches along the Bay loop. There are more churches which you can visit such as those in Nagcarlan, Pakil, Pagsanjan, Lumban, Victoria, Bay, Sta. Cruz, Magdalena, etc. These churches have their unique characteristics which can’t be found in others.  But all of them are a testament to the enduring faith of the Filipino people and the creativity and perseverance of our forefathers.

 
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