Albay, being the home of perfect-cone Mayon volcano, has a treasure trove of heritage churches scattered around it. These colonial-period structures were mostly made of volcanic rocks. Hence, their façades have some dark gray to black tones. Dating back to 16th century, these bastions of faith are located primarily within town centers, each has its own history and unique architecture to show.
I’ve been to Albay province few times (May 2012 for family vacation. May 2014 with high school friends, and September 2017 with workmates) but only August this year I was finally able to visit these heritage churches for whole day. Thanks to airline promo fare, I was able to do what I loved doing since: visita iglesia, especially it was my birthday month.
Coat of Arms of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Legazpi
Dioecesis Legazpiensis (Latin)
Diyosesis kan Legazpi (Bicolano)
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Legazpi constitutes the entire province of Albay in the Philippines. The diocese was erected in 1951, carved from territory of the Archdiocese of Cáceres, to which it is a suffragan.
From my inn at Legazpi City, I rode a jeepney bound to terminal to get on another one bound to my first stop: the Saint Dominic of Guzman Church that sits at the town center of Santo Domingo. The first church was made of wood and basag (bamboo split). Here, the statue of the patron saint Santo Domingo (Saint Dominic de Guzman), whose feast is observed every August 4, was placed. When the church was burned in 1882, the Spanish priests built a new one: the present artistic church with piedras ladradas (hewed volcanic stones), chiseled balustrades and twin domes.
Saint Rose of Lima Church is located across the municipal hall of Bacacay. This volcanic stone church has an older church (now in ruins) built nearby and now turned to a chaplain center and repository of religious articles.
A jeepney away from the town center led me to the highway and alight at Malilipot town to visit Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Like Santo Domingo church, its twin belfries tuck the pediment with designs of columns beside church windows in the façade.
One of the imposing heritage churches in Albay that I was eager to visit is the Saint John the Baptist Church in Tabaco City. It was founded by the Franciscans and became an independent parish in 1616. The construction of the present church started in 1750. Built out of dark volcanic soil and stones found in the area, one unusual characteristic of the church is the presence of mason’s marks on stones used for the construction of the church building, a rare feature in the Philippines. The beautiful bell tower is embedded with rococo designs. Tabaco church was also declared a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines in 2012. It was designated as National Historical Landmark by PD. 260 on August 1, 1973. The church architecture reminds me of earthquake Baroque, where the belfry is located a few meters away from main church building, like the ones in Ilocos region.
From Tabaco City, I rode a jeepney near public market directly to adjacent town of Malinao. Behind the municipal hall stand Saints Joachim and Anne Church. I noticed ruins nearby and found out to be of old convent, where chaplain and religious objects used to be stored.
I walked few meters from Malinao church towards highway to flag a jeepney bound to Tiwi, the northernmost municipality of Albay. I alighted at public plaza and across it, I saw the Saint Lawrence the Martyr Church with lone belltower at its center.
From Tiwi church, I went back to town plaza to ride back to Tabaco City, where jeepneys to the adjacent city are located. It took more than an hour before I got to Ligao City where Saint Stephen the Protomartyr Church is found. The interior is somehow renovated but you can still see laid-out bricks at its side walls.
Suddenly it rained and I immediately hailed a jeepney bound to next town. Later, the downpour stopped and made my way to municipality of Oas. There, I saw the old belfry of Saint Michael the Archangel Church. Though it was closed the time I visited, I saw the ruins of convent adjacent to side walls with arched pathway made of bricks. I noticed that the belfry is separated a few meters from the main church, like Tabaco City’s.
Lastly, I waited along the main road for jeepney bound to Polangui. I didn’t know that jeepneys stop only at intersection leading to town center so I had to walk a few kilometers until I saw the arch leading to Saints Peter and Paul Church. It is one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Philippines, where construction started in 1654 and finished after 10 years. Now, both façade and interior were heavily renovated.
Mayon Volcano Loop (counterclockwise): Santo Domingo-Bacacay-Malilipot-Tabaco City-Malinao-Tiwi-Ligao City-Oas-Polangui-Albay Cathedral
Though I returned to Legazpi City late at night and missed the cathedral (already closed), I still included here in this post, together with Daraga, Camalig and Guinobatan churches I visited on different occasions. If you have more time to spare, you can include them in the visita iglesia loop.
The mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Legazpi is the Saint Gregory the Great Cathedral, also known as Albay Cathedral located in the old Albay district of Legazpi City. It stands adjacent to administrative buildings such as the city hall and provincial capitol of Albay, encircling Peñaranda Park. At first glance, it looks like Tiwi church, due to lone belfry and finials at both ends. It serves as the episcopal seat for the bishop of Legazpi.
The nearby municipality of Daraga has an impressive church on top of the hill, rewarded by the majestic view of Mayon Volcano. Our Lady of the Gate Church, commonly known as Daraga Church was built under the Franciscan priests in 1773, at the time that Daraga was a visita (chapel of ease) of Cagsawa (formerly a thriving town now merged with Daraga after 1814 earthquake). The church is known for its Churrigueresque architectural style in its façade, a fine example of Baroque architecture. The façade and its walls are made out of volcanic rocks, which are rich in the area. The current white façade is the result of a coating of lime for protection from deterioration. The National Museum of the Philippines listed the church’s eastern and western façade, belfry, and baptistry as a National Cultural Treasure in 2007.
At the heart of heritage town of Camalig lies the Saint John the Baptist Church made of volcanic rocks. Built a few meters away from main highway, it has a spacious churchyard and an upward ramp when you walk towards the altar, though it was already renovated.
Next town by the river, Guinobatan has Our Lady of the Assumption Church standing on main highway and few meters across the municipal hall. Guinobatan as a parish started as a visita of the Municipality of Camalig in 1672. St Benedict’s Academy (my namesake) is adjacent to one side of church’s front-yard.
It was such a fulfillment to visit and pray at these historic churches of Albay, and it won’t be possible without the help of my family and friends who gave me tips and accompanied me on my pilgrimage. Dios mabalos sa indo gabos!
Have a blessed visita iglesia everyone!