One of the first things that I visit whenever I travel around Southeast Asia are the temples. Apart from my personal interest in Buddhism, I believe it’s difficult to appreciate the region’s history and culture without looking into one of its most dominant religions. These temples – such as the ruins of Angkor Wat and Borubudor – are also a perfect backdrop for shutterbugs like me who just need to take at least one (really, this is the last, promise!) travel souvenir photo.

The Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic, is host not to temples but to beautiful churches, legacy of the 400 years of Spanish colonial rule. They may not be as majestic as Borobudor but their structures are a treat to heritage travelers, art trippers, architecture buffs and yes, photoholic travelers.

Some of these beautiful churches are among Unesco’s World Heritage Sites and can be found in the northern Philippine region of Ilocos.

paoay church

1. Paoay Church

Also known as the St. Augustine Church in Paoay. I’m no devout Catholic but I wouldn’t mind hearing mass in this church everyday, if only to marvel at its so-called “Earthquake Baroque” architecture.

The powdery white Batac Church
Art historians said its facade has Gothic, Baroque and Oriental designs. It was built of baked bricks, coral rocks, tree sap and lumber, and has 24 carved massive buttresses for support, making it earthquake-proof.

During the Philippine Revolution against the Spaniards in 1898, the church’s coral stone bell tower was used by the Filipino revolutionaries as an observation post. In the year 2000, archaeologists who excavated inside the church found a prehistoric human skeleton and fragmented ceramics. These artifacts are now in display at the National Museum.

Paoay Church is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and is under the Diocese of Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

2. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church

Its powdery white exterior stands out in an otherwise nondescript city of Batac in the province of Ilocos Norte. Built in the 16th century, the church’s whiteness is due to palitada — a decorative plaster used to protect and decorate soft volcanic stones that form these colonial-era churches

Vigan Cathedral has both Spanish and Chinese influences
The palitada is a mixture of lime, sand, water, and molasses or egg whites.

3. San Augustine Church

This is one of the oldest churches in Ilocos Sur, located in the town of Bantay and built in 1590. Noted for its neo-Gothic design, the church is made of indigenous materials, bricks and lime. It was built in honor of Our Lady of Charity – an image of whom was placed in a wooden box and was found floating in Bantay river by the town’s fishermen. The church’s belfry is on top of the Calvario Hill – overlooking a healthy pastureland. It was used as a watchtower for invading enemy forces during the First and Second World Wars.

4. Vigan Cathedral (St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral)

Another Baroque-styled church, its main doorway features an alcove that depicts the conversion of St. Paul. Another prominent feature of this church is the Chinese-lion dog ornaments (Fu dogs) located on the outer doors, symbolizing the prominence of the Chinese Filipino families in the city of Vigan in Ilocos Sur.

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