While Lent affords families a rare time to be together, it’s also a time for reflection and discernment.
Instead of going to the usual beach destination—where the rest of Metro Manila can be found—we suggest visiting a church instead, for a moment (or seven) of silence, reflection, and thanksgiving.
But even more: How about a trip to a church that also opens a window of history and gives one a preview of local life? For example, the Calamba Church is where National Hero Jose Rizal was baptized. Or did you know that the Church of Nagcarlan features an underground cemetery that has a tunnel as an escape route?
One of the easiest and nearest Seven Churches tour outside Metro Manila is the Laguna de Bay loop, straddling the provinces of Rizal and Laguna. You can go North first (entering Rizal via Sumulong Highway) or go south first (entering Calamba via SLEX). Either way, you can complete the loop in one day—in fact you can do more churches and still arrive in Metro Manila early in the evening.
The road is well paved so there’s no need for a 4×4. There are also visible signs informing you where you are and how far in kilometers is the next town.
Below is a cool itinerary for a Seven Churches tour of Laguna de Bay.
1. Cathedral of Antipolo
The home of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage is always a brand new car’s first stop. But of course: those new wheels must be blessed before getting good mileage. It is also always on the list of doing a religious pilgrimage. Built in the later part of the 1500s, the Church survived various earthquakes and was declared a National Shrine in 1954.
The Cathedral of Antipolo is a modern structure with a spacious interior and features a circular edifice topped with a large dome where a huge cross stands. Above the main altar is the shrine of our Lady, a marble balcony encased in glass.
It is suggested that you depart early to avoid the traffic rush along Sumulong Highway. For an authentic experience, there are small restaurants near the church where you can take your breakfast. Order the suman paired with hot chocolate for a comforting meal. Make sure to buy the cashews since this is great as a ‘pulutan’ during the road trip. As for pasalubong, mangoes are good since they are relatively cheaper and sweeter here.
2. Morong Church
A few kilometers from Antipolo is the town of Morong. You can’t miss the town’s church since its belfry can be viewed from afar. What makes the church very interesting is its design. The church, St. Jerome Parish Church, is a magnificent example of neo-Baroque design that architecture students from all over the country flock to the church to view it—and learn a thing or two about this rare design.
Built in 1651 by Chinese craftsmen,the church has withstood natural calamities and a tumultuous history.
Records show that Spaniards and Katipuneros even faced off inside the church. With its historical significance, the church has been able to preserve its rustic charm and some interiors inside are still intact. Today, a three-story building beside it houses the seminary and a school, giving students a view of the creativity and ingenuity of our forefathers every day.
3. Paete Church
Paete is a town known for its wood craftsmanship and the best place to preview it is at the Church’s altar. Here, you don’t only look at the altar to say grace but also to marvel at the art and craftsmanship devoted by the Paetenos seen at the altar’s intricate wood design and bold structure. In fact, all the images at the altar were either carved or painted by the local craftsmen, proving to everyone that is the wood carvers’ town.
Built in 1615 by Chinese craftsmen, the church has withstood natural calamities and a tumultuous history. Records show that Spaniards and Katipuneros even faced off inside the church. With its historical significance, the church has been able to preserve its rustic charm and some interiors inside are still intact. Now, a three-story building beside it houses the seminary and a school, giving students a view of the creativity and ingenuity of our forefathers every day.
Also known as St. James the Apostle Church, it was built starting in 1580. Through the years, it has withstood the test of time and was recently renovated. Inside, one really gets the feeling of being “transported” in the past since the aged wood and the life-size murals which have gathered the dust of time all evoke an Old World charm.
As compared with other churches around the Bay, Paete Church is more compact with only circular windows to let the light in. Nevertheless, it sets the mood for the wood craft to retain a certain aura for it to be appreciated by generations to come.
4. Liliw Church
With its striking façade made of red bricks, St. John the Baptist Church is definitely a selfie site.
From the church entrance, there’s a small passageway to the left that leads to Capilla de Buenaventura, where you can light a candle and whisper a prayer. If you have more time and energy, you can climb up the belfry which gives one a good view of Laguna de Bay.
Since you are in the footwear capital, go around the town center and visit the clusters of shops selling sturdy yet affordable footwear. They have every imaginable shoe or sandal there and I know a lot of enterprising individuals who buy dozens in order to resell at a higher price in Manila.
5. Majayjay Church
Majayjay Church, or the St.Gregory Church, is one of the oldest in Laguna. It is also perhaps one with the cooler atmosphere since the town is located at a higher elevation.
The church’s altar features antique statues of saints, which were brought by the Spaniards. Its belfry houses four small bells and one big bell—probably the oldest in the country. The rooftop of the church, like the one on Liliw, offers a breathtaking view of Mt. Banahaw and Laguna de Bay.
The church has its share of history and records show that it was used by the Americans as headquarters during the war. It has also undergone several rehabilitations, and endured countless calamities.
6. Pila Church
Make the most of the road trip by swinging by Pila town—and its church, of course. The Church of San Antonio de Padua of Pila was the first church to be dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua in the Philippines (1578)—probably, in Asia as well, according to author Dr. Luciano Santiago who wrote extensively about Pila’s history.
After visiting the first church dedicated to St. Anthony in the country, we highly suggest going around Pila to appreciate the ancestral houses that have withstood time. A local organization has spearheaded the preservation of the houses and if you’re lucky and the homeowner is around, you can even enter the house to marvel at the interior.
7. Calamba Church
Though the façade of Calamba Church is not that ‘antique’ enough, having only been built in late 18thcentury, it is nevertheless the one which has the most historical significance. In June 22, 1861, just three days after his birth, National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal was baptized in this church by Fr. Rufino Collantes. In fact, the cistern where Rizal was baptized still stands—and still even used to this day.
Outside the St. John the Baptist Church, a Stations of the Cross provide a relaxing ambience and fresh air. Just in front of it is the now ‘green’ house of Rizal which is open from Tuesdays to Sundays. Farther down the road is the Calamba plaza featuring a large claypot.