It is no surprise that Cebu is home to some of the oldest Catholic churches in Asia–with the Philippines being the continent’s cradle of Christianity.
The arrival of Spanish conquistadors, led by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and continued by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565, was the beginning of the Christian faith on the island. Since then, it has endured for almost 500 years.
Some of these churches went through notable disasters–bombings, earthquakes and fires. Still, they have stood strong, a fitting metaphor for the faithful.
One of the oldest Filipino traditions, one learned and adapted from the Spanish coloniers, is the Visita Iglesia (Church Visits). Usually done during Holy Week, people go from church to church, praying at each stop.
Usually, the faithful would plan routes based on the churches closest to them. But if you’re feeling adventurous and have the time to explore, this list will bring you to a number of beautiful structures.
Basilica Minore del Santo Niño
This basilica shelters the icon of Cebuano faith–the image of the Holy Child Jesus, known locally as Sr. Sto. Niño. It is located at the heart of downtown Cebu, next to the famous Cebuano heritage site, the Magellan’s Cross.
Built by the Augustinian priests in the mid-1500s, it is the oldest standing church in the country. It was destroyed by fire in 1526, then rebuilt as a stone structure in 1571. It burned down again in 1628, and rebuilt as a coral structure.
In an altar room upstairs, the original image of the Sr. Sto. Niño is enthroned. It is believed to be the image that Ferdinand Magellan had presented to Queen Juana of Cebu in 1521, when her, her husband Rajah Humabon, and the rest of their people converted to Christianity.
Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Church
Located on an island famous for its beautiful beaches, Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Church shouldn’t be missed when visiting Bantayan Island. The structure is truly awe-inspiring. The walls are carved with religious details, with murals on the ceiling inside.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish Church
It is safe to say that the St. Francis of Assisi Parish Church is the most beautiful church in southern Cebu. Located in Dumanjug town, the architecture features details similar to the aforementioned Bantayan church, but larger in scope.
Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral
The Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral is the Ecclesiastical Seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu. Just like the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, it hasn’t always looked this way. Based on the Archdiocese’s book Balaanong Bahandi, it was constructed in 1786, but destroyed in 1829. It was consecrated in 1940, but on the same year, was destroyed by American bombings, with only the facade left. It was reconstructed by the time Cebu Cardinal Emeritus Cardinal Vidal was appointed as a parish priest in 1981.
Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish
As explained by Fr. Pedro Galende in Balaanong Bahandi, this Byzantine-influenced structure was designed by Spanish engineer-architect Domingo de Escrondillas, and designed so it would be different from the usual church designs. Located along the national highway in Pardo, it has two cylindrical towers on its facade, creating an imposing fortress-like structure.
Nuestra Señora Virgen dela Regla Parish Chruch
In Lapu-Lapu City, where people are devoted to the Lady of the Rule, the Nuestra Señora Virgen dela Regla Parish Church is a plae of their panaad (pledge). Since the devotion to her started in Africa, the image is depicted as dark-skinned. The church was originally built from coral blocks, but was left damaged after World War 2. It would have been one of the oldest churches in the country, had Dutch priests not torn it down to build a new one in its place in Opon.
Lapu-Lapu City, Mactan Island
Santa Catalina de Alejandria Church
At first glance, the Santa Catalina de Alejandria Church in Carcar resembles that of India’s Taj Mahal, because of its twin Islamic-inspired belfries. Inside the church are coffered ceilings, beautiful woodwork and baroque details that make it truly beautiful.