Each of the provinces in the Central Visayas region has its own primary tourist attractions. Cebu has pristine beaches and heritage structures, Bohol has the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers, while mystical Siquijor has its picturesque nature parks and marine sanctuaries.
But across the region, you’ll inevitably come across Roman Catholic churches that have seen many historic moments and welcomed several generations of the Visayan people. These grand structures make Central Visayas an ideal destination for a Visita Iglesia during the Lenten season. Some of the most popular centuries-old churches in the area include:
San Miguel Arcangel Parish Church or Argao Church
Argao Church in Argao, Cebu is some 67 km away from the provincial capital. Indeed, it may be out of the way if you’re coming from one of many comfortable and cheap hotels in Cebu City, Philippines. But you can be sure that it’s worth a visit. Constructed from 1744 to 1788, this excellently preserved structure has 5 altars. One of the altars features 3 life-size statues of the archangels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. Around the church’s vicinity, you can also visit restored period buildings, a fortress with an intact stone gate leading to the sea, and a scenic mortuary chapel. And to top it all off, free Wi-Fi Internet access is available in the church square.
Basilica Minoredel Santo Niño
The oldest church in the country, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, was founded in Cebu City in 1565. It was built on the site where, after a fire, a soldier recovered the unscathed image of the Santo Niño. This was the same image that Magellan gave to the island’s pre-colonial rulers, Raja Humabon and Dona Juana. The structure has been destroyed, rebuilt, and restored several times over the church’s long history, the latest of which took place after the 2013 earthquake that shook Central Visayas. The basilica features a domed bell tower, a religious store, a museum, and a façade influenced by Muslim, Romanesque, and neo-classical elements.
By Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3506973
Catherine of Alexandria Church or Carcar Church
The second oldest church in Cebu City was built in 1859. Carcar Church makes quite an impression on its visitors with its distinguished style and cheerful colors. The church makes use of Byzantine architecture and features minaret-shaped bell towers, a Greco-Roman altar, and images of the 12 disciples of Jesus. It has now been restored to its former glory after incurring damages from an earthquake in 2013.
The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception or Baclayon Church
Baclayon Church was founded in 1596 and completed in 1727, making it the oldest church in Bohol. Sadly, the church, which was declared a National Cultural Treasure and a National Historic Landmark, was completely ruined by the 2013 earthquake. The good news is that it is currently undergoing restoration — a process that may take a few more years to complete. Once it’s finished, the church will again display 3 retablos or devotional paintings, an elevated pulpit carrying Baroque and Neoclassical influences, a watchtower—and even a mortuary chapel.
By No machine-readable author provided. Magalhães assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=213124
Francis of Assisi Church or Siquijor Church
Constructed from 1795 to 1831, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi is the oldest church in Siquijor. Set right beside the port, the church’s bell tower once served as a lookout post for marauders and pirates. It has a white façade made of coral stones, while its interior is quite minimalist with its plain white walls. Up above, there are 3 simple chandeliers, while yellow tiles line the church’s nave or center aisle. And if you still have time, you can even visit the stately San Isidro Labrador Parish Church on the other side of Siquijor.