The blinding sight upon reaching the end of the tunnel. Photograph by Daniel Soriano

Five stunning reasons why Iloilo is a good idea for a Holy Week pilgrimage

From the Trappist monastery to a diorama of life-sized angels, Iloilo is rich with holy places that make for a contemplative, if not spiritual, journey this season of Lent.
Devi de Veyra | Apr 09 2019

If you will allow it, Iloilo can show you its quiet side, the antithesis to the boisterous experience offered by the province’s popular Dinagyang festival. For in this slow-paced province, you can embark on a contemplative — spiritual if you will — journey wrapped in the mysteries of its sacred temples.

Though also known for its all-male saints lined up inside the church, it's the glass-encased Our Lady of the Candles that takes pride of place on the structure’s balcony.
The male saints lined up along the main hall of the Jaro Cathedral.

We suggest starting your sojourn at the capital city, by paying a courtesy call on the patroness of the entire Western Visayas holding court at the Jaro Cathedral. Right at the entrance, climb the short flight of steps to the balcony where you’ll come upon the intriguing Nuestra Señora dela Candelaria, or Our Lady of the Candles. Though also famous for its  all-male saints standing along the cathedral’s aisle, devotees flock to a beloved glass-encased muse whom they believe has the power to work miracles.

From Iloilo City’s main port, a deeply meditative experience is just a 15-minute ferry ride away in Guimaras where you can seek solace in the Trappist Monastery. The monastery’s simple chapel, which was built in 1972, echoes the spartan life that the Trappist monks adhere to.

The Miag-ao Church is Iloilo’s jewel among a tantalizing roster of Spanish colonial era churches, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws devotees and tourists alike. The bas relief carvings on its facade are a shining example of the unique Philippine Baroque style.
During its restoration, workers peeled off a layer of cement plaster that covered the church’s walls to reveal the original yellow sandstone underneath. The altar, Bulacan pink marble and Romblon gray marble floor tiles, are some of the later additions to the church.

One can’t leave Iloilo without paying homage to the undisputed jewel among the province’s Spanish colonial era Roman Catholic temples — the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church in Miag-ao. Also known as Miag-ao Church, it was built in the late 1700s by the Augustinians. Except for the walls, belfries and its most arresting feature, the facade, most of the original structure have been lost to fires and earthquakes.


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Th church facade is an example of the Filipino Baroque, characterized by a tantalizing mix of motifs. This is evident in the facade’s bas relief that features native flora — including a coconut tree as well as a guava tree. The Augustinian’s patron, the Sto. Niño, is depicted on the shoulder of St. Christopher, who is garbed in native attire.

Built in the late 1800s, the San Joaquin Campo Santo’s funerary chapel sits atop a gentle slope facing Panay Gulf. It has been declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines.

About 12 kilometers away is another spiritual stop: the San Joaquin Campo Santo, the focal point of which is a funerary chapel dating back to the late 1800s. It is a breathtaking sight, perched atop a gentle slope facing the sea, backdropped by coconut trees and native shrubbery. Skulls and crossbones, along with saints and cherubs, sentinel the dramatic stone gateway, a motif that is  repeated inside the chapel where priests are interned.

The Trappist Monastery’s chapel is nestled amidst well-tended trees and shrubbery.
The entrance to a dark tunnel at the top of the hill.

Nearby, a mind-blowing moment awaits at the Garin Farm Pilgrimage Resort. Four hundred fifty six steps lead to the resort’s highest point, the trek interrupted with surreal, life-size dioramas on both sides of the long climb. At the summit, entering the meditation tunnel is a must in order for the visitor to see Heaven on Earth:  a blinding, all-white spectacle of life-size angels facing a monumental statue of Jesus Christ.

You can’t miss the large signage by the exit which suggests the denouement of your pilgrimage — your time on earth isn’t done, and you must move on to your next journey.

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The Jaro Cathedral’s 16th century icon is the only Philippine Marian image crowned by Pope John Paul II himself, and not by a Vatican representative. The event happened during the pontiff’s visit in 1981, during which he also proclaimed Our Lady of the Candles the patroness of the whole Western Visayas region. 

The belfry in front of the Jaro Cathedral which functioned as a watchtower during times of war. 

Only priests are interned inside the San Joaquin Campo Santo’s chapel. 

The simple, calming interiors of the Trappist Monastery’s chapel. 

The 456-steps leading to the summit of Garin Farm’s Pilgrimage Hill.

Every few steps, there are striking dioramas with life-size figures such as the sculpture of Christ, the rods radiating from his heart festooned with rosaries from devotees. 

A diorama depicting the last supper. 

Inside the dark tunnel. 


Photographs by Daniel Soriano