top of page

Historical Churches in Manila

words and images by Gloria Hernandez Grejalde

Dig into Manila’s rich historical past. Travel back in time as you walk through the aisles and the courtyards of century old churches. These were vestiges of over 300 years of Spanish colonization that turned the Philippines into the lone Catholic nation in Asia. 

The country’s uniqueness from other Asian countries that are either Buddhist or Muslim makes it an ideal pilgrimage place among Christ believers and an alternative destination to European cities where amazing ancient churches draw many tourists. 

Malate Church

A church highlighting a fusion of Moorish and Mexican Baroque design in its facade, Malate Church, also known as the Our Lady of Remedios Parish, was founded in 1588. The Augustinians missionaries brought the image of its patron, Our Lady of Remedios from Spain in 1624.

Located along Roxas Boulevard, overlooking Manila Bay, the church was used as headquarters by the British colonizers in 1762. A strong typhoon destroyed the church in 1868, and it was restored between 1894 and 1898. During the Japanese occupation, fire damaged the church. Colombian priests rebuilt it in the 1950s.

Manila Cathedral 

The Minor Basilica has undergone several renovations since it was built in 1571 — after it was ravaged by fire, destroyed by earthquakes and damaged by war. It was rebuilt in 1958 adopting a Neo-Romanesque architecture. The church aisle was designed as a Latin cross, wherein you can admire the artistic stained-glass windows designed and created by Filipino artist Galo Ocampo. 

Italian artists sculpted the religious images in the cathedral. Its patron image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception was by Vicenzo Assenza, Italy’s national sculptor. Publio Morbiducci, a famous artist during the reign of Mussolini, was responsible for the baptismal font and the angel-shaped holy water fonts, while the mosaic of Our Lady of Sorrows that adorns the wall in the crypt was by artist Marcello Mazzoli. 

There is also the statue of Saint Rose of Lima sculpted by Angelo Fattinanzi. The images of Saints Jacob, Andrew, and Anthony the Abbot were by Livia Papini while those of Francis Xavier and Polycarp were by Alcide Tico.

The Latin inscription in one of the arches in the entrance that reads Tibi cordi tuo immaculato concredimus nos ac consecramus (To thy Immaculate Heart, entrust us and concentrate us) greets the churchgoers. 

San Agustin Church

The 14th century San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. It was established in 1571. Construction of its stone structure began in 1586 and was completed in 1607. The design was patterned from some of the magnificent temples in Mexico. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, the church is also a national historical landmark. It is also known as the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation and Cincture.

Stepping inside, the church will take you to medieval time with its Baroque design — the fully carved choir seats with ivory inlays, the elegant antique chandeliers from France, the trompe-l’oeil murals painted on the ceilings and walls by Italian artists Giovanni Dibella and Cesare Alberoni. Tombs of Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, famous painter Juan Luna, Jose Rizal’s friend Trinidad Pardo de Tavera are among the famous and influential names that can be found in the church.

It was also a silent witness to the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1891. Spanish governor-general Fermin Jaudenes drafted the terms for the surrender of Manila to the United States of America inside the church. During the Japanese occupation of World War II, it was used as a concentration camp. 

Binondo Church

Outside the Spanish enclave across the Pasig River was the area dominated by the Chinese. The oldest Chinatown in the world, you will find the 16th-century Baroque Binondo Church known as the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz. Also called the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish, it was founded in 1596 by the Dominican priests.

The bell tower is an octagonal pagoda to indicate the presence of the Chinese parishioners. The main altar is a miniature of the facade of the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 

National hero Andres Bonifacio and his wife Gregoria de Jesus were married in this church.

Santa Cruz Church

The Parish of Santa Cruz, also called the Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, was the first Catholic church built by the Jesuits in 1619. They brought the statue of Our Lady of the Pillar in 1643. The church is also known as the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament. 

Earthquakes and war ravaged the original church; it was rebuilt in 1957. Art Deco and Romanesque architecture dominate the interior, while its facade reflects the Spanish Baroque style. 

Quiapo Church

Franciscan friars established Quiapo Church in 1588. Now popularly known as the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Jesus Nazareno (the Black Nazarene), the church was initially dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. 

Augustinian missionaries brought the statue of Black Nazarene from Mexico on May 31, 1606. Many believe that the statue is miraculous. January 9 is the Feast of the Black Nazarene; it is a big yearly celebration.

Full construction of the church started in 1686. It was renovated in 1933, following the design drawn by architect Juan Nakpil, the country’s National Artist. To date, only its facade, the dome, the transept and the apse retained its classic Mexican Baroque design.

San Sebastian Church

Visible from a distance because of its towering twin spires, the 19th-century San Sebastian Church stands proudly from its location in Quiapo. Declared a national historical landmark, the church construction started in 1888 and completed in 1891. It was built in steel to make it fire and earthquake resistant. Prefabricated steels were from Belgium and Belgian engineers supervised its construction. Its design is a fusion of Baroque and Neo-Gothic architecture. 

The church continues to have its original interiors showing Neo-Gothic lines with its metal doors, walls, ceilings and glass windows. The stained-glass windows were from Germany. On its main altar is the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a gift from the Carmelite Sisters of Mexico City given in 1617.


bottom of page